THE cold-blooded murder of 45 men, women and children in a poor barrio (village) on Samar Island by Philippines government troops last September is worrying Australian aid policy-makers in Canberra.
The massacre came at a time when Philippines human rights activists were putting the finishing touches to a comprehensive report. This convincingly argues that a three-cornered (World Bank Australian-Philippines Government) ‘aid’ programme on Samar is of little or no benefit to the Samareños who really need help.
The report is openly critical of the aid programme. But it does not spell out what many Filipinos also believe: that the real motive behind the aid programme is to set up a communications infrastructure which will ease the task of government forces in their campaign against the revolutionary New Peoples Army (NPA).
Australian officials in Canberra vigorously discount suggestions of collusion with the Marcos regime. But the $Aust25 million from the Australian Development Assistance Bureau looks decidedly misdirected if the working papers of the human rights activists are to be taken seriously.
They provide a welter of evidence that massive road and port development can only achieve two goals; one, to improve access to the inland strongholds of the NPA; two, to make it easier for the landlords to streamline the system by which they take all the real profit flowing from the sweat of Samareño peasants.
The Philippines is a land of private armies which, in the name of upholding Ferdinand Marcos’ government, are a law unto themselves. The September massacre was investigated by a church group which interviewed survivors.
The killing took place on 15 September in and near Sag-od barrio in Northern Samar. Eighteen members of the Special Forces and the Integrated Civilian Home Defence Forces entered the village saying a meeting was to be held. The women and children were herded together and taken out of the village.
As they marched away they heard shooting. Along the way one slipped out of the line and escaped. Further on, as they were herded single file along a narrow pathway, another two women and two children were able to get away. Soon afterwards troops fired on them. Attempts had been made to get the children away from their mothers but, the report says, ‘the children died with their mothers because they would not separate’.
The survivors and some adults who were absent working their land are no longer allowed to go to their homes of their farms. These have been declared no-man s land’ or ‘free fire zones’.
After the killing the troops looted the village, slaughtered livestock and burned some of the bodies. They said they were searching for an NPA commander by the name of Racel. The women, at the time they were shot, were protesting that they did not know Racel.
As for the Samar aid project itself, the report argues that even if some aspects appear to be beneficial — the provision of water and electricity supplies for example — they will not be because most Samareños could not afford to pay for them.
The agricultural development package, says the report, ‘only accommodated farmers who own the land they till and have the financial capacity to avail themselves of the . . . fertilizers, agri-chemicals and equipment necessary for modernised farming . . . the programme offers its services primarily to the relatively privileged and wealthier rather than the poor and the needy’.
The programme, it says, reinforces dependence on Western technology and foreign technicians, a dependence which 'transforms the whole country into a captive market of Western-produced fertilizers, agri-chemicals and. . . equipment and places the foreign sponsors in a controlling position in policy-making regarding, agricultural production and export of raw materials to developed countries.'
The expansion and intensification of export-crop raising will mean that more farmlands become plantations, resulting in former tenants becoming farm-workers with not even the option of ‘backyard farming of food crops...which they could at least do when they were tenants’.
Samar, though relatively resource rich, is home to some of the worst poverty in the Philippines. Predictably, the NPA has many sympathisers. A Filipino human rights worker, while analysing the results of a questionnaire conducted in Northern Samar, noted that ’about ten’ respondents to a question on the ‘green revolution’ said they knew nothing about the ‘green’ but the ‘revolution’ was helping them a lot.
The report appeals to aid donors to try to ensure that their ‘development assistance’ should ‘encourage existing efforts of the poor majority as they strive for self-determination...'
One worker hopes that the report at least will stir the conscience of the Australian public to put pressure on Australia to abandon its contribution to the Samar ‘Integrated Rural Development Project’.
Neil O’Sullivan, Projects Director of the Melbourne-based Community Aid Abroad non-government aid agency, during a recent visit to the Philippines sensed a ‘growing level of unrest’.
And, meeting in Melbourne, nine Filipino Catholic bishops concluded.' The level of frustration among our population is rising steadily… growing militarisation, military abuses, salvaging (murder), stage-managed elections, official corruption - all stemming in one way or another from our present system of political rule. A palpable atmosphere of violence against the government itself is being talked about more openly as the only way out of the extreme condition many of our people find themselves in.
SELLING Sri Lankan babies to foreigners has now become a virtual industry in this little island. Until the end of November 1981, 642 babies had changed hands and only nine of them were adopted according to government procedures.
The baby buyers are paying around $5,000 per child though the children’s mothers see very little of that — usually about $50 each. The real money is made by the middle-men. These are often well-connected professional people who have a lot of contact with foreigners and some are even hiring mothers to produce babies specifically for sale. A recent police raid on one of these ‘baby farms’ found three babies price-marked for sale and all at under three months old.
Many babies, however, are also parted from their mothers in government-run maternity hospitals where the nurses and doctors are alleged to act as the go-between for the buyer and the mother.
In a country with an average income per year of $200 it is not surprising that mothers will hand their children over when someone waves money in front of them. And adoption laws in Sri Lanka are such that it is relatively easy for them to do this.
Minister of Social Services, Asoka Karunaratne, admitted in Parliament that babies were now even reaching US Army men stationed in the Philippines, though with the law as it presently stands he said there was little he could do to stop it.
The buyers mainly come from Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Belgium, the United States and Canada. A major concern in Sri Lanka is that the children are mistreated when they get to their new countries and there is growing pressure for the government to take steps to put an end to the trafficking.
RIGHT-WING Prime Minister Edward Seaga has abruptly pulled the rug from under Jamaica’s worker-run sugar co-operatives — in what looks like yet another faltering attempt to halt the island’s economic decline.
The sugar co-ops were started in 1976 with strong organisational support from the Jamaica-based Catholic Social Action Centre. The 45,000 acres of plantation were purchased by the government from the British multinational.
The Seaga administration justified the closing on economic grounds pointing to the co-ops’ accumulated debt of $45 million. But in fact the whole Jamaican sugar industry is riddled with debt, the state-owned National Sugar Company itself is saddled with $55.6 million. And, as the international sugar workers’ newsletter Sugar World notes, much of the co-ops’ debt was beyond their control; they had to leave nearly S6 million worth of cane standing in the fields due to bottlenecks in the government-operated processing factories.
Supporters of the co-ops say they are being scapegoated for the steep decline of the Jamaican sugar industry over the last two decades. But there are also indications that the co-ops were shut down in an effort to meet conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in an agreement signed immediately after Mr Seaga became Prime Minister. By declaring the co-ops bankrupt the government can write off the debt from government books and appear to be putting its financial house in order.
For despite a steady inflow of foreign investment and aid. Mr Seaga is in deep trouble. Official unemployment has scarcely budged, hovering near 26 per cent. There have been rapid increases in the cost of public services, housing and rents. And according to the Jamaican Manufacturing Association, the garment industry is operating at only 50 per cent of capacity and the chemical, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries at 40 per cent.
The frustration of the electorate with Seaga’s failed promise of ’deliverance’ is reflected in a swing back to Micael Manley’s decimated People's National Party. Local pollster Carl Stone recently registered a decline in Mr Seaga’s support from 48 to 36 per cent of voters.
But the closure of the Sugar Workers’ Co-operatives is only the latest attempt to distract attention from Seaga’s own failure. The pre-election anti-communist hysteria has continued throughout the past 16 months, most of it directed towards Cuba and alleged communist subversives in the opposition parties. The Jamaican Broadcasting System has been systematically purged of all journalists suspected of anti-government feelings.
Now a special police unit known as the Operations Squad has been created and been given a free hand against the island’s trigger-happy criminals. But there is some concern that the special unit, popularly known as the ‘Eradication Squad’, is actually more concerned with intimidating government critics. In one classic case of bad timing the Squad waltzed into the Kingston offices of CUSO, a Canadian government-funded development agency, on the eve of a public relations trip to Canada by Prime Minister Seaga. According to CUSO’s Jamaican Director Carl McKenzie, one Squad member suggested that ‘suspicious activities’ were taking place at the office and that they were having a large number of 'white and Rasta’ visitors. CUSO has a small programme in Jamaica concentrating on self-help community projects and skills training.
The CUSO raid may have been the product of an over-zealous police force with time on its hands investigating, as government spokesmen claimed a noise problem. But with the Jamaican economy still struggling to keep its head above water and the Seaga government desperate for scapegoats like the Sugar Workers Co-operatives, the search for subversives appears to be taking wild and unpredictable swings.
ENVIRONMENTAL activist Takashi Hirose has discovered a disturbingly logical way of opposing the construction of nuclear power plants in Japan. He is campaigning that they should build one more. But the site that he has in mind is slap-bang in the middle of Tokyo.
Hirose and fellow members of the ‘Green Association’ have picked on an uncomfortable contradiction in public opinion — that while a majority of Japanese don’t mind relying on nuclear power to supply their energy, rather fewer want to live within range of a fission plant.
According to a report in Asia week, the Green Association’s book ‘A Nuclear Power Plant in Tokyo’ has sold 150,000 copies in the first few months of publication. And now the group has been collecting signatures to support the scheme.
Passers-by are asked to endorse either a nuclear plant for Tokyo or a complete halt to nuclear development.
On a similar tack, another anti-nuclear group in Japan is now proposing that atomic waste should be dumped in the moat of the Imperial Palace if it is as harmless as the power companies claim.
COLOMBIA'S drug smuggling gangs are not normally a group you would think of as an oppressed minority. But everyone has their problems.
According to the Latin America Weekly Report there has recently been a general assembly of 223 gang leaders to declare war on the ‘subversives’ who are making their lives a misery. The problem is kidnapping. Guerrillas, as a way of financing their activities, have taken to kidnapping decent, hard-working gang bosses.
Most unfair, say the maniosos. The communique from their assembly underlines their own position as pillars of the community who have brought ‘progress and employment’ to Colombia by paying for schools, and other social services.
As a result of their meeting, the gang bosses have decided to finance an organisation to deal with the problem. Around $7.5m has been earmarked for a new and strictly non-governmental agency to be called ‘Death to Kidnappers’. This is unlikely to put any additional strain on Colombia’s overburdened legal system as retribution will be rapid — immediate firing squads or public hanging in the parks.
Other members of the community who wish to participate by offering information will be well rewarded — up to $300,000 for any tip-offs. The gang leaders do not think that informants will have any trouble making contact with them.
‘We are,’ they say, ‘all very well-known throughout the community.’
IN many countries today, the once familiar chuck-chuck of the woodman’s axe no longer echoes through peaceful forests. The woodland quiet is now shattered by the jet-like whine — sometimes exceeding 100 decibels — of the chain saw at work. With its unguarded blade, it is the most dangerous tool used by workers in one of the world’s most dangerous occupations — forestry, where risk of death and injury is part of every working day.
In developed countries one forestry worker in every 30 can expect to be killed before he can draw a pension and about one in every four of the 8 million permanently employed logging workers suffers one accident a year. Although statistics are scarce for developing countries, International Labour Organisation (ILO) experts reckon that the accident frequency can be multiplied by ten for forest workers in the Third World. When part-time workers are included there are an estimated 100 million people around the world exposed to the hazards of this dangerous occupation at some time. The majority of them are in developing countries.
There can be few workers who run as many assorted risks as the forestry worker. In addition to the chain saw, which one Swedish study has shown accounted for nearly 29 per cent of 9,072 accidents, he is surrounded by an armory of sharp edges — axes, hatchets, billhooks, saws, barking spades, planting hoes, scythes and sickles.
When trees are felled carelessly, roll down a hill or career off a timber chute, they can become unguided missiles and a momentary lapse in vigilance can result in an injured or completely severed limb.
Woodland plants and stinging insects and even sawdust from certain tree species can produce allergic reactions or poison the unwary woodman.
Tractor power take-offs can easily catch a worker’s clothing in its revolving shaft if not fitted with a guard and cause a brutal, whirling death.
Explosives used for forest road building, corroded pressure tanks exploding and the use of toxic pesticides can turn some aspects of forestry into a hazardous ‘battle zone’. Forest fires are an ever-possible danger, which is increased with the use in forestry of a wide range of inflammable chemicals.
So much for the ‘healthy outdoor life’ of the modern woodsman.
Yet he must face these hazards in order to meet the expanding world demands for wood pulp necessary for the manufacture of newsprint and other paper of all kinds as well as timber for daily needs.
Accidents involving machinery as well as manual tools are causing increasing concern among accident prevention experts.
Focusing attention on preventive measures to minimise these serious risks, the ILO has published a ’Guide to Safety and Health in Forestry Work’ which is a virtual how-to-stay-alive guide for forestry workers in both developed and developing countries.
ILO studies show that better vocational training facilities for forestry workers, practically unheard of in most developing countries, have helped reduce accidents. The best prevention is respect for elementary safety requirements.
Sometimes there is worker resistance toward safety routines or wearing hard hats or other protective clothing. Or some employers may fear that cumbersome safety routines may cut production. Not so.
An ILO forestry specialist who analysed the situation in West Africa before writing the handbook reports: 'Improved training in safer and less wasteful forestry work might in West Africa alone save the lives of 100 workers per year, increase production of high-grade logs by 500.000 cubic metres and save $I million through reduced destruction of costly machines.’
According to the legend in Guatemala there are no political prisoners, only political murders. But killing over 12,000 people in 1981 alone has not quashed the opposition on the contrary, as the army terrorises the population an increasing number of people, especially the impoverished Indian peasants, are taking tot he mountains to join the guerrillas. So the military government of General Lucas Garcia is changing its style.
The government's new tactic is to arrest 'key' leaders and force them to 'confess' publicly that thy have been guerrillas but that they now renounce their previous involvement. In July 1981 a Jesuit priest, Eduardo Pellecer, and a peasant leader, Toj Medrano, were both kidnapped by the security forces. They were assumed dead like so many before, but in October both reappeared on Guatemalan television and at press conferences. They were paraded before the Guatemalan people as deserters from the guerrilla ranks, now pledging support for the government. The priest was forced to say that the Catholic Church was collaborating with the guerrillas and was therefore ‘subversive’, and the peasant leader that all members of peasant leagues and unions were ‘communists’. In one move the government legitimised the increased repression of the Catholic Church and the peasantry.
However, there is one problem with political prisoners which political murder avoids; prisoners can escape. On November 26th Toj Medrano did just that, and on December 3rd the Guerrilla Army of the Poor took over three radio stations to broadcast his statement. He described how for five months he was tortured both mentally and physically; he was starved and beaten and told that his wife and five children would be killed and his native Quiche villages wiped out with napalm if he did not comply with the torturers’ demands.
Given their previous policy, the security forces are relatively inexperienced in torture. But the highly-placed officers that Toj Medrano accuses in his statement are learning quickly. This is not surprising. They have the most experienced teachers in the world. Israel, Chile and Argentina have all provided Lucas Garcia with military personnel to supervise torture sessions. The Israeli ambassador in Guatemala has even admitted that Israel has supplied Lucas Garcia with electronic equipment and computers to make the repression more ‘scientific’.
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