Posted by: mensab | October 25, 2007

Terrorism, Politics, and Human Rights: A View from a State

Terrorism, Politics and Human Rights: A View from a State 

“Peace and war are the products, respectively, of good and bad states.”

– Kenneth Waltz, 1959, p.114 


     Last September 12, 2007, Dr. Walter Perron, Head of the Law Department at the University of Freiburg, Germany talked about the “Challenges of Fighting International Terrorism” in a panel discussion organized by the International Law and Human Rights Department of University for Peace. At the open forum, I asked this question; after six years of 9/11 attack on the United States (US) and the consequent global war on terrorism initiated and financed by the US, is the world getting safer today or more dangerous?  Gilpin’s theory on hegemonic war reverberates in the US global war on terror as US reasserts its supremacy when its status as the most powerful State in the world was challenged by Al-Queda network (Gresham, 1993). How do other States respond to this hegemonic global war against terrorism?  

      Terrorism has shaken the way human rights are viewed. The terror sown by 9/11incident in New York, 3/11 train bombings in Madrid, and 7/7 train bombings in London caused various States to adopt anti-terrorism and rights-restricting measures that would curb and prevent the threat of or actual terror attack in their own territorial jurisdictions. And these States which strongly vow to end terrorism and ceaselessly pursue the people who espouse terrorism are known to be the pillars and models of present democratic systems – USA, United Kingdom, and Spain. In their fight against global terrorism, there are rights that were compromised, such as, rights to privacy, free speech, and movement. Privacy is infringed to be able the authorities to discover and trace evidences of terror plots, free speech is limited not to inflame and aggravate the ethnic, religious, and other emotionally-charged conflicts, and movement to secure the suspects in the custody of authorities (, 2005). Even the rights of sovereign States such as, Afghanistan and Iraq that hosted Al-Queda operatives and posed as challengers in Gilpin’s theory, to non-interference, non-intervention and self-determination were said to be derogated in pursuit of this global fight against terrorism.  

      In 2003, United Nation’s Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a ministerial-level meeting of Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee as quoted in the website of United Nations Information Service;

      “Domestically, he said, the danger was that in pursuit of security, crucial liberties were sacrificed. Internationally, the world was seeing an increasing use of the “T-word” of terrorism to demonize political opponents, throttle freedom of speech and the press, and delegitimize legitimate political grievances. Similarly, States fighting various forms of unrest or insurgency were finding it tempting to abandon political negotiation for the deceptively easy option of military action.”

     The world’s attention is on the global scale of the war on terror. The news and controversies revolve around the international or interstate level like the US-led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. There seems to be a lack of attention on the local and national level of this war on terror. It is an attempt of this paper to fill such lack of information and attention on the national level of one State. Following a traditionalist approach, the unit of analysis here is a nation-state (Dinar, 2000).            

     This paper presents how a State like the Philippines could utilize this global war on terror to its advantage against valid and legitimate opposition in its own turf. It is argued here that the world is getting more dangerous because a State with its immense power could appropriate the war’s scale and scope within its fancy and imagination of the application and definition of terrorism to its citizens. This kind of appropriation of power or politics and war on terror are key challenges to peace in the Philippines as they undermine human rights and political stability. 

The Philippines: In Perspective 

      Projecting as leading the fight in the Southeast Asia against terrorism and courting the US for financial support, the Philippine State issued orders and used force restricting and curtailing human rights to hold on to power when its legitimacy was being questioned while it was pursuing war in Southern Philippines against Abu Sayyaf and the New People’s Army (NPA) of the Communist Party of the Philippines (both terrorist groups in the US list). [In the subsequent used of the State, it would refer to the Philippine State.] 

     Having undergone two people power revolutions (1986 and 2001), the State was wary of a repeat of another people power. The 1986 people power revolution toppled a dictator, Marcos, who infamously committed human rights abuses. As a result, the 1987 and still the present Constitution is full of guards and shields against potential human rights abuses. 

Legitimizing the global war on terror locally  

      The Abu Sayyaf (Bearer of the Sword, in Arabic) hugged the international limelight when it hostaged several foreigners including US citizens in Sipadan, Sabah, Malaysia in 2000. Previously driven by Islamic ideology and with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda, the Abu Sayyaf launched kidnappings, bombings, beheadings, and massacres in Southern Philippines. With the highest estimated number of 1,200 fighters, it has stronghold in the islands of Basilan and Sulu which are populated mostly by Muslims (Clark, 2002). Many of its fighters are believed to have trained in Afghanistan. Its notoriety claimed a spot in the US list of terrorist groups with rewards reaching 5 million dollars each for information leading to the capture or death of its core leaders. 

     Another group which is on the US list of terrorist is the Maoist-inspired NPA which has been fighting the State for almost 40 years now. The State has been suspecting that most activists are members of the NPA (, 2006). 

     Cloaked by this global fight against terrorism, the State waged an all-out war against the New People’s Army and Abu Sayyaf with full support from the US. As of this writing, it is still on all-out war against Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Sulu islands and NPA. 

Politics and legitimacy issue of the State 

     While the war in Basilan and Sulu was going on, the political condition of the State was in trouble. The State was facing internal issues and concerns that rocked and questioned its exercise of and reason for power. It was charged with legitimacy issue by allegedly having cheated in the 2004 presidential election as documented by a wiretapped conversation between President Arroyo and an election officer. The coming out of the wiretapped tape in 2005 led to the unmasking of the enormous power and politics of the State to defend itself and take control of its stock. Wolff (1970, 3) defines politics as “the exercise of the power of the state.” 

     Due to the legitimacy issue, politics became a household name and pervaded the national scene and everyday lives of Filipinos. The issue moved many people including 10 senior government officials who resigned, a former president, a sitting senate president, an influential business group, and some Catholic bishops to call for the resignation of President Arroyo in 2005. Mass protests and rallies reminiscent of the people power revolutions were occurring nationwide especially in the capital Manila. President Arroyo barely held on to power until Proclamation No.1017 was declared in February 2006 to quell the reported collusion among leftist groups, disgruntled soldiers, and civil society to oust her from power. The State was in a national emergency with which President Arroyo called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to suppress lawless violence or terrorism acts. Justifying its actions, the State invoked public good, order, and security to override some human rights like freedom of speech, right to assembly, freedom to dissent, warrantless arrests, among others. With 1017, mass protests calling for the resignation of the president were banned and dispersed violently by police’s batons and water canons. Opposition members from the leftist groups were arrested without preliminary investigation for plotting a rebellion. 

     C. Wright Mills (as cited in Arendt, 1970, 35) states that “all politics is a struggle for power; the ultimate kind of power is violence.” Asserting its power and clearly without the backing of the majority of its people, the State used “violence as the most flagrant manifestation of power” to control the provoked citizenry (Arendt, 1970, 38). It counted and depended heavily on the support and force of the military to be able to keep its power intact. As Dinar (2000) puts it, the essence of the State’s security is its power. Thus, it started to eliminate threats to its security and, in the process, it committed various human rights violations.  

“State-sponsored” human rights abuses (extrajudicial killings) 

      Arendt (1970, 56) indicates that “violence appears where power is in jeopardy.” The opposition sought the intervention of the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Proclamation 1017. The High Court ruled that some provisions were constitutional and some were not. The decision (G.R. No. 171396) further stressed that, “One of the misfortunes of an emergency, particularly, that which pertains to security, is that military necessity and the guaranteed rights of the individual are often not compatible” ( The State interpreted the ruling as favorable because it saw this necessity for military force to thwart national security threats. It lumped together the terrorists, rebel groups and opposition members as security threats which needed to be “neutralized” as enemies of the State. This resulted to unabated extrajudicial killings which were done systematically against political activists known to be critical of the State.  

The Amnesty International (AI) 1983 report on Political Killings by Governments describes extrajudicial killings as those killings “committed outside the judicial process and in violation of national laws and international standards forbidding the arbitrary deprivation of life” (pp. 5-6). The same 1983 AI report enumerated the “preconditions” or indicators of political killings and other human rights violations by States. These preconditions are “the imposition of a state of emergency, martial law, or other states of exception; the occurrence of other human rights violations such as irregular arrests and detentions, ‘disappearances’ and torture; the identification of certain groups as ‘enemies;’ claims of ‘encounters’ with armed groups resulting in deaths” (p. 103). It would be noted that most of the preconditions or indicators of the killings existed in 2005 and 2006 in the Philippines.

             In July 2007, the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted a human rights group in the Philippines, Karapatan, that its latest count of extrajudicial killings reached 863 since President Arroyo assumed office in 2001 (, 2007). In 2005, AI recorded 66 extrajudicial killings and there were approximately 61-96 killings in 2006. This prompted the United Nations (UN) to send its Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings on February 12-21, 2007 to investigate the spate of killings in the Philippines and found out that the killings were results of the State’s tagging of victims as enemies of the State (Alston, 2007). Alston uncovered direct links of some rogue elements of the military on the killings of activists and journalists, although the State was in denial of the findings.   


     Since 1017, the State has been on the offensive of tightening its grip on power. It resorted to violence as a “last resort to keep the power structure intact against individual challengers” (Arendt, 1970, 47). In the process, human rights laws have been violated. It is regrettable because “human rights law provides human beings with protection from abuse on the part of governments and other actors that hold power” (Griffin, 2007). Supposedly, human rights are protected by the State’s Constitution and even international covenants in which the State is a signatory. In this case, human rights became collateral damages on the appropriated war on terror by the State. 

      In the name of global war on terror, the State has legitimized its own war. However, Arendt (1970, 52) claims that violence would never be legitimate although justifiable. No matter how the State veils its own war for its survival, it can never generate power and rule as it wants to. It only gets its own position more dangerous and unstable. Sadly, it also brings the whole country in trouble. 

     Recently, the State passed into law an anti-terrorism act or Human Security Act of 2007. The opposition feared that this law would further the license of the State to suppress and curtail more human rights for its own good. It is politics, again. And the State is on top of things with its immense power at its disposal. As President Arroyo warned in her 2007 State of the Nation Address, “From where I sit, I can tell you, a President is always as strong as she wants to be.” It sounds like more trouble and danger to come for human rights in the Philippines.  


Alston, Philip. 2007. Preliminary note on the visit of the Special Rapporteur on

Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to the Philippines. Date accessed 19 September 2007.

Amnesty International. 1983. Political Killings by Governments. London: Amnesty


Arendt, Hannah. 1970. On Violence. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. pp. 35-


Clark, Emily. 2002. In the Spotlight: Abu Sayyaf. Date accessed 17 September 2007.

Dinar, Shlomi. 2000. Water, Security, Conflict, and Cooperation, SAIS Review Vol.

XXII (2): 229-253.

 Gresham, Greg. 1993. What Causes War? An Introduction to Theories of International

Conflict; New York, Lexington Books. Chapter 9: The International System: Cyclical Theories and Historical-Structural Theories of War, pp. 254-278.

Griffin, Elizabeth. 2007. War, Law, and Human Rights. Lecture delivered at University

of La Salle for the UPeace students. San Jose, Costa Rica. Date accessed 17 September 2007. Date accessed 17

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Waltz, Kenneth. 1959. Man the State and War: A Theoretical Analysis; New York,

Columbia University Press. Chapter 4: The Second Image: International Conflict and Internal Structure of States, pp. 80-123.

Wolff, Robert Paul. 1970. In Defense of Anarchism. New York: Harper and Row,

Publishers, Inc.




  1. […] Mensab wrote an interesting post today on Terrorism, Politics, and Human Rights: A View from a StateHere’s a quick excerptTerrorism, Politics, and Human Rights: A View from a State Terrorism, Politics and Human Rights: A View from a State   “Peace and war are the products, respectively, of good and bad states.” – Kenneth Waltz, 1959, p.114   Introduction        Last September 12, 2007, Dr. Walter Perron, Head of the Law Department at the University of Freiburg, Germany talked … Read the full post from philippines « Tag Feed via Blogdigger blog search for book free review. […]

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