Public Forum on the State of Human Rights in the Philippines

On 19 May 2012, our colleagues in the United Methodist church sponsored a public forum on human rights in the Philippines.

Singing group in the PhilipinesIn the past year and a half, 67 extrajudicial killings, nine disappearances and 78 political arrests have marked the landscape of the new government in the Philippines. These violations of human rights in the Philippines are only a sampling of the violations that have plagued the country’s history. As part of its annual Universal Periodic Review, the United Nations Human Rights Council is currently evaluating the human rights situation in the Philippines. Ecumenical leaders from the Philippines contributed to a non-governmental submission to the Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review process. A delegation from Philippine UPR Watch led a forum on the State of Human Rights in the Philippines in New York at the Church Center for the UN. Delegations are also scheduled to visit Washington, DC and Canada. A delegation has also presented the periodic review report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Ms. Angie Bisuna-Ipong shared her experiences of arrest and torture under the Philippine government. She was imprisoned for six years and illegally detained. There are currently 347 political prisoners in the Philippines who are frequently held under false criminal charges.

Right Reverend Felixberto Calang highlighted the urgency of human rights violations in the Philippines, as well as the role of US interventions in Mindanao. Mindanao is significant as a location for strategic military engagements in the region, as well as a central trading route. The island is rich in natural resources, but exploitation has led to high rates of underdevelopment. Approximately a third of the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines have occurred in Mindanao. The perpetrators of these killings remain unprosecuted. Armed forces in Mindanao have been deployed to protect private interests in mineral and other resources, and civilian areas have also been increasingly militarized. United States military interests in the Philippines are extensive, and the US will hold multilateral military exercises there next month.

Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza highlighted the role of the church as a place of refuge for victims of human rights violations. However, violations against the church are increasing. Responses of the churches include:

  • Fact-finding missions to uncover violations
  • Solidarity with victims and their families
  • Awareness raising across generations
  • Petition signings
  • Candle vigils and prayer services
  • Press conferences and media events
  • Public marches and mobilization
  • Filing of legal cases
  • Cultural activities
  • Support of peace negotiations
  • Direct services (livelihood support and medical assistance)
  • Publication of books
  • Engagement with the international community
  • International pastoral visits and missions
  • Engaging with United Nations reviews (ie., the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review)

The forum called on the global church to advocate for the people of the Philippines. International pressure on the government of the Philippines has worked in the past to release prisoners. The ecumenical representatives at the forum asked the international community to:

  • Support us by calling on the Philippine government to:
  • Put an end to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention, torture and other human rights violations
  • Discontinue the internal security plan, Oplan Bayanihan, that targets civilian population
  • Render justice to victims of human rights violations by providing adequate compensation, indemnification, restitution and rehabilitation and establishing mechanisms for this purpose
  • Institute special laws, procedures, remedies and courts that would effectively prosecute cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests, detention and torture carried out by state forces.
  • Enforce the implementation of the Anti-Torture Law.
  • Enact the Anti-Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance Act
  • Repeal the Anti-Terrorism Law or Human Security Act of 2007
  • Reform the criminal justice system to address the pervading climate of impunity centered in particular on the enhancement and protection of human rights through the speedy investigation, arrest, prosecution, trial and conviction of perpetrators.
  • Uphold children’s rights. Discontinue the practice by the Armed Forces of the Philippines of using schools and day-care centers as military camps as well as the branding of minors as child soldiers.
  • Issue invitations to UN special procedures mandate holders, including that of the pending requests from the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). Their visits will help provide a healthy atmosphere for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Help us in calling on the US Government to:

  • Protect indigenous people’s inherent, prior, existing and inalienable right to their ancestral territories and its indivisible, inter-related and interdependent right to self-determination, rights which are already integrated in the domestic law and several international declarations and conventions.
  • Resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
  • Investigate the alleged link between US military aid/resources and human rights violations.
  • Ensure that charges of human rights violations by US military personnel get thoroughly and impartially investigated.
  • Investigate the validity of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as it was not ratified by the US Congress and what can be done to terminate it as it provides much of the basis for the US supplying hundreds of millions of US dollars in military aid, materials, advise, and personnel (advisors, troops) to the Philippines.
  • Historically Philippine troops have been under the training and mould of US military experts and drilled not to protect the people but to serve the interests of big foreign and local businesses to the detriment of the majority – the poor Filipinos. The VFA is also seen as violating the national sovereignty of the Philippines.

Another item mentioned during the forum was the threat against journalists in the Philippines. The Philippines ranks second after Iraq for the number of journalists killed as a result of their reports about human rights violations.

Advocacy around the UPR submission is particularly important. U.S. organizations can support the report in letters to the Human Rights Council, the U.S. government, the U.S. United Nations mission, as well as the U.S. Mission in Geneva. U.S. representatives should also be contacted to advocate for a renewal of commitment to peace negotiations.

Hold the people of the Philippines in prayer.

Learn more about Presbyterians in ministry with our sisters and brothers in the Philippines, including the Philippines Mission Network.

The photo shows our partners in the Philippines welcoming a delegation of Presbyterian visitors. It is by Nancy Eng MacNeill.


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