Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister expresses support for Ka Bel's case

Free Ka Bel Movement-Philippines
News Release November 26, 2006

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister expresses support for Ka Bel's case; says Canadian government involved in keeping Human Rights a priority in the Philippines

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter G, MacKay stated that his government is well aware of the developments in the human rights situation in the Philippines, including the case of detained Anakpawis Representative Crispin B. Beltran.

Free Ka Bel Movement (FKBM) spokesperson Dennis Maga said that the Canadian official sent Anakpawis and FKBM a letter dated September 25, 2006.

"I share your concerns about the uncertain political environment in the Philippines and the arrest of Congressman Beltran as well as others. The Government of Canada, through our Embassy in Manila, is in close and regular contact with many of the organizations that have been targeted in the recent increase in violence against several organizations, including Anakpawis," MacKay say.

The Canadian Foreign Affairs minister said that When Canadian officials meet with their Philippine counterparts, "We urge them to fully respect international human rights commitments such as the

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a party. Our Embassy also continues to coordinate with a wide variety of partners, including non-governmental organizations,

civil society, other embassies and international organizations, and Philippine human rights officials to improve the situation in the country. The Philippines Justice Reform Initiatives Support Project, Local Government Support Project and McLuhan Prize for Investigative Journalism are only some of the ways in which Canada is involved to keep human rights as priority in the Philippines," he said.

"I can assure you that the Canadian government will continue to monitor human rights in the Philippines and will follow closely the developments of the Beltran case."

Maga said that the FKBM and Anakpawis Party-list continue to receive messages of support for Ka Bel and reassurances that they – foreign officials, church leaders and concerned citizens—are doing their share in campaigning for Ka Bel's release.

"We continue to reach out to as many groups and individuals as possible to unite and rally them behind the cause of Ka Bel's release. It's been nine months, but the Macapagal-Arroyo administration remains stubborn in its refusal to release Ka Bel despite the truth that it doesn't have any real case against him. It's already an international embarrassment that at this day and age when the Philippines is supposedly a country with democratic processes, a well-respected and renowned labor leader and people's legislator such as Ka Bel is being persecuted and made into a political detainee. This all the more focuses the spotlight on the Arroyo government's worsening tendencies of dictatorship," he concluded.#


Friday, November 24, 2006

Radio Interview with the Canadian Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission to the Philippines

On Wedneday, November 22, 2006, Jennifer Efting, a Canadian delegate on the mission was interviewed live from Manila, Philippines on Wake-Up with Co-op in Vancouver, B.C.

Click here to hear the recorded interview.

Canadians detained by military in Southern Luzon

Canadians detained by military in Southern Luzon
By Ted Alcuitas

Quezon City, Philippines - Three Canadian members of a human rights fact-finding mission were detained for more than 13 hours in seven military checkpoints as they went through their investigation.

"It was a harrowing experience for the whole delegation which consisted of the three foreign delegates and over 20 members of local mass organizations, says lawyer Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial who is six months pregnant. "There were terrifyng and tense moments as we negotiated with military officials to let us continue our investigation.."

Imperial, who heads the nine-member Canadian Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission to the Philippines says they estimated some 1,000 military personnel most in full battle-gear, were involved in the operation to frustrate the mission. The mission fanned out to three different regions of the country from Nov. 16-20 where reported cases of human rights violations were rampant. Imperial's group went to Quezon province in the Southern Tagalog region. A second team went to the Central Region went to Nueva Ecija annd Bulacan while the third team visited Abra and Baguio.The mission was conducted from Nov. 16 to 20.

The Canadian Embassy in Manila as well lawyers of CODAL, a Philippine human rights law coalition,ntervened with the military to release the detained Canadians and members of their team. "By the time we were allowed to leave however, there was no more we could do and the mission had to be aborted for the safety and security of the members, " says Alcuitas.

In a press conference on Tuesday in Quezon City, Imperial lambasted the government for its pronouncements of openess to the investigation of political killings yet "prevents independent groups like ours to find the real truth behind these killings." Three family members of military harassment also spoke during the press conference and related how they were subjected to interrogation leading one of them to leave their home and seek refugee in a safe house. Imperial called for a "redirection" of Canada's foreign aid to non-governmental groups.

"If the President is serious in solving these killings she should allow the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur to come to the country to investigate." says Marie Hilao-Enriquez of the human rights alliance Karapatan. "The experience of the Canadian delegation only confirms what we have been saying all along- that the Philippines is under martial law, albeit not officially."

Karapatan has documented human rights violations since Arroyo came to power in 2001 and reports that there are now 783 (?) cases of political killings, over 100 forced disappearances and cases of attempted murder. The alliance says their investigations all point a finger at the Philippine military.

The government however, disputes Karapatan's figures and accuses the group as a Communist "front" along with other so-called leftist organizations. The tagging of these groups whose leaders are in the 'military's Order of Battle" put them on a virtual death sentence.

Arroyo has been under pressure both from local and international bodies including Amnesty International to put an end to the killings whom critics liken to Operation Phoenix during the Vietnam War. Last week, the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFC) in the Philippines called for a stop to the killings or risk losing aid and investment followed by a similar warning from U.S.-based apparel companies.

"When the international business community says something, she (President Arroyo) has to pay more attention," Canadian Ambassador Peter Sutherland told mission members in a meeting at the embassy office in Makati on Wednesday. Sutherland told the members Canada gives $13- $15 year in bilateral aid to the country but that close to $30 million would have been poured into the country if the direct business investments are included.

"Our aid is tied to promoting 'good governance' and support small businesses become self-sufficient," he adds.

The Canadian delegation also meet with Senator Jamby Madrigal, the adminsitration's leading critic, who promised to introduce a resolution calling for an inquiry into the detention and harassment of the fact-finding mission members. " Being foreigners, you could have been arrested and worse,killed as 'terrorists' had the Anti-terrorism Bill been passed," she told the delegation. The Bill is awaiting final amendments and possible passage in the Senate.

The mission's final report will be submitted to the Canadian and Philippine governments as well as other institutions. The Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights who sponsored the fact-finding mission, will hold simultaneous events in various cities in Canada on December 10 (International Human Rights Day) to highlight the findings of the mission.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Soldiers held local activists

Georgia Straight
News Features
By Charlie Smith
Publish Date: November 23, 2006

Three Canadian human-rights activists claim they were detained for several hours by the Philippines Army. Trade-union activist Jennifer Efting and lawyer Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial, both residents of Vancouver, and former Vancouver resident Cecilia Diocson, a nurse, are part of a 32-member Canadian team “investigating reports of human rights violations” in the Philippines.

Efting, best known locally as an organizer with the Bus Riders Union, told the Georgia Straight that the three women were detained for a total of 13 hours over a two-day period on November 16 and 17. She said that machine gun–bearing military officials stopped the trio from entering the town of San Narciso, south of Manila.

The women were then hauled off to a police station, Efting claimed.

“We were never held in a cell, but we were held in their offices and prevented from leaving,” Efting said in a phone interview from the Philippines four days after they were released. “We were threatened with arrest.”

Efting claimed that the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is relying on the military to conduct a “campaign of repression and terror against progressive movements in the Philippines”. Amnesty International, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, and the Manila-based Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) have all raised serious concerns about human-rights abuses and “extrajudicial killings” in the Philippines.

Efting said that the Canadians are very worried about what might happen to their hosts: human-rights activists with Karapatan, which has claimed that more than 700 activists have been murdered since 2001. Amnesty International has reported that 51 activists were killed in the first eight-and-a-half months of 2006.

“These aren’t random attacks,” Efting said. “They are attacks on labour leaders. They are attacks on people fighting for human rights. They are attacks on women’s organizations.”

She added that she felt nervous seeing so many men with M16 rifles walking around, particularly because some of them refused to provide their names. “They were wearing scarves over their faces and they were wearing their guns over their name tags,” she said. “We really have to ask, ‘Why weren’t we allowed into that town?’ If there aren’t any human-rights violations going on, there should be freedom for human-rights observers to go in and see that as the truth.”

The treatment of the Canadian human¬-rights activists has generated media coverage in the Philippines Daily Inquirer, one of the country’s leading English-language newspapers, as well as in the New York Times. Efting claimed that the reception they received demonstrates that the Philippines is sliding into fascism.

Alcuitas-Imperial is seven months pregnant, according to her sister Hetty, who remained in Vancouver. Hetty Alcuitas told the Straight that the activists will write a report after they complete their investigation. She added that her father, Ted Alcuitas, a retired newspaper publisher living in Vancouver, is also part of the fact-finding mission.

“They’re going to lobby the [Canadian] government to suspend relations and all aid to the Philippines,” Alcuitas said.

She added that a “civil war” has been under way for more than 30 years between the government and the New People’s Army, which is the armed wing of the Communist party of the Philippines. Alcuitas explained that this is why the human-rights activists encountered so many military personnel in the area. “The Arroyo government has a counterinsurgency plan,” she said.

Officials with the Philippines Consulate in Vancouver did not return a call from the Straight by deadline.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Palace slams Canadian rights team


By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
Reporter INQ7.net
Posted date: November 22, 2006

MALACAÑANG on Wednesday denounced a team of Canadians who are in the country to look into political killings as “propaganda tools of the revolutionary left."

"These pseudo investigations on so-called extrajudicial killings are not sanctioned by the Canadian government with whom we maintain strong and time-honored ties," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a statement.

Bunye said the "self-proclaimed" mission "appear to be mere propaganda tools of the revolutionary left rather than impartial instruments of truth and justice."

"We deplore the arrogance of certain self-serving groups to turn this issue into a diplomatic matter," he said, reacting to the team’s announcement that they would ask their government to redirect $22 million in aid from the "militarist" Arroyo administration to communities.

The Canadian activists arrived in the Philippines last week to investigate what it described as the "alarming deterioration of human rights" in the country.

The nine-member fact-finding team is composed of lawyers, trade unionists, community leaders and human rights advocates.

The human rights organization Karapatan has documented 764 deaths of activists since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed office in 2001.

Bunye reiterated that the government is determined to solve the killings and that the President has been in touch with the diplomatic community on this issue.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Canada rights mission calls for $22-million cut in aid to RP

November 21, 2006
By CANDICE Y. CEREZO, The Manila Times Reporter

The Canadian human-rights mission will recommend today (Wednesday) to the Canadian ambassador to the Philippines that annual aid to the country be cut by at least $22 million following the alleged harassment by the military to frustrate its probe.

Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial, a Filipino-Canadian lawyer who heads the Philippines-Canada Task Force for Human Rights, said they will present before Ambassador Peter Sutherland the mission’s findings on human-rights violations committed in Quezon province, Abra, Nueva Ecija and Baguio.

She said the mission would also ask the embassy to redirect the multimillion-dollar aid for community programs to grassroots organizations instead.

Alcuitas-Imperial also questioned the openness of the Arroyo administration to international probes, saying that during the mission’s visit to San Nicolas in Quezon, the military tried to stop its members from entering the area.

"The military tried to prevent us from speaking to residents of areas where there were reported human-rights violations. They seem to be following orders to bar human-rights observers, which contradicts President Arroyo’s supposed openness for international probes," Alcuitas said in a press conference in Quezon City on Tuesday.

"The soldiers and police accosted us as though we were criminals and were very arrogant. They tried to break the team apart and separate us from Filipino human-rights workers and threatened to file a case of obstruction of justice against us," she said.

Alcuitas said the probe was conducted from November 17 to 20 by two teams composed of nine Canadians and Filipino human-rights workers.

She said that on their way back to Manila on November 19, their team spent some 13 hours of travel time because it had to go through several military and police checkpoints from San Nicolas to San Pablo in Quezon.

Group probing extra-judicial slays cry military harassment

November 21, 2006

Canadian fact-finding team investigating the recent spate of militant killings claimed Tuesday that its members were harassed by the military.

"We were really not able to go into the area and every step of our way, as I said 13 hours of detention by the military is really our conclusion that the military rule is entrenched in Southern Tagalog," committee member Merryn Edwards told ANC.

Reports said that the committee was concerned over the increasing number of militants who were victims of extra-judicial killings in the provinces.
Edwards, together with the committee’s lawyers Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial and Mike Leotold, told ANC that they have experienced intimidation and harassment at the hands of soldiers when attempting to enter a province in the Southern Tagalog region.
Maj. Gen. Fernando Mesa, commanding general of the 2nd Infantry Division, meanwhile, maintained that the group failed to coordinate with proper authorities. He added that the group was accompanied by Karapatan, an organization linked to the New People’s Army.

"They went to the area without coordination at all and we had an ongoing operation then. We cannot just let them in without proper coordination and so we invited them for a briefing on the areas they were going to but they turned down our invitation," Mesa said.

The general added that had the group coordinated with authorities, including their embassy, and have accepted the military’s invitation to brief them once the operation was terminated, they could have been escorted.

"We don’t want anything to happen to them," he added. The three denied Mesa’s claim of failing to inform the Canadian embassy about their mission. They said the embassy was alerted and even the local government units in the regions where the mission was conducted.

"The Canadian government was aware of our presence in the region and we did inform them before we left for our mission. We are not the representatives of the Canadian government. We are a fact-finding mission represented by various organizations in Canada,"said Edwards.

Imperial said Canada is sending $22 million in foreign aid to the Philippines and one of the programs outlined is to support the strengthening of democratic institutions and local government units.

"So, as Canadian we respect the democratic process and that's why we went straight to the local officials. But what we experienced was that every point of the way we had the military blocking and undermining the mission," added Imperial.

Imperial said that the mission’s main objective was to aid Karapatan whom she said is a legal organization working on human rights issues.

The committee is expected to write a report about their mission in the Philippines that would be presented to the Canadian, United Kingdom and Australian embassies.

"We will definitely be reporting on that [intimidation and harassment] to the Canadian government and encouraging them to pressure the Philippine government to institute civilian authority over military dominance in the regions and also to really respect the rights of human rights advocates," Edwards said.

Canadian human rights observers question Arroyo government's openness to international probe

PRESS RELEASE – 21 November 2006

Atty. Luningning Alcuitas, Philippines-Canadan Task Force for Human Rights Coordinator (09184974461)
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, KARAPATAN Secretary General (09065064188)

Members of the Canadian Fact-Finding Mission to the Philippines who were harassed by military personnel today questioned the openness of the Arroyo government to international probe. The Canadians suffered from military harassment.

"The military has tried to prevent us from speaking to residents of areas where there are reported human rights violations. They seem to be following orders to bar rights observers, opposite Pres. Arroyo's supposed openness for international probe," said Fil-Canadian lawyer Ning Alcuitas -Imperial who heads the Philippines-Canada Task Force for Human Rights.

The Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon teams of the fact-finding mission composed of Canadian delegates and Filipino human rights workers, suffered from military harassment. The Southern Tagalog team was stopped and held at seven detachments and police stations from San Narciso, Quezon to San Pablo.

"The soldiers and police have accosted us like we were criminals and were very arrogant. They tried to break the team apart and separate us from Filipino human rights workers and threatened to file obstruction of justice case against us. They were even forcing to get our travel documents but were unsuccessful," said Alcuitas who was joined in the team by fellow Canadians Cecilia Diocson and Jennifer Efting.

"We have informed local officials of our visit and they have agreed to our entry, why would the military veto local executives, is there martial law in the Philippines?" asked Alcuitas.

"If they have nothing to hide, why won't they allow the team to proceed with its mission? The harassment is aimed at preventing the mission from talking to victims but they were likewise unsuccessful because we have found a way to them," said Alcuitas.

Merryn Edwards, a member of the Central Luzon team of the Canadian Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission said, "We are completely appalled by the severity of the human rights violations and the level of militarization in Nueva Ecija,"

While traveling to collect testimony, the Fact-Finding Mission has passed through numerous Barangay Defense System (BDS) checkpoints, some located less than a kilometer apart and were hounded by motorcycle-riding soldiers, some in uniform and in plain clothes.

"We have learned that officially, civilian participation in the BDS is voluntary but citizens have told us that they are afraid that they will be targeted by the military if they do not participate," said Edwards who also said "Our impression is that this BDS system is promoting a climate of fear in these communities because non-compliance will result in being tagged as supporters of the insurgency." adds Edwards.

Edwards also was horrified at the obvious military rule and the breakdown of civilian rule in the places they visited. While the team tries to inform the Barangay Captain about their mission everytime they entere an area, it was clearly observed that the officials were in constant communication with the militaryas to our whereabouts and movement.

"In fact, barrangay officials were castigated by the military commander a day after we entered a village where a former councillor used to live and whose house was burned by suspected military elements,"continued Edwards.

"What kind of "functioning democracy" is this when it is the military that is calling the shots?" she asks. Edwards notes that in 2004, Canada has poured in $22 million Canadian in bilateral aid to the Philippines to improve 'good governance'.

Canadians who went to the Cordillera looked into recent cases of reported rights violations, including the frustrated killing of Rev. Billy Austin and other incidents involving peasant villagers and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Mike Leitold, a lawyer from the Law Union of Ontario notes that "The team's time in the Cordillera revealed an ongoing pattern of human rights abuses – particularly the assassinations of Romy Sanchez, Pepe Manegdeg, Albert Terredano and the attempt on Reverend Austin's life – aimed directly at those who provide a voice for the voiceless. Rural communities are being militarized by the AFP's campaign of counterinsurgency that harasses and intimidates the local people."

KARAPATAN Secretary General Marie Hilao-Erniquez meanwhile challenged the Arroyo government to "allow United Nations Special Rapporteurs and other international observers in the Philippines and let them do their work." During her trip to Geneva last month, she learned that Philippine authorities have not responded to requests of Special Rapporteurs.

Enriquez said their group have been suffering what the Canadian teams have suffered and more, as 27 of their leaders and human rights workers have been killed by state security forces, but no amount of harassment and intimidation could cow them from giving up their work to monitor and document human rights abuses by government forces.

"They should be the protectors, not the perpetrators, that is why the public has the right to make them accountable and the only decent response for government and the top-brass is to prosecute and punish offenders, not persecute human rights workers," Enriquez said.###

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rights probe team to appeal to Canada

By Desiree Caluza

Published on Page A14 of the November 21, 2006 issue of the
Philippine Daily Inquirer

BAGUIO CITY—Members of a Canadian human rights fact-finding mission said they would call on the Canadian government to express concern over the spate of political killings in the Philippines.

In a press forum on Monday, lawyer Mike Leitold, a mission member, said the team would make public the results of its investigation of alleged human rights violations in the country next month and submit these to the Canadian government. Leitold said the publication of the results of the fact-finding mission would coincide with the observance of International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

The mission looked into cases of political killings in Abra, Ilocos Sur and Benguet as part of the Phil-Can Task Force on Human Rights that conducted probes in Central Luzon, Northern Luzon and Southern Tagalog recently.

Last week, the group was barred by the military in Quezon from pursuing an investigation of alleged human rights abuses in that Southern Tagalog province.

Leitold said the team wanted Canada to pressure the Philippine government to act on and solve the killings.

“We want [our leaders] to express [concern over] these cases [with] President Macapagal-Arroyo. [We want them to tell Ms Arroyo] that this chilling pattern in the Philippines is real and needs to be investigated,” Leitold told reporters here.

He said it was significant for the Canadian government to express its sentiments about this issue. Canada is one of the major foreign investors in the Philippines and is host to a large number of Filipino immigrants, he said.

He said the results of the mission in Abra and Ilocos Sur showed a clear pattern of human rights abuses committed against leftist activists and farmers who were tagged by the military as New People’s Army members. Military officers have denied the charges. The abuses ranged from threats, murder, forced disappearances, torture to surveillance, he said.

“This merits full investigation. The victims and their families should be given
justice,” he said.

Beverly Longid, vice chair of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, said the military could have been behind the murder and surveillance of and threats received by political activists in the Cordillera, Cagayan Valley and the Ilocos.

“We hold the Arroyo regime responsible for all these killings and other violations of people’s rights… It has declared a war of terror against the Left, including leaders and members of progressive legal organizations,” she said.

On Monday, the militant Tongtongan Ti Umili said suspected military agents had been monitoring the movements of Jose Cawiding, coordinator of the party-list group Bayan Muna in Baguio and Benguet, and Jeannette Ribaya-Cawiding, Cordillera coordinator of Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Canadian Fact Finding Mission Appalled by Human Rights Violations in Nueva Ecija

Canadian Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission
Central Luzon Team
Merryn Edwards
Spokesperson, Central Luzon Team
Tel. No.: 0926-738-1313

19 November 2006

"We are completely appalled by the severity of the human rights violations and the level of militarization in Nueva Ecija," stated Merryn Edwards, a member of the Central Luzon team of the Canadian Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission. The team is one of three Canadian teams working with Philippine human rights advocates to document reports of human rights violations in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, and Cordillera regions.

The Canadian delegates had been following reports coming from Philippine human rights organizations before leaving Canada, but Edwards noted that "the impact of seeing the situation first-hand has been very powerful."

Yesterday, the team heard testimony from a witness who stated that a local peasant leader was brutally beaten and shot in front of his children.

"The bravery of the witnesses in coming forward, despite fear for their lives, is inspiring us to work hard to meet our mission's objectives despite continued obstruction and harassment by the military," asserted Edwards.

For the second day in a row, the group has noticed that they were being observed and followed by men who did not identify themselves.

Climate of fear

The team has heard from several local government officials who have explained how the military has systematically initiated a network called the Barangay Defense System or BDS.

"Officially, civilian participation in the BDS is voluntary," explained Edwards, "but citizens have told us that they are afraid that they will be targeted by the military if they do not participate."

While traveling to collect testimony, the Fact-Finding Mission has passed through numerous BDS Checkpoints, some located less than a kilometer apart.

"Our impression is that this BDS system is promoting a climate of fear in these communities," said Edwards.

Cowboy Justice

The Fact-Finding Mission has documented incidents in which witnesses testified that the military were dispensing punishment for alleged crimes, without making formal charges or involving local authorities or police.

The Barangay Captain of Villa Marina, San Jose City, Danilo de la Cruz, admitted to the team that the military had tortured three people who were accused of possessing weapons after a deadline the military had set for turning in arms.

"We were shocked when he told us that these people had only been 'slightly tortured". What is the state of democracy when local government officials are accepting the authority of the military to dispense this kind of cowboy justice?" Edwards asked further.

The three teams of the Fact-Finding Mission will be consolidating their findings before presenting to the Canadian Embassy in Manila on November 22nd.

"We will take that opportunity to express our grave concerns. Canada provides aid to the Philippines and Canadian corporations are active here, so we feel that our government has a responsibility to speak out against these atrocities and to ensure due process is followed to bring about genuine justice," closed Edwards.###

Military undermining rights probe--Fil-Canadian lawyer

By Delfin Mallari Jr.

Posted date: November 19, 2006

LUCENA CITY--A Filipino-Canadian lawyer who has returned to the Philippines to investigate alleged human rights violations in Quezon province said he was extremely disappointed with the hostile reception that her group has received from military and local government officials.

"We're very, very disappointed with the military and local officials in San Narciso town because we were not able to talk with human rights [abuse] victims. No one among local officials granted us [a] permit which was being demanded by the military," lawyer Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial, head of the Phils-Can Task Force on Human Rights, said over the phone from San Narciso.

She added that in every step of the way, going in and going out, the military always trailed them in order to undermine their investigation. The military explained that they did not allow the delegation to go into areas where the government's operations against the communist New People's Army rebels were in full swing.

On Friday, a group of Filipino and Canadian human rights protection advocates went to San Narciso, 268 kilometers south of Manila, to document reports of alleged human rights violations in the area.

The delegation planned to stay until Monday morning but decided to terminate the mission after encountering a hostile reception.

Doris Cuario, Karapatan-Southern Tagalog secretary general and member of the 34-member delegation, said they spotted suspicious persons surrounding the house of a town councilor where they stayed Saturday night.

"The military was hell-bent on preventing us so they kept on harassing us to terrorize the Canadian human rights observers. Even if we wanted to pursue the mission, we decided to end our stay in the area so as not to jeopardize the safety of the foreigners," Cuario said over the phone from the village of Ajos in Catanauan town where the group was held in a military checkpoint in front of the Army's 74th Infantry Battalion headquarters on their way back to Lucena City.

As this correspondent was talking with Cuario, loud protesting voices were heard in the background.

She said a group of protesters at the other side of the street fronting the camp denounced the presence of Karapatan and the Canadian human rights observers.

"They were hauled by the military aboard a big jeep. They carried placards, some with English messages against us, which I'm sure, were written by military propagandists," Cuario said.

According to Col. Amado Bustillos, commanding officer of the 74th IB, the protesters came all the way from San Narciso and hounded the activists' group.

"Most of them were former communist rebels. They just wanted to expose the deception of Karapatan before their Canadian companions," Bustillos said.

He said he was able to talk with a Canadian embassy official over the phone and explained the reasons for preventing the foreigners from pursuing the mission and the necessity of conducting checkpoints along the route.

"Although checkpoints really cause some inconvenience to motorists, it is also for their own safety and also our task in maintaining peace in the area," Bustillos explained.

Cuario said that on their way back to Lucena, Army soldiers manning the checkpoint in Gen. Luna town flagged down their vehicles and again conducted a routine inspection and investigation.

The delegation was again stopped by joint elements of military and police in the next town of Macalelon.

SPO2 Renato Balani, desk officer of Macalelon police station, explained to the Inquirer that they were just doing a "routine inspection" of every foreigner.

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Network Company

3 Canadian activists say Philippines military harassed them

By Carlos H. Conde
The New York Times

Three Canadians who traveled to a Philippine province to investigate claims of government abuses against political activists said Sunday that they had been harassed and detained by the military.

The three, who were collaborating with a local human rights organization, made their complaint a week after an association of retired generals called the international human rights group Amnesty International persona non grata. The move by the generals came after Amnesty accused the security forces of complicity in the killings of nearly 800 leftists and labor activists since 2001.

Luningning Alcuitas Imperial, a lawyer, Jennifer Efting, a trade union activist, and Cecilia Diocson, a nurse, are members of a fact-finding team from Canada that is looking into the killings. Diocson and Imperial are of Filipino descent.

According to Karapatan, the Filipino human rights group that invited the Canadians, the three were in Quezon, a province south of Manila, on Sunday to talk with residents about alleged military abuses, when soldiers blocked their vehicle and detained them. Karapatan said the Canadians were questioned by the military for several hours before they were released.

Earlier, Rolly Pongyan, a Filipino peasant leader who had accompanied the Canadians, was allegedly abducted by soldiers. He was released only after the foreigners pleaded with local military leaders, according to Pongyan's group, the Farmers Movement in the Philippines.

"The military refused to allow our entry into the area," said Imperial in a statement issued by Karapatan. "They were trying to intimidate us."

The soldiers' commanding officer, Imperial said, told them that "he could not guarantee our physical safety and that we would be charged for obstruction of justice if we entered the area."

There was no immediate reaction from the military.

Last week, the armed forces said they supported the move by the association of retired generals declaring Amnesty persona non grata. The generals were reacting to an Aug. 15 report by Amnesty that included material provided by Karapatan and said the killings "constitute a politically motivated pattern" and that state security forces seemed to have been involved.

A military spokesman called the report "rapidly concluded" and said most of the testimony gathered by the group came from "communist supporters and militant personalities." The military said it wanted Amnesty members banned from the Philippines.

The killings, meanwhile, have continued. On Thursday, a member of the leftist group Bayan Muna was gunned down in Sorsogon, a province south of Manila.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has said that her government respects human rights and that it continues to hold talks with business and human- rights groups. She urged the public to give a chance to an official commission investigating the murders.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Canadians face military harassment while on fact-finding mission in Philippines

Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights
For immediate release: November 18, 2006

Three human rights activists from Canada were detained for several hours on Thursday in the Philippines as part of a fact-finding mission team investigating reports of human rights violations.

According to reports, the team was detained and questioned by elements of the 74th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army in San Narciso, Quezon Province, south of Manila.

The Canadian human rights advocates are lawyer Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial, trade unionist Jennifer Efting, and nurse Cecilia Diocson. They are a part of a 32-member delegation of human rights workers, including doctors and dentists, who traveled to the area to investigate claims of human rights violations.

The Canadians are a part of a Canadian Fact-Finding mission on human rights violations in the Philippines running until November 23.

“The military refused to allow our entry into the area,” said Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial (a lawyer from Vancouver with Lawyer’s Rights Watch and the Western Canadian Coordinator for the Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights) by cell phone from the area. “They were trying to intimidate us by cordoning off our jeepney and asking us for our passports and tourist visas. They even tried arresting our driver.”

San Narciso is home to 3000 local residents with 24 Barangays or villages. Karapatan, a human rights organization in the Philippines, received reports that many of the local farmers have been forced to flee their homes due to heavy counter-insurgency military operations.

“We were warned by the 74th IB commanding officer that he could not guarantee our physical safety and that we would be charged for obstruction of justice if we entered the area,” explained Imperial. The Philippine military detained the human rights workers for several hours before the arrival of some local barangay officials, at which time they were released.

According to Imperial, she was able to contact the Canadian Embassy in Manila for assistance. Embassy officials said they would extend protection to the Canadians, but also told them that they did not have the right to be with human rights workers from the Philippines and that “we should have gotten ‘permission’ from the military before entering the area.”

“We assert however, that it is our right as advocates of international human rights, democracy and freedom, to investigate claims of human rights violations and to speak and be with the victims and their families,” said Imperial.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, her cabinet, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have openly claimed that the increase of militarization in the provincial areas is a part of Oplan Bantay Laya or Operation Protect Freedom, a high scale military operation which seeks to “crush” the Communist-led New People’s Army by 2010.

According to the human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), since 2001, over 760 civilian activists, workers, church people, peasants and others have fallen victim to extra-judicial killings allegedly carried out by elements of the Philippine military. The spate of killings and other human rights violations have brought international criticism of the Philippine government from human rights organizations like Amnesty International and business groups like the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Manila and executives representing major US clothing retailers like Gap and Wal-Mart.

The Canadian government has not officially condemned the killings or other human rights violations in the Philippines. Members of the Canadian mission will be bringing their findings to a meeting with Canadian Ambassador Peter Sutherland in Manila next week.

The group is also urging Prime Minister Harper to raise the issue during his bilateral meeting with President Arroyo at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam scheduled this weekend.

For more information, please contact:

* Vancouver: Hetty, Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights, 604-215-1103 or email bcchrp@kalayaancentre.net
* Montreal: Philippine Women Centre of Quebec at (514) 678-3901 or email siklabquebec@gmail.com
* Toronto: Yolyn, SIKLAB-Ontario, 416-656-2660 or email siklab_ontario@yahoo.ca

* Ruth Cervantes, Karapatan Public Information Officer, cell phone 09153002684 or landline (632) 434-2837
* Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial, Spokesperson for the Canadian Fact-finding Mission in the Philippines, 63-918-497-4461

Friday, November 17, 2006

Paying Tribute to the Martyrs of Hacienda Luisita

Photos of the fact-finding team from Canada lighting candles and offering flowers at the marker dedicated to the victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre and subsequent extrajudicial killings of the leaders and supporters of the strike. November 16th marked the 2nd year anniversary of the massacre at Hacienda Luisita where 7 striking workers were gunned down by the Philippine military.


Canadian rights team arrives to probe killings

Agence France-Presse
Posted date: November 16, 2006

A TEAM of Canadian activists arrived in the Philippines Thursday to investigate what it said was an "alarming deterioration of human rights" in the country.
The nine-member fact-finding team composed of lawyers, trade unionists, community leaders and human rights advocates will examine cases of extra-judicial killings, and attacks on political and trade union groups, among other human rights abuses.

The group said in a statement it was "alarmed by the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines."

The leftist human rights group Karapatan has documented 764 deaths of activists since President Gloria Arroyo came to power in 2001.

"We are very much concerned about reports of wanton human rights abuses in the Philippines," lawyer Luningning Alcuitas, a Filipino-Canadian and coordinator of the Philippines-Canada Task Force for Human Rights said.

Trade unionist Beth Grayer said extrajudicial killings and trade union repression "seem to have escalated" around the country in recent years.
She cited the attack on striking farm workers two years ago in Hacienda Luisita -- a northern Philippines corporate farm controlled by the family of the former president Corazon Aquino -- where seven unionists were killed as an example.

Last week the executives of seven major US retail giants that source garments from the Philippines sent a letter to Arroyo calling on her to protect labor and human rights.
The executives represented Gap, Polo Ralph Lauren, Wal-Mart, Liz Claiborne, American Eagle Outfitters, Jones Apparel Group and Phillips Van Heusen.

The letter was in reaction to the violent dispersal of striking workers in September at the Cavite Export Processing Zone near Manila.

A report prepared by the Hong Kong Mission for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines said Wednesday the government "is at best grossly failing to protect its citizens, and at worst may be complicit in an orchestrated campaign of targeted assassination."

"Many witnesses or victims' family members believe the state is engaged in a campaign to eliminate politically 'leftist' groups and individuals in the Philippines," said the report, which was released through the Asian Human Rights Commission.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo defended her government's record on human rights after foreign business groups expressed alarm over a spate of political killings.

On Monday the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce said murder "for political reasons has no place in a modern democratic state."

©Copyright 2001-2006 INQ7 Interactive, Inc. An INQUIRER and GMA Network Company



Fil-Canadian lawyer returns to help solve political killings

By Delfin Mallari Jr.


Posted date: November 17, 2006

LUCENA CITY--Concerned with incessant reports of human rights
violations in the country, a Filipino-Canadian lawyer, whose paternal
roots are in Quezon province, arrived here Friday to personally
investigate stories on the alleged rights violations.

"In Canada, there's a growing concern over the political killings in
the Philippines, especially among Filipino-Canadians. We want to know
what's really happening," lawyer Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial said in
an interview here during their visit to the office of Quezon Vice
Governor David "Jayjay" Suarez, who has been acting as the provincial
chief executive.

Suarez was in northern Quezon at the time of the visit but his chief
of staff nonetheless extended his full support to the group of foreign
human rights observers.

Imperial, who left the country when she was barely eight months old in
1968, said her paternal grandmother hailed from Lopez town.

She stressed her group wanted to understand what is happening in the
Philippines. The search for answers has a special significance for her
"whose origins and relatives are in this country."

"We want to express our deep concern over so many reports that we have
been receiving about harassments and intimidation among helpless
farmers. I believe that as Filipinos abroad, we're still intimately
connected with the situation of our compatriots here in the
Philippines," said Imperial.

The Canadian noted that despite over more than 750 cases of political
killings in the country since the Arroyo administration came to power,
the killers had not been brought to court, tried and convicted.

"Impunity [with which] political killings [are carried out] must be
condemned and the government must act and provide justice to the
victims' families," Imperial said.

The group said they would document cases of human rights violations
and present it to the Canadian and Philippine governments.

Imperial arrived with two other human rights observers,
Filipino-Canadian nurse Cecilia Diocson, Canadian Jennifer Efting and
10 members of the militant human rights group Karapatan led by Doris
Cuario, its secretary general in Southern Tagalog.

The three Canadians belong to a nine-member fact-finding team of
Canadian activists who arrived Thursday to investigate what it said
was an "alarming deterioration of human rights" in the country.

Two other Canadian teams proceeded to Central Luzon and Abra province
to conduct a similar probe in these areas.

The Canadian delegation, composed of lawyers, trade unionists,
community leaders and human rights advocates will examine cases of
extrajudicial killings and attacks on political and trade union
groups, among other human rights abuses.

Cuario said the group would focus their investigation in the town of
San Narciso where they intended to stay until Monday morning.

"San Narciso is now the government showcase of human rights violations
in Quezon province with numerous reports of military harassments
against innocent farmers in the area," Cuario said.

San Narciso Mayor Victor Reyes welcomed the arrival of the Canadian
human rights observers. He offered the assistance of the local
government and the police to the fact-finding mission.

But he vehemently denied that human rights violations against
civilians had been rampant in his locality.

"That human rights violations issue was all based on concocted
stories. We have nothing to hide in our peaceful town. We respect
human rights. What we have are minor agrarian conflicts which were
just being sensationalized by professional agitators," he said in a
phone interview.

Cuario claimed that more than 30 "internally displaced" families from
General Luna, San Franciso and San Narciso towns in the province's
Bondoc Peninsula area had left their homes due to intense
counter-insurgency operations by the military. When told that there
had been no recent news reports from the local media of refugees from
military operations in Quezon, Cuario explained that the main concerns
of the terrified peasants were how to rush out of the province.

She claimed that most of the fleeing farmers had sought refuge among
their relatives in Laguna and Batangas. She said that at least 20
persons sought shelter at the Karapatan central office, eight of whom
are children and the youngest a newly born infant.
Lieutenant Colonel Rhoderick Parayno, spokesman of the Armed Forces
Southern Luzon Command based here in Camp Nakar, denied the human
rights violation charges against the military.

In a phone interview, Parayno said the allegations were rehashed
charges of Karapatan "which they could not even substantiate."

He scoffed at the human rights group for turning "a simple agrarian
issue into an insurgency conflict blown out of proportion."

©Copyright 2001-2006 INQ7 Interactive, Inc. An INQUIRER and GMA
Network Company

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Press Release – November 16, 2006

References: Atty. Ning Alcuitas, Philippines-Canada Task Force for Human Rights Coordinator
Beth Grayer, Bus Riders' Union, Vancouver, Canada
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, KARAPATAN Secretary General (09178800213)

Canadians arrive in RP to probe killings, rights abuses
Team goes to Hacienda Luisita today

Alarmed by the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines, a delegation of concerned Canadian citizens has arrived to probe various reports of human rights violations in the country.

The nine-member fact-finding team, composed of lawyers, trade unionists, community leaders and human rights advocates from different areas in Canada announced the start of their mission at the site of the Hacienda Luisita massacre that happened two years ago today and which claimed the lives of 7 sugarcane workers.

“We are very much concerned about reports of wanton human rights abuses in the Philippines, the seeming lack, if not absence, of remedies for victims and the pervading culture of impunity attending the atrocities,” said lawyer Luningning Alcuitas, a Filipino-Canadian and coordinator of the Philippines-Canada Task Force for Human Rights.

Community organizer Beth Grayer said they empathize with the victims and their families and join their call for justice. “Extrajudicial killings and trade union repression seem to have escalated, especially after the Hacienda Luisita massacre. What happened to the state forces that fired upon striking workers? Was the Philippine government able to render justice to the victims?”

The Canadian Mission will follow-up on the case of the Hacienda Luisita massacre and the cases of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and the Cordillera. They will also look into the political persecution of the Batasan 5 and detained Anakpawis Party List Representative Crispin Beltran.

The mission’s report will be presented to Philippine and Canadian government authorities, media and church institutions here and abroad.

The Canadian team will be joined by human rights workers and volunteers in the rural areas, said KARAPATAN Secretary General Marie Hilao-Enriquez, who welcomed the arrival of the foreign mission.

“Their presence here is important to help us gather more evidences and document cases of reported rights violations. Since our colleagues have been under attack, 27 of whom were already killed and many others arrested and harassed, human rights work in the Philippines is becoming more and more difficult and dangerous,” Enriquez said.

The mission is being launched on a very significant date, that of the second anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre which is also designated by member countries of the International League of People’s Struggles as the International Day of Action Against Trade Union Repression and Political Killings in the Philippines.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The struggle continues: from strike to workers' centre, from the provinces to Manila

Last night I could barely get to sleep for all the excitement of the last couple of days...

From strike to workers' centre
On Sunday Ning, Merryn and I went to visit Gabriela, the national alliance of militant women's organizations, and spent the afternoon talking to Emily, the International Relations Officer. I met Emily on my last trip in 2003, and it was good to see her again. She hadn't slept in two days as they are very busy preparing the activities of the coming week surrounding the case of Nicole, a woman raped by U.S. military men. Despite being tired, she spoke eloquently of their work and conveyed the commitment and passion that she continues to put into the struggle.

Emily spoke of the impacts of the political killings and political repression on their work of educating, organizing and mobilizing Filipino women. At key moments, they have been forced to refocus their work to fighting the political repression. When the political killings and repression worsened, she said that at first some of the women were afraid to join in Gabriela activities, but with their assessment that it is more important than ever to continue their organizing, the women have continued and refuse to back down in the face of repression. The women have responded with all of their collective strength, but it is clear that the repression has taken its toll, if only in the sadness of lost kasama (comrades) and for the pain of the victims of the rape and violence. It struck me how this movement is able to respond with such strength and optimism, confident in the path they've chosen the free the Filipino people from imperialism and the brutality of its government.

Emily was also able to update me on a strike that I observed in 2003. Gabriela has a wing that organizes women workers - in February 2003 they were actively organizing the workers of SM Mall (one of the largest malls in Asia). I had the opportunity to go with the organizers into the mall to talk to workers, then to a house meeting with the workers, and finally to sleep on the strike lines when they took it to the streets. I was inspired by the militancy of the workers, and the model of a women's organization that organizes in workplaces where women are the vast majority, although men also participate. These unions are members of KMU, the federation of militant trade unions. Through their strike in 2003, the workers succeeded in winning their back pay, but many of the regular workers were "retrenched" (fired) for participating in the strike. However, rather than take this as a defeat, these women became organizers and opened the Gabriela Silang Centre for Displaced Workers, which organizes women workers who go from contract to contract and are often unemployed. Because of contractualization, it is increasingly difficult to organize workers at the worksite. This workers' centre is a creative solution, as it organizes at the community level. I was impressed at how even a defeat, with creativity and vision, can be turned into an opportunity for advancing the struggle. It reminded me of workers centres in the U.S., where similar conditions and barriers to organizing call for similar tactics. We're hoping to visit the centre following the fact finding mission.

From the province to Manila
On our tour of the KMU office yesterday, we met a young trade union organizer, maybe my age (25), with a clear and passionate anti-imperialist analysis who I recognized from my visit to the provinces in 2003. He didn't recognize me after so long and with long hair (at the time I had a quazi-crew cut), but with some memory-proding greeted me warmly. He was forced to move to Manila due to threats and political persecution, where he continues to organize workers. The political killings are primarily taking place outside of the capital region, and trade union organizers are at the top of the hit lists. In Manila, he is able to continue to organize workers with slightly less risk, although he is certainly not completely safe.

He was able to update me on another kasama from his community who generously put me up in his house with his family, took me to visit different workers' organizations and treated me as a member of the movement and family. His seven year old daughter was already planning to become an organizer and his wife was pregnant with their second child. There were receiving regular death threats for his leadership in the union. Since then, I have been concerned for him and his family with all the news of the political killings and repression. Yesterday I was able to talk to him on the phone, enough to know that they are well and that they now have a three-year old son. They are also living in Manila (again, forced to move from their home due to the very real threat of being killed) where he is an organizer with a KMU trade union. Although sadened and angered that they were displaced from their home and community, I spent most of the day with a grin on my face knowing that they are healthy and alive.

My relief at making contact with these friends and comrades brought home to me on a personal level the reality of these political killings, disapearces, rapes, harrassments and the effects of living in fear. Because when it's someone you've met, shared food and stories with, and seen active in the struggle, that loss and threat of loss is much more acute - and so is the determination to fight this wicked system that kills and dispears people whose only crime is fighting to create a community, country and world where we can live with justice and peace.

So, inspired and even more determined, we sit down today for our orientation on the Fact Finding Mission. Tomorrow we will leave for the provinces.


blog from the insomniac in Manila...


I am also up - it's now 5:20am here. my internal clock is a bit wacked out, so I got desperately tired around 830pm last night and woke up around 4:00am. I just read Ted's blog entry and I'm going to try not to repeat his observations and tales.

When I landed at the Manila airport, my flight was greeted by a number of Filipino men who greeted us with "hello" and "how are you". It seems like they are mandated to do this as part of their jobs. Then, as we were walking towards the customs agents, we were serenaded by a full four piece band.

I thought to myself, what a telling picture of the irrationality of imperialism - here, in a nation where so many suffer from hunger - where the majority live in poverty - where health care services are desperately needed - these men spend all day long greeting foreigners from the north? Playing the same song over and over for tourists passing down a hallway?

As I passed through customs, I made the mistake of telling the customs agent that I was bringing in medical supplies (which were collected by PWC - Montreal and Vancouver I believe?). He was very concerned about this, and questioned me for several minutes. He was concerned that I was going to give them to "indigent people". I assured him that of course I would not distribute medical supplies to poor people (what an appalling idea!) and he let me go.

Yesterday we visited with the Batasan Five and went to KMU. If any BRU folks are reading this, take note - KMU has a whole office just for cultural workers! It is a very exciting office, full of beautiful and militant paintings and posters. Ka Bong told us that they take a lot of inspiration from the Indian union movement which has a very strong cultural tradition as well. He also told us that they attend a competition once a year where cultural union workers from all over the world compete!

We also watched the Congress in (in)action. Out of a total of 235 congresspeople, only about 20 showed up! The first item on the agenda was a 30 minute discussion about the value of billboards to the Philippines economy. I am told that a number of billboards fell down in the recent storms, crushing and killing many people. The billboard representatives felt unfairly blamed for this - after all (according to them) - the billboards didn't kill people, it was the storm!

After the billboard celebration, Congresswoman Eta Rosales rose to ask Congress to grant Ka Bel a one day leave to celebrate his upcoming 50 year anniversary with his wife. Then, Congress decided to take a break, and no one responded to her motion.

Tomorrow we will be off to the regions. I am going to Southern Tagalog.

That's all for now.


FFM's first full meetings

Hi everyone!

It's 3 in the morning and the cocks are not yet crowing but I can't seem to go back to sleep. So I put my thoughts into the keyboard and originally had an email to Hets but Jen could not somehow post it so I had to cut it down to size?

We (Jen, Beth, Merryn and Ning) had a full day yesterday with a tour of the KMU office and a briefing from them on the situation of the country and the impacts on workers. The picture looks gloomy but they are not giving up hope and continues to arouse and mobilize despite the repression. I was impressed and inspired by the amount of work they are able to do in such a small facility.

From the KMU we moved to the Congress to have a dialogue with the Batasan 5 or 6 as Ka Bel is still in military confinement or imprisonment? We're going t o visit him today for his 5oth wedding anniv. We were only able to meet 4 of them as Ka Joel was not able to make it. It was a wide-ranging discussion and the one that stuck with me is Congresswoman Liza maza' answer when asked about the seeming 'freedom' that they enjoy and the stark reality of the repression.

"We are not free because they have given us freedom but because we assert our right to be free!" , and Congressman Ted Casino's statement that they are a different breed because they are "activists first, before they became congressmen".

We were guests at the session but they did'nt mention about the fact we were on a h.r. mission. The cavernous chambers were almost empty and only a few members were milling around oblivious to the proceedings. I like question period better but that doesn't mean I support charter change!

the camaraderie at the restaurant at the end of the day was more fun and a chance to meet the people from the ground who do the work of human rights monitoring, toiling under improbable circumstances and yet continues to do so.

The highlight for me at the dinner was to met Donat Continente who was sitting across me. I remember 'googling' him last year when trying to prepare our stuff for the PP's and finally see him face to face!

Beth interviewed him and I acted as cameraman. Hopefully it will come out OK because the restaurant was dark but I thought it was a perfect backdrop for a former poltical prisoner who suffered torture and held the longest. I placed a candle in front of him and the glow of that solitary candle was like a light pierching the darkness of repression and how we must all strive to light a thousand candles to defeat imperialism - as we say and sing in Filipino, "Libo,libong sulo!"

This morning we go see Ka Bel. I bought him a dreamcatcher at the Vancouver airport as I thought his dream of liberation for the Filipino people will catch on and will continue to be dreamnt by many people and acted so that all can be free...

Till next blog...ingat!


Jen and Ted arrived safely last night

We have much to report, including a meeting with Gabriela, a visit to the Canadian Embassy, meeting with KMU, Q and A with Batasan 5, and attending a session of the House of Representatives . . . but we are too tired to give a full report tonight! So for now we will just say that Ted and Jen arrived safely last night and hit the ground running this morning. We are all looking forward to our full day orientation session with Karapatan tomorrow and promise to post more soon.

BTW--Sean, you will be happy to hear that we have been filming up a storm!

Some HR News from the Philippines

Several foreign chambers of commerce (including from Canada) and multinational companies have raised concerns about the human rights violations in the Philippines. However, they seem to accept the government line that it is investigating them through the Melo Commission. Here are some articles from the Philippine Inquirer on this topic:

Foreign businesses to Arroyo: Stop killings:

Palace wants to meet foreign chambers on political killings:


Leftist solons to Arroyo: ‘Heed calls to stop killings’:

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Photos with Ka Bel

here are some of Ning's photos with Ka Bel.

Visiting Ka Bel

Yesterday we visited Congressman Crispin Beltran in his hospital prison. He is a well-loved mass leader and former chairperson of KMU, a progressive union. He is also an elected representative of the Philippine Congress, but his status has not protected him from attacks by the repressive Gloria Macapagal Arroyo government. He, along with 5 other progressive members of congress, were charged with trumped up charges of "rebellion" and "sedition"--a clear attempt by the desperate GMA administration to persecute her political opponents. Ka Bel is the only one of the Batasan 6 (as they came to be known after seeking sanctuary in the Batasan, or House of Representatives) who is still being held. Currently he is being held under police guard in hospital because of a heart condition.

During our visit, Ka Bel radiated the warmth and strength that has made him such a popular mass leader. He talked at length with us about the political situation in the Philippines and the need for actions such as this mission. He and his family invited us to stay and eat lunch with them so that we could continue our discussion. Highlights of the conversation included:

* Viewing the album that Suzanne (co-chair of the Canadian Free Ka-Bel committee) prepared for him, where we saw pictures of actions in support of Ka Bel and other political prisoners that we had been involved in back home as well as documents prepared by the committee to press for his release.

* Discussing the current conditions and strategy of the labour movement in the Philippines. He talked about how the more progressive unions have been forced to move away from the model of organizing only in the workforce around the goal of collective bargaining. Emboldened by state repression of union activists, employers are demonstrating complete disrespect for this process. Instead, many unions have realized that they must organize more broadly within the community to push for broad demands in solidarity with all workers, while still pushing employers to respect the traditional collective bargaining role. The campaign for the nationwide minimum wage increase is an example of this broader approach.

* While we were visiting, Ka Bel was also visited by a representative of a garbage collectors union. He had come to update Ka Bel on their struggle and to ask his advice. The worker shared how the employer (a private garbage collection company) had repeatedly shown complete disregard for its workers, failing to meet minimum health standards, stalling the collective bargaining process (they have been on strike and without a contract for over a year), and even promoting the creation of employer friendly "yellow" union that is attempting to divide the workers. Under the increasingly regressive labour legislation, this "member stealing" is actually legal--proof of the urgent need for voices like Ka Bel in government who are in genuine solidarity with workers as well as of the continuing need for mass organizing outside of an electoral system so slanted toward maintaining the power of the country's elites. The worker spoke movingly and emotionally about how his union sees their struggle as interrelated with the fight to free Ka Bel and about how they draw inspiration from his example to continue with their work. The fact that these workers have been able to maintain their struggle throughout such a lengthy strike is proof of the necessity of the community organizing approach Ka Bel had been discussing with us moments before.

* Meeting some of Ka Bel's family (10 children, 27 grandchildren, 2 great grandchildren)--his wife, youngest daughter, and one of his grandchildren were there with him at the time. We heard the story of how he and his wife met and married almost 50 years ago. They will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in a few days, an event which he hopes to gain a day pass to be able to leave the hospital for.

No doubt the impact of ongoing detention, an uncertain future, and terrifying memories of former imprisonment and torture weigh heavily on Ka Bel in a manner that is difficult for us to imagine. However, his strength and optimism shone through during our visit--he even showed us the skipping rope he uses to maintain his exercise regime which includes 100 jumps in addition to pushups and other exercises!

We will also be carrying his words and his example with us to give us strength and clarity as we go forward with the work of this mission.

Free Ka Bel and all political prisoners now!

Friday, November 10, 2006

quick update

Today we met with organizers from Karapatan to get briefed on the Fact Finding Mission. We will be divided into three groups to go to Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon and Cordilliera. They are sending us to areas that local human rights activists have not been able to reach due to militarization and persecution.

On November 16th, we will all be attending the two-year commemoration of the Hacienda Luicita massacre in Central Luzon, before continuing on to our respective areas. One team will stay in Central Luzon and visit areas where there are reports of aleged "suicides" by people who were previously tortured, as well as other cases.

Southern Tagalog is a hotbed of trade union activities, as it is also a very industrialized area, and now highly militarized. A group of 60 people will make up the team there, including the delegation from Canada.

I will be going to Abra in Cordilliera where we will be doing documention of new human rights violation cases. Cordi has a militant history of resistance to colonialism and neocolonialism over the last two centuries (or more), and is super organized. I'm very excited to visit the area and find out more about their struggles.

Each team will have a media team from the region to accompany them, which is a relief!

Tomorrow we will visit Ka Bel, a progressive congressman from the Anakpawis party list ( a party representing workers and peasants) who was arrested on charges of rebellion. He is currently being held at the Heart Hospital.

Ok, my first blog entry ever is coming to an end. I've lost a day and I have no idea what time it is in Vancouver, but it's definitely bed time here!


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Merryn and Ning arrived safe and sound

After a long and tiring voyage, I arrived safe and sound last night, minus my luggage unfortunately. A delay in the arrival of my flight to Tokyo left me just enough time to run to the gate for the flight to Manila, and evidently my bags were not so speedy as me! I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will be delivered as promised so that I don't have to go another day in my stinky, hot Vancouver winter clothes . . .

But despite the luggage hiccup, things are going well. An entire welcome crew from Karapatan met me at the airport and conveyed me safely to the Centre for Women's Resources (CWR)where I am staying while in Manila. (They even made a stop for some disposable underwear--a concept that is entirely new for me, but very welcome under my luggageless circumstances!). I was pretty out of it, but managed to pass on greetings from folks in Vancouver who have worked with Karapatan organizers before.

Arcie at the CWR lent me a t-shirt to sleep in which carries the message of the nationwide campaign to raise the minimum wage by 125 pesos/day (the exchange rates is roughly $1 USD to P49. I'm not sure, but I believe that the current minimum wage is P325 in Manila, but lower in other regions). While this increase would no doubt be welcomed by workers who have seen their costs of living steadily climb without any corresponding pay hikes, P125 seems to me to fall short of covering actual costs. Already on my first day (or half day after a much needed rest until 1:00 in the afternoon) I have quickly spent more than P325 on food, water, and trying to get a cell phone up and running.

Establishing phone communication is proving difficult. I was warned before coming that it is an expectation that political organizers here are able to speedily communicate via text messaging, so I, somewhat reluctantly, started practicing getting my thumbs to do the talking before leaving Canada. But some kind of mysterious restriction code on my phone is preventing me from getting my Filipino sim card up and running. I'll keep investigating, though, and hope to be txting like a pro soon . . .

Ning also arrived safely early this morning with a seemingly limitless supply of energy--the woman is 5 1/2 months pregnant, was sending emails through the night before leaving, and, within hours of arriving, had already managed to buy maternity clothes for the hot humid weather and get a cell phone up and running! I just hope I'll be able to keep up with her once she joins us here at CWR tomorrow. We are expecing Beth to get in tonight, hopefully with her luggage in tow.

I'm looking forward to our first meeting with Karapatan tomorrow morning. After a day spent recuperating from jet lag and trying to adjust to the heat, doing a bit of exploring around the neighbourhood here in Quezon City, and catching up on some reading about human rights and the political situation here in the Philippines, I am eager to get rolling with the mission.

I hope to have more to report on soon (as fascinating as my tales of disposable underwear and cellphones might be . . . ;-).


PS Just as I was writing my bag arrived--hooray! Customs opened it up, but everything seems to be there. Big sigh of relief . . .

Announcing our blog

Here is the email I sent to friends and supporters announcing our blog. Props to Jen for building it!

Hi Folks,

As most of you know, I will be participating in a human rights monitoring mission to the Philippines soon (I will be there November 7th-25th). Theobjective is to support to work of the people's organizations there indocumenting, exposing, and opposing the politically motivated killings and disappearances that have severely escalated since 2001. (For more info,please visit stopthekillings.org). The host organization is Karapatan, aFilipino human rights organization.

It will also be an amazing opportunity for me to learn from these incredibleorganizations that, despite the repressive conditions, have built a people'sresistance that is extremely strong. I will be able to bring this learning back with me to my organization, Grassroots Women(www3.telus.net/grassrootswomen), to keep building toward our goal ofbuilding a movement for genuine women's liberation from within "the belly of the beast" of imperialism in the north.

The perspective that this mission carries emerges from the tradition ofgrassroots organizing that I am proud to be a part of--we see human rightsnot as something neutral or a matter of concern only for the Third World, but rather as inseparable from the broader calls of all people's movementscalling for national and social liberation. As such, a major focus will beon exposing and opposing the complacency or tacit support that the Canadian state offers in the face of this shocking pattern of killings anddisappearances.

We will have limited internet access while we are there, but we hope to beable to maintain a blog to keep our friends and supporters updated about our activities. It's empty now, but we hope to start making postings as soon aswe arrive:http://humanrights-philippines.blogspot.com/You can post comments there if you like, or just keep us in your thoughts and wish us strength.For those of you that are in Vancouver, we will be giving a public reportback about the mission on December 10th. Watch the blog for more details.

Makibaka hwuag matakot! (Struggle, don't be afraid!)

Love and solidarity,Merryn