Sunday, November 19, 2006

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.


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