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.###


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