Friday, November 24, 2006

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.



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