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
* Montreal: Philippine Women Centre of Quebec at (514) 678-3901 or email
* Toronto: Yolyn, SIKLAB-Ontario, 416-656-2660 or email

* 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


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