Tuesday, November 21, 2006

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.


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