Saturday, December 30, 2006

Canadian mission quoted in AF story

This is front page story on The Philippine Inquirer and ABS CBN News

Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006 worst year for rights since Marcos

Political murders in the Philippines reached their highest level in 2006 since the toppling of dictator Ferdinand Marcos more than 20 years ago, human-rights activists say.

More than 180 activists—including journalists, human-rights workers, leftwing politicians, trade unionists and lawyers—were assassinated this year for their criticism of those in power, they say.

“An average of three extrajudicial killings are occurring every week in the country,” a Canadian human-rights team concluded recently after a fact-finding mission to the Southeast Asian nation.

“A clear pattern of state-perpetrated politically motivated extrajudicial killings” was occurring in the country, the team said.

President Arroyo and her top aides have dismissed their report as propaganda to serve the country’s communist insurgents who have been fighting a Maoist war for four decades to seize power.

But local human-rights group Karapatan says it has recorded 185 such killings in 2006, the highest number since the regime of Marcos, renowned for his brutal suppression of critics and ousted in 1986.

The sheer number has alarmed the European Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Roman Catholic Church, all of which have called on Arroyo to take action to stop the bloodshed.

Archbishop Antonio Ledes ma, vice-president of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference in this largely Roman Catholic country, said action must be taken irrespective of who was behind them.

“In the past, there were allegations of killings from the left and the right but regardless of which end of the political spectrum is responsible, public authorities should be even-handed in trying to resolve them,” he told AFP.

Opposition Rep. Roilo Golez warned the “murderous year” was undermining democracy, in a nation with a history of coups and dictatorships.

The most high-profile murder came December 16 when Rep. Luis Bersamin Jr., an ally of Arroyo representing the northern province of Abra, was shot dead along with his security aide outside a church in a Manila suburb.

Police say they have a witness who has linked Abra Gov. Vicente Valera to the killing. Valera has denied responsibility, saying he and Bersamin were longtime allies.

Earlier senior government lawyer Nestor Ballacillo was shot dead along with his son also in a Manila suburb. Police said they had arrested a suspect.

In response to the bloodshed, Arroyo has ordered an increase in the visibility of police and for officers to work closer with communities.

She has also set up a special commission to determine who are behind the slayings which has yet to report its findings.

Military and police officials have blamed at least some of the deaths on an internal purge or factional fighting within the 7,100-strong Communist Party’s New People’s Army.

The military, whose officers have also been accused of some of the killings, claim the overall numbers are bloated.

For its part, the New People’s Army has admitted carrying out purges in the past but has largely denied it is behind the latest spate.

Blaming the communists and establishing a commission have failed to ease fears among many Filipinos about their own safety.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Confronting the face of terror in the Philippines

Philippines’ notebook
Confronting the face of terror in the Philippines
By Ted Alcuitas
Dec. 11, 2006

(For five days from Nov. 16-20, Ted Alcuitas, a Filipino-Canadian journalist, traveled to the Central Luzon provinces of Nueva Ecija and Bulacan as part of a nine-member Canadian fact-finding mission to investigate the human rights situation in the Philippines. They sought out victims and families and documented their stories, often facing military harassment. He remains in the country to cover the ASEAN Summit in his home province and files this report.)

Cebu City , Philippines – As the Philippines’ premier southern city prepares for next week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit, Cebuanos seem oblivious to the devastation of typhoon Reming’s deadly toll just a week ago which claimed more than 500 lives in Albay. Organizers must have been relieved that the typhoon spared the city that almost did not have its P515 M Peso (P40 - $1 Cdn.) convention center finished in time for the 12-nation summit that begins December 11th till the 14th.

The feverish pace of sprucing up the city includes bulldozing ‘squatters’ to make room for the controversial Cebu International Convention Center (CICC). They are shoved to the side of the behemoth structure and conveniently hidden behind a wall of earth so they cannot be seen by the 17 heads of state including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Each is given a can of paint so that they can paint the tin roofs of their shacks to sanitize the area. Vagrant children and even stray dogs are rounded up to make sure no wayward animals or humans stray unto the path of visiting dignitaries.

The city is teeming with soldiers in full battle gear supposedly to thwart any ‘terrorist’ plans to disrupt the meeting. Yet, not one of them was redeployed to help in rescuing or evacuating the people in the mudslides of Daraga, Albay, where people were left on their own to escape the devastation. The eerie images of people running for their lives reminds one of the same images in the Katrina hurricane a year ago when U.S. soldiers were conspicuously absent as they were busy fighting a war in Iraq and elsewhere but left their own citizens to drown in the floodwaters of New Orleans.

War of words

For now, there is a war of words between the government and militant groups converging on the city to have their own parallel meetings. When Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez vowed to throw militants to the sharks in the waters of Mactan Channel, fisherfolk who plans a ‘fluvial parade’ promptly corrected him by saying there are no sharks in the water where they fish. The real sharks according to the fisherfolk are in Malacanang with the U.S. as the great white shark and the IMF-World Bank as the loan shark.

‘Collateral damage’

In our brief incursions to the villages (barangays) where there were reported incidents of political killings, we encountered the face of terror among the people we met and talked to.

The terror of a father who survived a military attempt to kill him in front of his wife and 2-day old son and 2-year old daughter, because he was suspected as a communist sympathizer. He was shot in the neck with the bullet exiting to his side. After he fell, another shot was fired at his leg. Today, his traumatized daughter’s first words when asked about his father are: “Papa? Bing! Bing! Bing!”

The terror of a sister who can’t stop wailing as she narrated the bludgeoning of his brother by five soldiers as the wife and four children watched in horror.

The terror of a mother whose brother-in-law hanged himself after his best friend was killed by the military, repeatedly asking us why we are conducting an investigation and what would happen to her and her family when we leave. She pleaded not to take any pictures of her family.

The anguish of a father resting his head on his hands as he struggles to listen to his wife narrates the circumstances of the abduction, torture and disappearance of his young daughter by military elements.

The terror of a father who returns to his village to see for the first time the charred remains of his house after it was burned by the military because he is suspected as a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines who is waging a three-decades old war of national liberation with the government of the Philippines.

The terror of a young Catholic priest as he showed us the death threats on his life contained in a letter and a .38 caliber bullet thrown into the collection box.

These are the collateral damage in the global war on terror as played in the Philippines – the ‘second front’ in this deadly war. And President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is only too willing to oblige her U.S. master, closing her eyes to the searing images of terror and anguish as her military follows a deadly pattern of killings of the ‘enemies of the state’, never before seen in the Philippines –not even during the time of the infamous dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

And the country is not officially under martial law.

Her propagandists vilify and demonize the work of the human rights groups, singling the country’s largest alliance of human rights workers - Karapatan, who, despite losing more than 27 of its own workers to the killings, continue the thankless and risky job of documenting cases of human rights violations. Karapatan’s dedicated core of human rights workers are undaunted by the relentless attacks on their ranks, risking their own lives serving as our ‘security’ buffer as we tried to venture into forbidden territory during the course of our investigations.

Faced with this formidable ‘cordon sanitaire’, Karapatan turns to independent international bodies such as ours to pursue their work. Arroyo’s spin-doctors try to discredit the organization and deftly question Karapatan’s numbers. On Dec. 1 the alliance released its year end report and called 2006 the “worst year for human rights in the Philippines” since Arroyo took power in 2001. Their last count now approaches almost 800 political killings. The Canadian fact-finding mission is also labeled as ‘tools’ of Karapatan.

Yet, this writer came face to face with terror no amount of propaganda can dispute.
And more.
No civil rule
Unmistakably martial rule reigns in the barangays we visited. The military not only acts as judge and jury but also the executioner.

A young man we interviewed was arrested and tortured by the military for selling a stolen goat. He was paraded around town together with another accomplice, wearing a sandwich board tied around his neck proclaiming that he was a thief – the stolen animal reluctantly following them.
In another instance, we were told by the barangay captain (the highest civilian official in the local government unit) of an army lieutenant who was accused of conduct unbecoming an officer. He was ‘paddled’ by his superior in the town square in the presence of the villagers. Paddling means being hit in the back repeatedly by a 2x 4 until you bleed and fall to the ground.
In these two cases there were no due process – in the first case, crime is a police matter not a military prerogative. In the second case, military law should apply, not the medieval and barbaric beating of an accused.
In these far-flung villages, the military is the law. If you are labeled as a supporter of the NPA and do not report to them to ‘clear’ your name you automatically end up in the Order of Battle or OB.
Such were the case of the people whose relatives we interviewed – for failing to convince the military that they had nothing to do with the insurgents, they ended up in the OB and ultimately paid for their lives.
Innocent victims of the unrelenting war of terror now gripping this country of 85 million people most of whom escape the grinding poverty by working in 186 countries around the globe – ten million of them euphemistically called Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW).
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo calls them the ‘modern heroes’ . Their remittances of around $10 billion a year props up the moribund economy of the country.
Meanwhile, those who are left behind are killed with impunity while the government hosts a regional meeting and puts up a benign face to the world.

Certainly not a benign face but the face of terror!



Philippines' Notebook

/Users/tedalcuitas/Desktop/Philippine_notebook_1.doc/Users/tedalcuitas/Desktop/3-year old Patricia May with his uncle. .jpg/Users/tedalcuitas/Desktop/Domus Dei.jpg/Users/tedalcuitas/Desktop/Bullet went through side and had to be opened to drain out blood.jpg/Users/tedalcuitas/Desktop/Shot through the neck and leg, father survives attack.jpg/Users/tedalcuitas/Desktop/Couple with 1-year old baby. Their house was burned down by military.jpg/Users/tedalcuitas/Desktop/Domus Dei -Refugee house. Forty one people including 17 children are housed in this temporary shelter provided by the church to escape military harassment..jpg/Users/tedalcuitas/Desktop/DSCN6720.JPG/Users/tedalcuitas/Desktop/Merryn, one of our team members holds son of couple whose house was b urned while mother looks on.jpg


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Canadian Envoy tells Arroyo to listen to appeals

Canadian Envoy Tells Arroyo to Listen to Appeals on Killings

As members of a Canadian fact-finding mission are held by the military
The Canadian ambassador has asked President Arroyo to listen to international appeals for a stop to the political killings in the Philippines, reminding her that his country’s aid is tied to “good governance.”

By Bulatlat
Nov-Dec.2, 2006

Expressing concern over the reported spate of political killings in the Philippines, the Canadian ambassador to Manila has asked the Arroyo government to listen to international appeals of alarm.
Meeting a group of Canadians who recently joined a fact-finding mission in Luzon, Ambassador Peter Sutherland said at the embassy office in Makati Nov. 22 “When the international business community says something, she (President Arroyo) has to pay more attention."
In an interview with Bulatlat, a source from the fact-finding mission quoted Sutherland as saying Canada gives $13- $15 million a 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 to become self-sufficient," the ambassador said.
FOR THE FATHER HE NEVER SAW: Maribel Valdez was just a few weeks away from giving birth when the Hacienda Luisita massacre took place, claiming among other victims her husband Jesse. The little boy with her, lighting a candle along with other relatives of Hacienda Luisita martyrs, is the two-year-old son Jesse never saw. PHOTO BY TED ALCUITAS
Earlier, the Canadian embassy together with lawyers from CODAL, a Philippine human rights law coalition, intervened with the military to release the Canadians and other members of a fact-finding mission who were detained at seven military checkpoints in the course of their investigation in Luzon.
Redirect aid
In a news briefing Nov. 21 in Quezon City, members of the Canadian fact-finding mission asked the Canadian government to re-direct its foreign aid from the Arroyo government to NGOs instead because of the Philippine president’s poor human rights record.
On Nov. 17, three Canadian members of the 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 three foreign delegates and over 20 members of local mass organizations,” said lawyer Luningning A. Imperial, who is six-month pregnant. "There were terrifying and tense moments as we negotiated with military officials to let us continue our investigation."Imperial, who headed the nine-member Canadian Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission to the Philippines, told reporters that some 1,000 soldiers most of them in full battle-gear, were involved in the operation to apparently frustrate the mission.
The mission broke up into three teams that went to three different regions of the country Nov. 16-20 where reported cases of human rights violations were rampant. Imperial's group went to Quezon province in Southern Tagalog. A second team went to Nueva Ecija and Bulacan provinces in Central Luzon while the third team visited Abra and Baguio, north of Manila.
"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," said Alcuitas.Real truth
In the same press conference, Imperial lambasted the government for claiming it is open to the investigation of political killings yet it "is preventing independent groups like ours to find the real truth behind these killings."
Three family members who experienced military harassment also told how they were subjected to interrogation leading one of them to leave their home and seek refugee in a safe house.
Meanwhile, Marie Hilao-Enriquez, secretary general of the human rights alliance Karapatan, said if the President is serious in solving the killings “she should allow the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur to come to the country to investigate."
"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," Hilao-Enriquez said.Karapatan has documented human rights violations since Arroyo came to power in 2001. Accounts say there are now 791 victims of political killings, over 100 enforced disappearances and cases of attempted murder.
Karapatan says its investigations 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 from both 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.Senate inquiry
The Canadian delegation also met with Sen. Jamby Madrigal, the administration's leading opposition 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 report will be submitted to the Canadian and Philippine governments as well as other institutions. The Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights which sponsored the fact-finding mission will hold simultaneous events in various cities in Canada on Dec. 10 (International Human Rights Day) to highlight the findings of the mission. Bulatlat