Human rights did not improve under President Aquino, advocates say
Two Philippine bishops and a former political prisoner on March 19 said that the human rights situation in the Philippines did not improve under the one-year-and-a-half term of President Benigno Aquino III.
“There is no change between the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and President Aquino,” Bishop Reuel Marigza, vice chairperson of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), said during a presentation before leaders and members of religious and diplomatic communities.
The presentation was held at the Church Center for the United Nations.
“With President Aquino being the son of a martyr during the Marcos dictatorship, and him being the son of our People Power icon, you’d think that human rights situation in the Philippines would improve under his administration,” Angelina Bisuna Ipong, secretary general of the Society of Ex-Detainees Against Detention and Arrest (SELDA). “But human rights abuses under President Aquino did not stop,” she added.
Aquino is the son of former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr, whose death in 1983 sparked protests against the Marcos regime, and former President Corazon Aquino, who was catapulted to power by the People Power Revolution that ousted Marcos.
Ipong is considered the oldest female political prisoner in the Philippines until her release in 2011 after six years in prison. She was 66 years old when she was released.
Marigza and Ipong are part of a delegation that is currently visiting US cities to seek the support of the American church and government leaders, members of the diplomatic community and the Filipino Americans in asking the Philippine government to address the human rights violations in the country.
“We would like to have the international community help us in holding the Philippine government to its promise to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines,” Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (or the Philippine Independent Church), who is also a member of the delegation, said during the presentation.
Calang, who is also chairman of the peace advocacy group Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao (InPeace Mindanao), said the Philippines is a signatory to various international humanitarian laws.
Killings, disappearances, torture
There have been 67 extrajudicial killings, nine disappearances, 55 cases of torture and 78 political arrests in the first one-and-a-half years in power of President Aquino, according to a 2011 report prepared by the human rights group Karapatan.
By the end of President Arroyo’s nine-year term in 2010, there were a total of 1, 206 victims of extrajudicial killings, 206 cases of disappearances and 2,059 arrests, according to a report by the Philippine UPR Watch.
The Philippine UPR Watch is an ecumenical network of Philippine human rights organisations and advocates that are committed to submit a Universal Periodic Review reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
The US tour of Marigza, Calang and Ipong is sponsored by the Asia Pacific Forum of US and Canadian churches with Asia and Pacific related programs and concerns.
As secretary general of the UCCP, Bishop Marigza, led the church in filing court cases against former President and top military officials for the killing, disappearances and detention of UCCP clergy.
Since 2001, more than 20 UCCP clergy and members have been killed.
Bishop Calang’s organisation, Barug Katungod Mindanao (or Stand Up for your Rights, Mindanao), is in the forefront of the campaign seeking justice for Father Fausto Tentorio, an Italian Roman Catholic missionary priest who was a victim of extrajudicial killing in Mindanao.
Ipong was arrested by the Philippine military on March 8, 2005, which ironically was International Women’s Day and was detained until 2011. During her detention, she was subjected to torture, sexual abuse, and continuous interrogations.
In February 2011, she was released from prison after the rebellion and criminal charges filed against her by the military were dismissed. She wrote about her ordeal in prison in her book, “Garden Behind Bars”, and published another book, “Red Rose for Andrea: Writings from Prison”, about the experiences of other political prisoners in the Philippines.
The delegation is now in Washington, DC and is scheduled to meet with US House, Senate and State Department committees. The group is also trying to work out an audience with the White House.
They will attend the Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) in Washington, DC on March 23-26 to rally the support of the U.S. religious and faith-based community in convincing the the US Congress to investigate the connection between US military aid to the Philippines and human rights violations under President Aquino.
They will proceed to Canada to convince Canadian lawmakers to support the Philippine UPR Watch’s position at the next UN HRC Session that the Philippines live up to its human rights commitments.
This trip to the US and Canada is a follow-up to the 2007 International Human Rights Conference on the Philippines.
That year, a delegation of Filipino church leaders, lawyers and human rights advocates attended the EAD and brought to the U.S. religious community’s attention the growing cases of unsolved extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo government.
The 2007 delegation also convened an international conference on human rights in the Philippines in Washington, DC. They presented their report before a US Senate subcommittee hearing conducted by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California).
Senator Boxer called on the US government to withdraw economic aid to the government of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unless it institutes reforms to curb human rights abuses in the Philippines.
The Boxer hearing concluded that the Philippine military, aided by US military aid and resources, is largely responsible for the human rights violations in the Philippines.