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Lawyer calls Philippine killings an 'attack on liberty'


Edre Olalia is an officer for the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties, a group of legal professionals advocating for human rights in the Philippines.
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

Fourth in a series

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 20, 2007 | MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)

Faith with Justice

Victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines include more than 30 lawyers and judges whose deaths amount to an "attack on liberty," says one attorney fighting for justice in his homeland.

Those casualties from the law profession are just a small part of a larger evil in which peasants, farmers, church workers, doctors and other human rights advocates are being killed, said Edre Olalia, international officer for the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties.

"The Counsels for the Defense of Liberties was formed because the conveners realize that the killings and attacks on lawyers — a significant number of which are human rights lawyers — are not separated from the larger human rights situation," Olalia said.

More than 800 people have been killed and hundreds are missing since President Gloria Arroyo took office in 2001.

Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno, a life-long United Methodist, called a summit in Manila in August to shine a spotlight on the crisis. During the subsequent months, the rate of killings has decreased, but disappearances are on the rise, according to Olalia.

"There’s a perceptible shift after the worldwide condemnation and concern and especially after the summit," he said.

Olalia was part of a delegation to the United States for the National Council of Churches' Ecumenical Advocacy Days and the International Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines, both held last March in Washington. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines has produced a report "Let the Stones Cry Out: An Ecumenical Report on Human Rights in the Philippines and a Call to Action," which has been distributed globally.

The Philippine delegation, which also included United Methodist Bishop Solito Toquero and other United Methodist clergy, met with the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs and with staff of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations.

The delegation asked senators and representatives to review U.S. military aid and development assistance being sent to the Philippines to ensure that Arroyo is not using the assistance to violate human rights and commit extrajudicial killings.

Human rights for all

Olalia is also part of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, which held its first congress in September. He said this organization is "our long-term answer to the human rights situation."

"The moment the outside world stops speaking out, that’s the time that the evil will come out again."
–Edre Olalia

"The horrible state of human rights and the continuing political killings, enforced disappearances, tortures, massacres, illegal arrests and detention, filing of false charges for political reasons and violations have created a need for a more organized approach to the rendering of legal services," the lawyers’ group said.

"There has been an unprecedented increase in violations of human rights, and the brazenness, brutality and impunity by which they are being perpetrated by the military, police, paramilitary groups and death squads under the command, control, inducement or tolerance of the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have reached alarming proportions," the union added.

Olalia said there are legal complications in arresting those responsible for the murders and abductions.

"History has taught us that no sitting president has been tried ... — let me qualify that — no sitting president who is an ally of the United States," Olalia said.

However, one important shift is that more victims are living to tell their stories. Olalia said it is crucial for churches and other organizations to continue conducting fact-finding missions in behalf of human rights.

"Don’t ever stop speaking out," he said. "The moment the outside world stops speaking out, that’s the time that the evil will come out again. People are dying not only because of poverty but because of what they believe."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. She compiled this report based on her trip to the Philippines in August.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Video Story

A Call for Justice

Audio

Edre Olalie: "Keep speaking out."

Edre Olalie: "People dying for their beliefs."

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