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Congress to hear report on Philippine killings

Religious leaders open a 2003 peace march through the streets of Davao in the war-torn Philippine province of Mindanao. A UMNS file photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT.

By United Methodist News Service*
March 12, 2007 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)


Philippine religious leaders will testify before a U.S Senate panel March 14 on extrajudicial killings in their country in the hopes of turning the spotlight on "unabated and unpunished politically motivated murders."

The delegation wants to send a message back home that U.S. leaders are concerned about what is happening in the Southeast Asian nation.

They also hope the meetings will serve as a wakeup call to Congress and the White House to stop sending money to a government implicated in human right abuses.


"We are trying to rattle the chains of the House and Senate and put some pressure on the State Department to insist that the government of the Philippines not be engaged in human right abuses," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist who is top staff executive of the U.S. National Council of Churches.

Presenting to Congress

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, called the congressional hearing to find ways to end violence that has claimed the lives of more than 800 people since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed the presidency in 2001.



 Bishop Solito Toquero

Two Filipino witnesses to the hearing, Bishop Eliezer Pascua, general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and Marie Hilao-Enriquez, general secretary of the human rights alliance Karapatan, are part of a nine-member ecumenical delegation that includes United Methodist Bishop Solito Toquero.

The delegation also will be part of a briefing with staff of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, headed by Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif.


Both the Senate hearing and the House briefing resulted from concerted efforts of church and ecumenical bodies led by Edgar, a former member of the U.S. Congress.

"The delegation was anxious if not desperate to have a voice and an audience with Sen. Boxer's committee and also Rep. Tom Lantos," Edgar said. The delegation knows speaking out will "put them on lists to be threatened or harmed," Edgar said. "They indicated the risks were worth the dangers."

Others scheduled to testify before the Senate panel are Eric John, State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; Jonathan Farrar, Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Department; T. Kumar, Asia and Pacific of Amnesty International USA; and G. Eugene Martin, Philippine Facilitation Project of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Other delegation members are Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, general secretary of National Council of Churches in the Philippines; Fr. Jose P. Dizon, executive director of the Workers Assistance Center, Inc.; the Rev. Deogracias Iniguez, Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Kalookan; Edre Olalia, of the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties; Athea Peñalosa, representing the Children's Rehabilitation Center; and Amirah Ali Lidasan, secretary general and co-founder of the Moro-Christian People's Alliance.

The latest killing took place March 9, Edgar said, and brings the total deaths since January 2001 to 836. In 2006 alone, there were 207 extrajudicial killings, or an average of four people a week.

Spreading the word



 The Rev. Bob Edgar

The Filipino delegation knows speaking out will "put them on lists to be threatened or harmed. They indicated the risks were worth the dangers."  -The Rev. Bob EdgarThe Filipino delegation is speaking out to various organizations and conferences about the atrocities in their nation and advocates for the United States to put more pressure on the Philippine government regarding human rights.


Members spoke March 10-12 in Washington during the fifth annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days Conference, attended by 1,300 faith-based and civil society leaders and activists concerned with U.S. foreign and domestic policies.

They also will present findings March 12-14 during the International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines, called by U.S., Canadian and ecumenical church leaders. The Philippine Working Group of the Church World Service Asia Pacific Forum and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines are sponsoring the conference.

A recent report of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) details cases of political killings and studies the chilling pattern and alarming number of deaths. The report links the unbridled political killings to the Arroyo government's counter-insurgency program.

"The manner with which the victims were executed or abducted was done professionally and systematically, establishing a connection between the national security strategy and the incidents of violations," the report states.
The document notes the poor record of the Philippine government in both complying with procedures required of a member of the United Nations and keeping its declared commitments to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Evidence grows


The NCCP report is the latest study to link responsibility for the killings to Philippine military and security forces.

On February 21, Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines to acknowledge its involvement and investigate the matter. Alston had spent 10 days in the Philippines exploring the killings and related human rights violations and met with Arroyo and other government officials, human rights groups and victims' families

On March 6, a U.S. State Department report said unexplained killings in the Philippines during 2006 were committed "apparently by elements of the security forces."

A commission formed by Arroyo herself to investigate the political killings has produced its own report naming retired Philippine Army Gen. Jovito Palparan, along with other generals, as the "prime suspect behind the extrajudicial killings." The commission, headed by a former Supreme Court justice in the Philippines, called on Arroyo to punish those responsible.

Victims reportedly are killed for political beliefs, exercising freedom of expression and opting to serve others as Christians. Among those killed have been lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists, church leaders, local officials, community leaders and organizers, students, peasants, indigenous leaders, workers, professionals, women and children.

*Noel Pangilinan, media representative for the International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines, contributed to this report.

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

Audio - The Rev. Bob Edgar

"Sends a message back to Philippines"

"Trying to rattle chains of House and Senate."

"This is a courageous act on their parts."

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