Philippines Human Rights – a Catholic Mission forum – Sydney NSW
Catholic Mission hosted a presentation on the politically motivated assassinations of over 700 people and the human rights situation in the Philippines on Thursday, August 3, 2006. The speaker was Representative Joel Virador, member of the Philippine Congress representing the Bayan Muna Party (or “People First” Party).
Joel is well qualified to speak on the situation. Even as a democratically elected member of the Philippines Congress, Joel has been a target for human rights abuse. On February 27 this year, as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency, Joel was arrested at the airport in Davao City (southern Philippines) as he tried to board a plane to Manila to attend Congress. Only the intervention of the Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (who flew with him to Manila) prevented Joel being incarcerated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Davao. Instead, Joel was protected by Jose de Venecia Jr, the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Manila, where he and five other representatives spent 71 days in the Congress building protected by Congress from unfair and arbitrary arrest.
Joel and his colleagues were charged with plotting a rebellion in a meeting on 20 February 2006 outside Manila with an alleged rebel military officer. All deny the charge, as all were present in the sitting of Congress at the date and time of the alleged meeting. Normally, such clear evidence would be sufficient to stop charges even being laid, let alone carried to a Court of law. But these are politically motivated charges, and despite the lack of basis for the allegations, the Office of the President and the Ministry of Justice continue to press the charges.
The disrespect for the rule of law and basic human rights has its ugliest manifestations in the series of over 700 extra judicial killings in the Philippines since President Arroyo assumed power in January 2001. Joel pointed out the pattern of these killings:
Very few of these cases are solved and perpetrators brought to justice. The Government often claims the victims own colleagues or the “Communists” have killed their own. But no evidence is offered to support these claims, and the mass of evidence in most cases pointing to the AFP or paramilitary groups associated with the AFP is ignored. This is in keeping with the thin evidence in the original propaganda campaign. Even the Catholic Bishop’s Conference and the Association of Major Religious Superiors are included on the AFP’s list of “communist-front” organisations!
Despite the threats against the life and safety of Joel and many thousands of others, they press on to bring about a just, free and democratic Philippines. Their call is for support for the human rights of all Filipinos and practical solidarity from all Australians through asking that the Australian Government express its concern to the Government of the Philippines, with a demand the Government act to protect victims of these violations and bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes. Congressman Virado also made a plea for Australians to demand from the Philippine Government the immediate release of Congressman Crispin Beltran who is still detained.
From: Catholic Mission media release 21 August 2006
Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) – Brisbane Qld.
On August 7, the CJPC hosted a lunchtime gathering with Angelina Ladera, National Executive Committee member of the KMU Labor Center. The participants were very interested to know more about the proposed State of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the Australian and Philippine Governments. Kasama will keep its readers informed of SOFA developments.