Withdraw support for GMA, Canadian Embassy official urged

Community News & Features Sep 1, 2005 at 11:14 am

The Head of the Canadian International Solidarity Mission delegation and Acting Chairperson of BC Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (BCCHRP), Barbara Waldern, and two other BCCHRP activists/ISM delegates from Canada, Elizabeth Dollaga and Emanuel Sayo, visited the Canadian Embassy on the morning of August 24.

The delegates delivered the main message of the International People’s Tribunal, which is to urge foreign governments to withdraw their support for the GMA-GWB government because of gross and systematic human rights violations. They spoke with Steven Rheault-Kihara, Counsellor of Political/Economic Relations and Public Affairs and an assistant.

After receiving the Canadian delegation’s letter about their participation in the ISM that requested a meeting with the Ambassador, the Embassy failed to return its calls and set an appointment. When the delegates arrived at the Embassy with a second letter conveying the appeal to withdraw support to GMA and hold a discussion in hand, the receptionist was told that no letter and requests for a meeting had been received.

However, Elizabeth’s name was clearly seen in the logbook beside the date of August 8, the day she delivered the first letter. Eventually, Mr. Rheault-Kihara emerged and said he was available for a few minutes. However, a meaningful and informative discussion took place and lasted over one hour.
The Embassy Counsellor listened to the description of the ISM and BCCHRP, and our thoughts on Canada’s responsibility to withdraw support for GMA on humanitarian principle. Then he responded.
The Canadian Embassy spokesperson said that the Philippines is not included in Canada’s list of 25 countries of top priority. He said immigration is Canada’s biggest concern in the Philippines and that other business is relatively small. In sum, Mr Rheault-Kihara said that Canada devoted neither much attention nor many resources to Philippines concerns, and that there was very little that the Canadian government could do about the HRVs.

The Embassy official did concur with Canada’s foreign policy review in that Canada could be criticized for not pursuing foreign affairs enough. He asserted that the Embassy does have a small-scale human rights programme. For instance, he said, when applications for export licencing are received, Canada takes into account the human rights situation with respect to applications involving merchandise classified as potentially having “dual use” in aiding or abetting military activity. The Human Rights Officer reviews goods to be traded and requests openness and accountability in trade.

The involvement of Canada-based mining companies came up in the conversation a few times. Canada employs guidelines with respect to resource extraction firms, explained Rheault-Kihara, in that factors such as environmental sustainability, indigenous peoples’ rights and violence are considered in business development and investment activity or proposals. They must look for specific allegations. The Embassy spokesperson said, for example, that his department was quite familiar with the TVI and Placer Dome cases, and that Miningwatch Canada and the DCMI coalition have been having dialogues with them. He said that the Embassy had been planning a tour of the communities affected by TVI but that security concerns were hampering the work. As for Crew Development Corporation in Mindoro, he said that Crew could not (legally) be labelled a Canadian company. As for Marcopper/Placer Dome in Marinduque, he said he was aware of some new developments but could not discuss them because he was not adequately informed.

As regards the blocked motion to reverse the unconstitutional Mining Act of 1995, Rheault- Kihara commented that the GRP Administration would probably not be able to influence the Supreme Court of the Philippines. Rather, he said, the problem was likely corruption of court officials high up in the echelons of the justice system. In his opinion, the VAT was a similar situation. (The Chief Justice of the Philippines Supreme Court is a good friend of the Canadian Ambassador.)

Further to the Embassy’s human rights advocacy, the Embassy had been planning to visit Gen. J. Palparan but the trip had been cancelled due to security reasons. There have been fruitful meetings with the UCCP, as there had been with Bayan Muna Party-List and GABRIELA. He referred the visitors to the parliamentary website for further details on such matters.

Mr. Rheault-Kihara expressed concern for journalists. There is a flagship programme of the political section of the Embassy, the creation of the McLuhen Award. They are working with the Centre for Media Freedom & Responsibility (Sheila Colonel) to identify a piece of investigative journalism that they want to support. They also approve of the work of the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism.
The Embassy official also described cultural programmes that aspire to contributing positively to life in the Philippines. Furthermore, he mentioned the local government support project that supports the building of cooperatives somewhat.

The delegates asked whether there might be support for the SAPED coffee and sugar project and they were referred to CIDA and International Trade Canada. The delegates said the the US-led global “war on terror” and the presence of the US troops in the Philippines was exacerbating the HR situation and encouraging GMA to step up the state’s repression of the people. They rejected Mr. Rheault-Kihara’s insistent claim that the US is actively going “deep and wide” promoting peace negotiations.

The delegation said that BCCHRP promotes and informs the public on the peace process between the GRP and the NDFP but refrains from advocating for the NDFP. “We try to understand what the civil war is about and advocate for the norms and rules of war to be followed. We promote a peaceful political solution to the conflict and recommend that the profound economic, social and political problems be addressed so as to reduce the violence,” stated Ms. Waldern. She and the other delegates reiterated the importance of Canada being active in promoting the peace process and demanding respect for human rights for everyone. She clarified that BCCHRP is not an agency of the NDFP and that its work is human rights, not acting as an advocate for either side in the civil war in the Philippines nor any political group, although BCCHRP activists have various past and present affiliations and opionions. She said that their group expressed solidarity for other peoples facing HRVs, at home and in many countries. She did affirm that BCCHRP is evolving as an anti-imperialist organization in that it aspires to promote justice, peace and human rights worldwide.

Mr. Rheault-Kihara thanked the group for the meeting and expressed deep gratitude for the work of the ISM especially the Canadian delegation. Throughout the meeting, he reiterated that “people on the ground” could often accomplish more than state bodies. He said that the Embassy liked to talk and work with such organizations.