Canadian Envoy to GMA: ‘Listen to Appeals on Killings’

Calendar Community News & Features Round Up Dec 1, 2006 at 11:12 am

The Canadian ambassador has asked President Arroyo to listen to international appeals for a stop to the political killings in the Philippines, reminding her that his country’s aid is tied to “good governance.”

Expressing concern over the reported spate of political killings in the Philippines, the Canadian ambassador to Manila has asked the Arroyo government to listen to international appeals of alarm.

Meeting a group of Canadians who recently joined a fact-finding mission in Luzon, Ambassador Peter Sutherland said at the embassy office in Makati Nov. 22 “When the international business community says something, she (President Arroyo) has to pay more attention.”

In an interview with Bulatlat, a source from the fact-finding mission quoted Sutherland as saying Canada gives $13- $15 million a year in bilateral aid to the country but that close to $30 million would have been poured into the country if the direct business investments are included.

“Our aid is tied to promoting ‘good governance’ and support small businesses to become self-sufficient,” the ambassador said.

Earlier, the Canadian embassy together with lawyers from CODAL, a Philippine human rights lawyers coalition, intervened with the military to release the Canadians and other members of a fact-finding mission who were detained at seven military checkpoints in the course of their investigation in Luzon.

Redirect aid

In a news briefing Nov. 21 in Quezon City, members of the Canadian fact-finding mission asked the Canadian government to redirect its foreign aid from the Arroyo government to NGOs instead because of the Philippine president’s poor human rights record.

On Nov. 17, three Canadian members of the fact-finding mission were detained for more than 13 hours in seven military checkpoints as they went through their investigation.

“It was a harrowing experience for the whole delegation which consisted of three foreign delegates and over 20 members of local mass organizations,” said lawyer Luningning A. Imperial, who is six months pregnant. “There were terrifying and tense moments as we negotiated with military officials to let us continue our investigation.”

Imperial, who headed the nine-member Canadian Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission to the Philippines, told reporters that some 1,000 soldiers most of them in full battle-gear, were involved in the operation to apparently frustrate the mission.

The mission broke up into three teams that went to three different regions of the country Nov. 16-20 where reported cases of human rights violations were rampant. Imperial’s group went to Quezon province in Southern Tagalog. A second team went to Nueva Ecija and Bulacan provinces in Central Luzon while the third team visited Abra and Baguio, north of Manila.

“By the time we were allowed to leave, however, there was no more we could do and the mission had to be aborted for the safety and security of the members,” said Alcuitas.

Real truth

In the same press conference, Imperial lambasted the government for claiming it is open to the investigation of political killings yet it “is preventing independent groups like ours to find the real truth behind these killings.”

Three family members who experienced military harassment also told how they were subjected to interrogation leading one of them to leave their home and seek refugee in a safe house.

Meanwhile, Marie Hilao-Enriquez, secretary general of the human rights alliance Karapatan, said if the President is serious in solving the killings “she should allow the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur to come to the country to investigate.”

“The experience of the Canadian delegation only confirms what we have been saying all along – that the Philippines is under martial law, albeit not officially,” Hilao-Enriquez said.

Karapatan has documented human rights violations since Arroyo came to power in 2001. Accounts say there are now 791 victims of political killings, over 100 enforced disappearances and cases of attempted murder.

Karapatan says its investigations point a finger at the Philippine military.

The government, however, disputes Karapatan’s figures and accuses the group as a Communist “front” along with other so-called leftist organizations. The tagging of these groups whose leaders are in the military’s “Order of Battle” put them on a virtual death sentence.

Arroyo has been under pressure from both local and international bodies including Amnesty International to put an end to the killings whom critics liken to Operation Phoenix during the Vietnam War.

Last week, the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFC) in the Philippines called for a stop to the killings or risk losing aid and investment followed by a similar warning from U.S.-based apparel companies.

Senate inquiry

The Canadian delegation also met with Sen. Jamby Madrigal, the administration’s leading opposition critic, who promised to introduce a resolution calling for an inquiry into the detention and harassment of the fact-finding mission members.

“Being foreigners, you could have been arrested and worse, killed as ‘terrorists’ had the Anti-terrorism Bill been passed,” she told the delegation. The bill is awaiting final amendments and possible passage in the Senate.

The mission’s report will be submitted to the Canadian and Philippine governments as well as other institutions. The Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights which sponsored the fact-finding mission will hold simultaneous events in various cities in Canada on Dec. 10 (International Human Rights Day) to highlight the findings of the mission.

BULATLAT