Philippines: Human Rights Violations and the Urgency of Solidarity and Action

May. 04, 2007

The following is a Statement of the General Board of Church and Society of

The United Methodist Church adopted April 28, 2007

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and righteousness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. The Lord saw it and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene(Isaiah 59: 14-16 NRSV)

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37 NRSV)

We are alarmed and concerned with continued human rights violations:

The General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church remains alarmed by the unabated egregious violations of human rights in the Philippines . Such violations continue to take the form of extrajudicial killings and summary executions, abductions and torture, arbitrary political detentions, and disappearances. Victims of extrajudicial killings, more than 800 according to Philippine human rights group Karapatan, are varied and widespread among journalists, farmers, laborers, students, church workers, indigenous peoples, politicians and activists, all joined by a common desire to defend human dignity and protect human rights.

The Philippines has a very vital and engaged non-governmental community of human rights defenders, including many religious bodies, both Christian and Muslim. Lay members, clergy and bishops of The United Methodist Church ( UMC ) and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) with whom we are in historic relation, are actively engaged and in the forefront of human rights advocacy. Among the 25 victims who have been summarily executed are 18 pastors and lay leaders. The highest-ranked cleric killed was the former Prime Bishop of the Anglican-related Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Obispo Maximo Alberto Ramento.

Church and non-governmental advocates have often clashed with governmental policies when they question the pervasive culture of impunity and willing subordination of the Philippines to the United States-prosecuted war on terror, making the country the second front in this war. They are alarmed that the recently adopted Human Security Act of 2007, the Philippine blueprint for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, will be used against legitimate dissent and the critical press.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno of the Supreme Court of the Philippines , the first ever Filipino United Methodist to hold this high and lofty position, said in a commencement speech: One visible result of the scramble to end terrorism is to take legal shortcuts and legal shortcuts always shrink the scope of human rights These shortcuts have scarred the landscape of rights in the PhilippinesThe escalation of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines has attracted the harsh eye of advocates of human rightsTheir initial findings do not compliment our Constitutional commitment to protect human rights If there is any lesson that we can derive from the history of human rights, it is none other than these rights cannot be obliterated by bombs but neither can they be preserved by bullets alone. Terrorism is a military-police problem but its ultimate solution lies beyond the guns of our armed forces.

The Chief Justice concluded: the rich and the powerful should not consider the protection of the rights of the poor and the powerless as peripheral problems just because for the moment their own rights are unthreatened. Sooner or later, they will find that they who default in protecting the rights of the many will end up without rights like the many. The apathy of those who can make a difference is the reason why violations of human rights continue to prosper. The worst enemy of human rights is not its non believers but the fence sitters who will not lift a finger despite their violations.

The international community knows the appalling situation

Many international groupsreligious bodies, non-governmental organizations, foreign governments and intergovernmental organizations like the United Nationsare pressing the Philippine government to do more to stop the killings. They are urging the Philippines to commit and give visible evidence to fulfilling both its domestic constitutional accountabilities and its expressed international human rights obligations.

Prof. Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, issued a press statement after a ten-day visit to the Philippines. He characterized the Philippine Armed Forces as in a state of almost total denial on the need to resolve the significant number of killings which have been convincingly attributed to them. In his preliminary report to the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on March 22, 2007, Prof. Alston emphasized once more the governments culpability, especially that of the military, in the human rights violations. The extrajudicial killings have a corrosive effect on civil society and political discourse in the Philippines, he said.

The 2006 U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices dealing with the Philippines opened with the following statement: During the year there were a number of arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings apparently by elements of the security services and of political killings Members of the security services committed acts of physical and psychological abuse on suspects and detainees, and there were instances of torture. Arbitrary or warrantless arrests and detentions were common. Trials were delayed and procedures were prolonged. Prisoners awaiting trial and those already convicted were often held under primitive conditions. Corruption was a problem in all the institutions making up the criminal justice system, including police, prosecutorial, and judicial organsIn addition to the killings mentioned above, leftwing and human rights activists were often subject to harassment by local security forces.

Several other reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and the Asian Human Rights Commission, have addressed the same concerns but especially the failure of the Philippine justice system to stop the killings and reverse the course of gross violations of human rights. Even the local report of the government-appointed independent commission to address media and activist killings, otherwise known as the Melo Report, has pointed to the need for the Philippine government, especially the executive branch and the military, to take firmer action to resolve the killings.

We are in solidarity and accompaniment with the Filipino people:

Regrettably, the United States and the international community have lagged behind in reacting to the killings and human rights violations in the Philippines . Media attention has been scant in spite of timely reports from both local and international human rights organizations, churches and ecumenical bodies. Recently, the Alston Report to the United Nations, the NCCP report we refer to below, and the U.S. Senate hearing and House briefing, have heightened public awareness and media attention. U.S. ecumenical and grassroots legislative advocacy has since intensified.

Now is the moment our support, solidarity, and accompaniment as the General Board of Church and Society is needed even more. We especially welcome Let the Stones Cry Out: An Ecumenical Report on Human Rights in the Philippines and a Call to Action, was released by the ecumenical and non-governmental community in the Philippines led by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, which this Board led in producing and distributing. We hereby endorse and commit to act upon the reports calls to action.

The reports executive summary articulates the protests and indignations of human rights organizations, Church and faith institutions, civil libertarians, justice and peace advocates, parliamentarians, numerous fact-finding missions, multilateral organizations as well as a number of foreign governments and their agencies all over the world on the spate of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, threats and harassment, and other violations of human rights. Their collective callStop the killings!is addressed to the government of President Gloria M. Arroyo

We agree with the report that something is wrong when members of the church and faith institutions are killed, go missing or are arrested while pursuing their calling to bring about justice closer to the poor, to fight for their rights, and advocate peace in a society that is torn asunder by armed conflicts fueled by structural problems.

We are committed to act with resolve and dispatch

Since our statement in October 2005, we have acted in a variety of ways on its recommendations. We collaborated in the production of the ecumenical human rights report and supported the itineration to Canada , United States , and Switzerland of a Philippine ecumenical delegation that submitted the report to church, non-governmental, governmental, and international organizations, including the United Nations.

We led a variety of efforts to secure a U.S. House briefing and a U.S. Senate hearing on March 14, 2007 . United Methodists in California played a crucial role in getting Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to hold a watershed hearing in the U.S. Senate, and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) to send House Foreign Relations staff to investigate the killings in the Philippines . In concert with other religious and non-governmental organizations, we helped secure meetings with the U.S. Department of State and key congressional offices to raise our concerns about the Philippine human rights situation. These events come just about a month after this Boards president, Bishop Beverly Shamana, headed a fact-finding mission from the California Nevada Annual Conference. The mission heard testimonies from survivors of the killings and about the appalling human rights situation and voiced their concern with government and military officials, and their solidarity with church and community leaders.

We also accompanied the Philippine ecumenical delegation in submitting their report to a variety of offices in Geneva , Switzerland , related to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Missions of the Governments of the Philippines and Germany and its presidency of the European Union. The report called for the Philippine government to comply with its obligations under human rights treaties and conventions.

We are committed to the following:

1. Submitting this statement to concerned governmental and intergovernmental offices, accompanied by the ecumenical report, Let the Stones Cry Out, lending our voice to the calls this report has made to the United Nations, governments, church and religious bodies.
2. Encouraging the media, both secular and religious, to conduct investigative reporting and help forge a greater public awareness that can lead to a public call for effective action on the human rights situation in the Philippines .
3. Calling the Philippine government to immediately stop the killings and the other forms of human rights violations; to take effective measures to bring to justice members of its security forces and their agents where there is credible evidence of human rights violations; to comply with its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian laws; and rescind national security policies that make no distinction between combatants and non-combatants.
4. Urging the Philippine government to demonstrate a commitment to democratic elections by ensuring that the members and officers of its national security forces and their agents do not in any way influence, impede or interfere in the process and outcome of the coming May elections in the Philippines . To this end, we support an international election monitoring group.
5. Calling on other governments, but especially the governments of the United States , the European Union and significant development aid and trading partners like Japan , to pressure the Philippines in calling it to stop the killings and the violations of human rights. To this end, we call for a review of official development aid and trade and economic arrangements, and examine whether these exacerbate human rights violations.
6. Advocating for any future military appropriations and official development assistance to the Philippine government to be conditioned to a strict adherence to international laws and standards of human rights and good governance, and thereby support the development and use of benchmarks that will guide and measure the Philippine governments compliance.
7. Urging the United Nations and its various organs and agencies to continue to look into the human rights violations in the Philippines and offer help to the Philippine government on how it can meet its international obligations and help to non-governmental organizations in empowering them and their capabilities to monitor Philippine government compliance and promotion of human rights. We especially commend and anticipate further action from the recommendations arising from reports and comments of the UN Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings, on Indigenous Peoples, and on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism.

These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these are things I hate, says the Lord.. (Zechariah 8:16-17 NRSV).


For information, get in touch with Ms. Gretchen Hakola, GBCS Communications, +1.202.488.5600 or .

****** INBOX is an archive of press releases, statements, announcements, letters to the editors, and manifestos sent to Davao Today for publication. Please email your materials to Davao Today reserves the right to edit or refuse material for publication. *****

comments powered by Disqus