The Guardian 6 April, 2005

Philippines a people under siege

Rob Gowland

In August this year, an "International Solidarity Mission" will be convened in the Philippines. Its purpose will be to bring to the attention of the world community the gravity of the human rights situation in the Philippines; to muster international pressure on the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; to gather support for the victims of state terrorism in the region; and to put the worsening human rights situation into its context of the "War on Terror" being led by the US. The Bush Administration has declared the Philippines as the "second front" in the "War on Terror" and described the government of the country as a major "Non-NATO ally".


Aside from the occasional and superficial coverage of unrest on the island of Mindanao and the various political crises that overtake the country from time to time, relatively little news of developments inside the Philippines is carried by the international media. This situation has helped successive governments in the Philippines carry out their brutal campaign against opponents of the rule of corporations and privileged elites.

Organisers of the International Solidarity Mission point out that, in less than four years, the Arroyo government has committed 3560 documented violations of human rights victimising 198,308 individuals, 18,977 families, 123 communities and 1016 households.

There are 236 political detainees nationwide as of January 31, 2005. Renewed violence against leftist organisations has resulted in at least 11 killings and five abductions or disappearances from January 1 to the beginning of March this year, according to Bayan Muna Party representative Satur Ocampo.

Of course, all these victims have names. Human rights activist Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy were with others investigating human rights violations in Mindoro Oriental when they were stopped by soldiers at a checkpoint. The others were allowed to proceed after being questioned and harassed. Marcellana and Gumanoy were later found dead.

Union leader Samuel Bandilla and community leader Melita Carvajal were gunned down by the military in Leyte and Laguna respectively. Joel Baclao, a church worker and volunteer for the Promotion of Church People's Response (PCPR), was shot dead in front of his house in Albay in November last year. Two months before, soldiers had attempted to search his house without a warrant.

Marcing Beltran was assassinated on December 8 last year. Beltran was a leader of two peasant organisations and a key witness to the Hacienda Lusita Massacre which occurred in November 2004 when soldiers attacked picketers outside a plantation near Tarlac. Among the 14 dead were strikers and members of their families including two children aged two and five who died later after being suffocated by the teargas used by the military and police.

The list of victims of this type of repression goes on and on and the situation stands to get worse as the Arroyo Government moves to introduce new anti-terror legislation and a National Identification System. Military figures for example the heads of the Northern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have already made it clear that they consider the demands and activities of perfectly legal political, trade union and human rights organisations to be terrorist threats.

The convenors of the International Solidarity Mission are the International League of Peoples' Struggle, the Philippine chapter of the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights, the Promotion of Church People's Response, Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance), the International Association of People's Lawyers and the Bayan Muna Party List. They aim to attract overseas MPs, academics, trade unionists, peasant leaders, students, religious leaders, solidarity activists, scientists, human rights activists, judges, law students, medical and other professionals to take part in activities from August 13 to 20.

It is proposed that participants will divide into teams and travel to five different regional centres to investigate human rights violations and hold local public forums and media conferences to publicise the issues. They will then reconvene in the National Capital Region for a People's Tribunal on the findings of the teams and then join in a march to highlight the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Those wishing to participate should email the National ISM Secretariat at solidaritymission@yahoo.comor titapl@qmail.comor phone the Philippines numbers (632) 410 7623 or (632) 925 1786.

Locally, Action for Peace and Development in the Philippines is calling on Australians to demand improvements in the human rights situation in the Philippines by writing to:

Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
President of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
Manila
Philippines

or

Hon Alexander Downer
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Parliament House
Canberra 2600

More information can be obtained by contacting Peter Brock on 0425 363 370
or emailing apdp@spinfinder.com

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