Pinoy advocates in US seek support for human rights victims in PHL

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    Two Filipino bishops and a former political prisoner urged members of religious and diplomatic communities at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York earlier this week to turn their attention to the continuing human rights violations in the Philippines. The three Filipinos said there was “no change” in human rights situation during the term of former President and incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

    “There is no change between the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and President Aquino,” Bishop Reuel Marigza, vice chairperson of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), said. On the other hand, Angelina Bisuna Ipong, secretary general of the Society of Ex-Detainees Against Detention and Arrest (SELDA), said many people expected the human rights situation in the Philippines to imrpove under Aquino “being the son of a martyr” (the late Senator Benigno Simeon Aquino Jr.) and “son of our People Power icon” (the late President Corazon Aquino).

    Ipong said “human rights abuses under President Aquino did not stop.” Ipong is considered the oldest female political prisoner in the Philippines until her release in 2011 after six years in prison. She was 66 years old when she was released. Marigza and Ipong are part of a delegation that is currently visiting US cities to seek the support of the American church and government leaders, members of the diplomatic community and the Filipino Americans in asking the Philippine government to address the human rights violations in the country.

    Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (or the Philippine Independent Church), who is also a member of the delegation, said during the presentation: “We would like to have the international community help us in holding the Philippine government to its promise to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.” Calang, who is also chairman of the peace advocacy group Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao (InPeace Mindanao), said the Philippines is a signatory to various international humanitarian laws.

    According to a 2011 report of the human rights group Karapatan, during the Aquino term since June 2010, there have been 67 extrajudicial killings, nine disappearances, 55 cases of torture, and 78 political arrests. Philippine UPR Watch, on the other hand, said during Arroyo’s nine-year term from 2001 to 2010, there have been 1,206 victims of extrajudicial killings, 206 cases of disappearances, and 2,059 arrests. The Philippine UPR Watch is an ecumenical network of Philippine human rights organizations and advocates that are committed to submit a Universal Periodic Review reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

    The US tour of Marigza, Calang and Ipong is sponsored by the Asia Pacific Forum of US and Canadian churches with Asia and Pacific related programs and concerns. As secretary general of the UCCP, Marigza led the church in filing court cases against former President and top military officials for the killing, disappearances and detention of UCCP clergy. Since 2001, more than 20 UCCP clergy and members have been killed.

    Calang’s organization, Barug Katungod Mindanao (or Stand Up for your Rights, Mindanao), is in the forefront of the campaign seeking justice for Father Fausto Tentorio, an Italian Roman Catholic missionary priest who was a victim of extrajudicial killing in Mindanao. Meanwhile, Ipong was arrested by the Philippine military on March 8, 2005, which ironically was International Women’s Day and was detained until 2011. During her detention, she was subjected to torture, sexual abuse, and continuous interrogations.

    In February 2011, she was released from prison after the rebellion and criminal charges filed against her by the military were dismissed. She wrote about her ordeal in prison in her book, “Garden Behind Bars”, and published another book, “Red Rose for Andrea: Writings from Prison”, about the experiences of other political prisoners in the Philippines. The delegation is now in Washington, D.C. and is scheduled to meet with US House, Senate and State Department committees.

    The group is also trying to work out an audience with the White House. They will attend the Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) in Washington, D.C. on March 23-26 to rally the support of the US religious and faith-based community in convincing the the US Congress to investigate the connection between US military aid to the Philippines and human rights violations under President Aquino.

    They will proceed to Canada to convince Canadian lawmakers to support the Philippine UPR Watch’s position at the next UN HRC Session that the Philippines live up to its human rights commitments. This trip to the US and Canada is a follow-up to the 2007 International Human Rights Conference on the Philippines. – VVP, GMA News

    Source: GMA News