A five-member delegation of Filipino church leaders and human rights advocates traveled to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa in March to appeal for solidarity amid what they reported to be a continuing rise in political killings in the Philippines.
Since 2001, the delegation said, more than 800 church workers, human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, labour organizers, peasant leaders and heads of political organizations have been killed, reportedly by police and military agents of the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“I have been going around telling my story, but mine is only one case,” said Dr. Constancio Claver, a medical doctor serving indigenous communities in Northern Luzon, who survived an assassination attempt that killed his wife in 2006. Dr. Claver is a leader of the political group, Bayan Muna (Country First), which has been branded by the Philippine military as a communist front. Dr. Claver, who sustained three gunshot wounds, has been unable to continue his practice following serious injury to his left arm. “I’m also now without a home. I’ve had to move around constantly and clandestinely since the death threats have continued,” he told a gathering in Toronto jointly organized by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund of the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, and Kairos, an ecumenical peace and justice coalition.
Bishop Eliezer Pascua, the general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, reported that since 2001, 25 church workers have been killed, 16 of whom were from his church. He cited this as a cost of the church’s “unwavering commitment and direct involvement in human rights and justice work.” The most prominent of those killed was Bishop Alberto Ramento, the superior bishop of the Philippine Independent Church, who also chaired Karapatan, a human rights non-governmental organization, in the province of Tarlac. The Arroyo government denies that church leaders and workers have been the victims of political killings.
Ms. Enriquez, who said she has lost 27 of her colleagues to these “extra-judicial killings,” noted that about half of those killed since 2001 were ordinary farmers from rural areas who had “no political affiliation whatsoever,” and about 49 were children.
Rev. Joe Dizon, chair of Kairos-Philippines and director of the Workers’ Assistance Centre, talked about how trade unions are “under siege,” following President Macapagal-Arroyo’s statement in 2005 that workers who demand labour rights “are terrorizing foreign investors.”
In response, Canadian churches have initiated a petition to the House of Commons (available at www.kairoscanada.org) to conduct a hearing on the political killings in the Philippines, as well as an investigation “into the risks of Canada becoming complicit in human rights abuses in the Philippines … because of its economic interests, especially mining, and co-operation with the Philippine government in the fight against terrorism.”
The delegation was also scheduled to meet with the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, and the Permanent People’s Tribunal in The Hague.