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Civil and Political Rights, including questions of torture and detention;

21 April 2006

Written statement at the UN Commission on Human Rights' 62nd Session on Item
11: a, b and d, 13 March-21 April, 2006

Civil and Political Rights

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World
Council of Churches (WCC) has a longstanding commitment to justice, peace
and human rights, rejecting and countering violence and working towards building
reconciled communities. In areas of intense conflict and severe human rights
violations that have national and international implications, CCIA actively promotes
coherent ecumenical approaches and takes a leadership role in coordinating
the response of the international ecumenical fellowship. It does so by organizing
pastoral visits to critical human rights situations, sharing experiences of
other churches, offering concrete solidarity and hope to victims and families of
human rights violations.

Since early 2005, the CCIA had been receiving regular reports from the member
churches of the WCC in the Philippines about the critical human rights situation
in Eastern Visayas, Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac City in Central Luzon and in
Mindanao as a result of the military operations. Concerned by these developments,
the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches wrote to H.E. Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo and expressed dismay at the reports of abductions, detentions
without warrants and extra-judicial killings that were taking place in the province
of Tarlac where workers and peasants in Hacienda Luisita were on strike. The letter
expressed deep shock at the killing of Fr William Tadena on 13th March 2005,
and called on the President of the Philippines to order an independent and speedy
investigation into the killing and to ensure that those responsible are brought
before the Court of Law to stand trial for the crime committed. As the situation
continued to deteriorate the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
of the World Council of Churches received a request from its member constituents
and partners in the Philippines, including the National Council of Churches and
the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, to send an international ecumenical
pastoral delegation to the country at the earliest possible date.

The ten-member Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation comprising church representatives
from Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Norway, Sri
Lanka, Switzerland and the USA was in the Philippines from July 14-21, 2005.
It visited Hacienda Luisita, a sugar cane plantation in Central Luzon; Samar and
Leyte provinces in Eastern Visayas and Surigao Del Sul, a province in Mindanao.
The delegation amongst others took note of the fact that the root causes of the
turmoil in the country were the inadequacies of state institutions such as the judiciary,
and other factors that included inequitable distribution of resources, which
trapped many Filipinos in abject poverty, and the monopoly of transnational corporations
and other foreign interests in resource exploitation. These shortcomings
were pervasive and promises of full enjoyment of human rights often made
by government officials remained a far away dream. The members of the delegation
raised these concerns in the meetings with the Executive Secretary of the
office of the President, Mr Eduardo Ermita and with Commissioner William D.
Saurian of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines. The delegation
also raised issues regarding the safeguarding of the people's civil, political and
social, economic and cultural rights, the need for resumption of peace talks with
the National Democratic Front and the lack of government response to the reports
and recommendations of the Commission on Human Rights. Some key recommendations
of the delegation that required immediate action were:

• an immediate and impartial investigation in to the on-going extrajudicial
killings;
• review of the government's military operations for resolving the insurgency
to ensure the safety of non-combatants and to avoid indiscriminate destruction
of property;
• assertion of civilian control of the military to hold it accountable for its
actions that must be in keeping with international human rights and humanitarian
law;
• repeal of the 1995 Philippine Mining Act;
• reform of the judicial system to guarantee its independence and integrity;
• promotion of agrarian and land rights reform in order to preserve the integrity
of creation.

Since the visit of the delegation in July 2005, the situation in the country has
shown no signs of improving. Regular reports are received by the Commission of
the Churches on International Affairs of the WCC from its partners documenting
disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and detentions without trial for long
periods of time. Amongst the more serious crimes committed by the Philippines
Security forces are the killings of human rights defenders. According to well-documented
reports, around 21 human rights defenders of Karapatan - a local human
rights organization, have been killed since 2001. Those killed in 2005 include
Mr Rick Ramos (CATLU President), Rev. Edison Lapuz (UCCP Conference
Minister), Diosadao Fortuna (Nestle Phils Union President), Attorney Norman
Bocar (Bayan Muna - Eastern Visayas), Rev. Raul Domingo (UCCP Palawan and
Karapatan), Mr Pepe Manegdeg (Rural Missionaries of the Philippines), Priscilla
Esteban (Bayan Muna Nueva Ecija). All these killings have gone unpunished as
the government has failed to bring the culprits to justice.

The delegation during its visit was informed by the people that there is a systematic
attempt by the authorities to tarnish the image of the churches, the human
rights groups and peace activists working in the field, particularly in the critical
areas mentioned above. These attempts amongst others include a campaign to
brand those churches, related organizations, peace and human rights groups who
work for justice and for the poor, as subversive or communists. During the meeting
with the Public Information officer of the Armed Forces of Philippines (AFP)
Northern Luzon Command, the officer shared the AFP's belief that members of
the New People's Army (NPA) try to infiltrate churches and therefore some churches
have to be watched. The churches and other organizations alleged to "being
infiltrated by the Communists" are listed in the book "Trinity of War: Book II -
The grand design of the CPP/NPA/NDF". Some persons named in the said lists
have been attacked and killed. The mode of operations usually is that two persons
riding a motorcycle, wearing ski masks or bonnets to escape identification,
use vehicles with no number plates and fire at close range making sure the victim
does not survive.

There is presently a growing environment of impunity in the Philippines. The
delegation during its visit met a number of families of the victims of those killed
- young wives, sisters, mothers and other near relatives. All of them told the
group that despite running from pillar to post they were not given any clear
answers as to who was responsible for the killings of their near and dear ones -
in most cases no progress had been made in the investigation. These stories were
backed by human rights defenders and other activists who accompanied the families
of the victims. According to a recent report released by Council for the Defence
of Liberties (CODAL), there is complete impunity in the Philippines. An average
of one person is killed every week. Since January 2005 seven lawyers have
been killed and nine journalists have fallen to assassins' bullets. In many of these
cases, no suspects were arrested, or witnesses found. There are no leads either
according to authorities and other official sources.

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council
of Churches submits that the government of Philippines should take immediate
steps to:

• Enter into a dialogue with the rural communities in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac
City in Central Luzon, Samar and Leyte provinces in Eastern Visayas, Surigao
Del Sul province in Mindanao, in order to ensure these communities enjoy
full civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights; withdraw the military
as part of the measures to restore stability and peace in the above
regions;
• take measures to undertake genuine structural and land reforms in the country;
• take all steps to end the present growing culture of impunity and establish
the rule of law;
• guarantee a just and fair share of access to resources to the poor and to revise
the existing legislation such as the Mining Act 1995;
• order an impartial investigation into the cases reported during the year
2005, of extra-judicial killings in the province of Samar and Leyte as well
as other parts of the Philippines;
• take immediate steps to put an end to the practice of torture by the security
forces, and to ensure that there are no incidences of detentions without
trial and all actions taken by the authorities are in accordance with due
process