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Statement on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines

06 September 2006

WCC Central Committee, Geneva, 30 August-6 September, 2006



The Philippines has continued to suffer political turmoil since the mid-1980s
when people power toppled the military dictatorship of President Ferdinand
Marcos. The present government headed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
came into power in 2001 with promises of bringing about reform in the political
and economic systems of the country. The legitimacy of the government's election
continues to be challenged, and under the pretexts of the "war on terror" and
a new emphasis on internal national security, the Philippines has become more
and more militarized, to an alarming degree. There are now many calls, including
from the churches, for the president to relinquish office.

Sadly, the promises of reform have not been addressed, let alone fulfilled. The
Philippines remains a country with stark divisions between the haves and the
have-nots. Political power is still exercised by a ruling elite supported by the military.
The so-called "war on terror" has served to strengthen the hold of the government
and the military over the people, as development and military funding
from overseas governments is provided in return for the government's support of
the "war on terror". The longstanding communist insurgency is used by the government
as an excuse for action against any persons and groups who seek to stand
with and for the poor.

Since 2001 more than 740 people who have worked with and for the poor in the
Philippines have been assassinated in extrajudicial killings. They include journalists,
lawyers, leaders of people's organizations, human rights activists and church
workers. The killings have intensified since 2004: 21 church workers, including
9 pastors and priests, have been killed since 2001. Most of the attacks have been
committed by unidentified men shooting from unmarked vehicles or motorcycles.

Paramilitary groups armed by the military, and even members of the military
and police, have been implicated in these killings. While a few suspects have
been detained briefly, no charges have yet been issued in relation to these killings.

All cases remain unsolved. The government has allowed these crimes to take place
with impunity, and is failing in its statutory obligations to protect the right to
life and to maintain the rule of law.

In 2005 the National Council of Churches in the Philippines invited the World
Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia to send a delegation of
church leaders to investigate the situation. Thirteen church leaders drawn from
ten countries visited regions in the Eastern Visayas, Luzon and Mindanao, meet-
ing with the families of those killed, with groups working for human rights, with
church leaders, and with government representatives. The key recommendations
of the delegation included:

- an immediate and impartial investigation of all recent extrajudicial executions;

- revision of the government's military strategy for resolving the insurgency to
ensure the safety of non-combatants and to avoid indiscriminate destruction
of property;

- resumption of the stalled peace talks between the Government of the Republic
of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front;

- assertion of civilian control of the military which must be held accountable for
its actions and which must be in accordance with international humanitarian
law;

- promotion of agrarian and land rights reform which preserves the integrity of
creation and honours the ancestral domain of the indigenous peoples;

- reform of the judicial system to guarantee its independence and integrity;

- cessation of the practice by the government and military of labelling those who
work for justice and for the poor as subversives or communists.

Over the past 12 months the situation has worsened considerably. Extrajudicial
killings have been happening at the rate of one every two days. The government
has increased its military action against insurgents, resulting in an increase in the
number of "civilian" deaths. The militarization of the Philippines and the fear of
the people are deepening.

While the Philippines Government has recently announced a commission of
inquiry into the extrajudicial killings, churches in the Philippines remain unconvinced
of the seriousness of the inquiry. The churches seek an independent inquiry
rather than one made up of government appointees. They propose that the inquiry
should be in the hands of a group of esteemed individuals from different walks
of life such as church leaders, academicians, lawyers, legislators and leaders of
peasants and workers.

The World Council of Churches Central Committee, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland,
30 August to 6 September, 2006:

• Condemns the extrajudicial killings being committed in the Philippines;

• Expresses its condolences to the families of the victims of the killings, especially
to the families of church workers, pastors and priests killed since 2001;

• Affirms the Filipino churches and the National Council of Churches in the
Philippines for their courageous work with and for the poor, in the face of violent
opposition;

• Thanks those churches and councils of churches in other parts of the world
who are acting in solidarity with the churches of the Philippines, especially in
Japan, Canada, the USA and Australia;

• Assures the Filipino churches and the National Council of Churches in the
Philippines of the ongoing support and solidarity of the World Council of
Churches as they continue to give courageous witness to the gospel of Jesus
Christ;

• Challenges the concept of a global war on terror as a pretext for the violation
of human rights in the Philippines;

• Calls on the Government of the Philippines to:

- disband "death squads", private militias and paramilitary forces operating
outside the official chain of government command;

- hold accountable any members of the military found to be involved in extrajudicial
killings;

- instruct the military to cease listing churches and church workers as "enemies
of the state";

- reverse the national security policy of making no distinction between combatants
and non- combatants within the current counter-insurgency campaign;

- establish a fully independent Commission of Inquiry into extrajudicial
killings; invite the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings to visit
the Philippines.

• Asks the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights to take up the matter of extrajudicial killings
in the Philippines.