Australia and the rest of the international community have a moral obligation to make sure that democracy in the Philippines does not die. President Arroyo has to act to stop the political persecution and physical attacks upon people who advocate for civil liberties and human rights. I encourage her to continue with her statements and back this up with positive, reinforced action. I encourage all Australians to show their opposition to the ongoing attacks on democracy and human rights in the Philippines. I commend this report to the Senate.
SPEECH BY SEN. GAVIN MARSHALL
Labour Party, Victoria, Australia
I am taking this opportunity in the adjournment debate tonight to alert the Senate to a report launched at Parliament House yesterday. The report, entitled Getting Away with Murder: Impunity for Those Targeting Church Workers in the Philippines, was produced by the Uniting Church in Australia’s Justice and International Mission Unit. This report serves to highlight the numerous cases of murders and death threats perpetrated against the citizens of the Philippines and provides a detailed description of 14 cases of Uniting (sic) Church of Christ members who have been murdered in the past two years.
The Philippines has a well-documented past of political unrest, with the suppression of workers, unionists, social justice advocates, political activists and, indeed, church members. I, along with many other Australians, can vividly recall the toppling of the disgraced Marcos regime. Following that, most of us could have easily assumed that democracy is alive and well in the Philippines; however, this is simply not the case. Since Gloria Arroyo came to power in January 2001, over 600 civilians, including trade union leaders, environmentalists, lawyers, municipal councillors and journalists, have been killed. As this report reveals, amongst the dead are pastors, priests and lay members of the various churches in the Philippines. In addition to this, many more activists have had threats made against them or assassination attempts made on their lives.
The common factor in all of these cases is that the victims have been outspoken on issues of poverty and justice. They have advocated for poor and oppressed people in the Philippines, for workers’ rights, for civil liberties and for human rights, and some have been directly critical of the government. Most notably and perhaps most tragically, the common link between these deaths is that they could have been prevented through government intervention. In almost all of these cases, the prime suspects are government military intelligence units. As a consequence, very few of them have been adequately investigated and the perpetrators of these heinous crimes have not been brought to justice.
These themes are corroborated by Amnesty International, who on Tuesday released their report into human rights abuses in the Philippines. The Amnesty International report states that:
The common features in the methodology of the attacks, leftist profile of the victims, and an apparent culture of impunity shielding the perpetrators, has led Amnesty International to believe that the killings are not an unconnected series of criminal murders, armed robberies or other unlawful killings. Rather they constitute a pattern of politically targeted extrajudicial executions taking place within the broader context of a continuing counter-insurgency campaign. The organisation remains gravely concerned at repeated credible reports that members of the security forces have been directly involved in the attacks, or else have tolerated, acquiesced to, or been complicit in them.
Despite being a signatory to a number of international treaties protecting human rights and having the protection of human rights enshrined in legislation, this report affirms that since President Arroyo came to power:
… a national human rights organisation has documented 4,207 cases of human rights violations, which include killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and unlawful detention, indiscriminate firings and forcible evacuation.
In launching the report, Rev. Gregor Henderson, President of the Uniting Church in Australia, remarked that it was with a great sadness and solidarity with which he presented the report. He informed us of his visit last year to an indigenous village in the highlands of the Philippines which, prior to his visit, had suffered from two weeks of occupation by the Filipino army. During his time there the reverend had met with 14 members of the village who had told him of the suffering and devastation they had experienced at the hands of the army who, in an attempt to force out Communist guerrillas, had shot at civilians and had forced them to be relocated.
The most heart wrenching story Reverend Henderson relayed to the members and senators who were present at the launch yesterday was that of a nine-year-old from the same village. This young boy told the story of how during the occupation a soldier had stood over him with a rifle pointed at his head. The Filipino soldier told the boy that he may as well kill him immediately because if he grew up he would turn into a communist guerrilla and they would kill him then anyway. The soldier then forced the boy to dig a grave in the ground with his bare hands—a grave that would be for himself, his father and his mother. Fortunately for this young boy, a military officer intervened and his life was saved. But this story serves to highlight the sad and tragic threats that the poor and oppressed people of the Philippines face daily at the hands of the military.