A Philippine medical doctor and political activist is seeking political asylum in Canada after surviving a brutal attack on his family a year ago in the northern province of Kalinga in the Philippines.
BY TED ALCUITAS
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 26, August 5-11, 2007
VANCOUVER, B.C. CANADA – A Philippine medical doctor and political activist is seeking political asylum in Canada after surviving a brutal attack on his family a year ago in the northern province of Kalinga in the Philippines.
Dr. Constancio Claver and his three daughters fled the country after the attack, which resulted in the death of his wife Alice Omengan -Claver and in serious injuries for Dr. Claver. The attackers, believed to be Philippine military operatives, ambushed a car driven by Dr. Claver at a busy intersection in the town of Tabuk. The Clavers were on their way to drop their youngest daughter in school when the attackers opened fire, first hitting Dr. Claver. Alice covered him with her own body thereby receiving the fatal shots herself. Their 11-year old daughter was seated behind and was grazed by a bullet on the head though not seriously. They were rushed to the hospital where Alice succumbed to her wounds.
“I hope the death of Alice as well as other victims of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines will not be in vain,” said Dr. Claver, speaking at a gathering at the Kalayaan (Freedom) Centre in Vancouver last Saturday to commemorate the first year anniversary of his wife’s death. The gathering coincided with a mass and community service held in Tabuk, Kalinga.
“I hold the President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo responsible for my wife’s death being the Commander-in chief of the Philippine Army,” he asserted. Dr. Claver told his audience that there has been no progress in the police investigation of the attack and his wife’s killers remain at large. He appealed for support from his fellow overseas Filipinos and from Canadian friends for the campaign for justice for Alice Omengan-Claver and for all victims of state terrorism in the Philippines, and the call to put an end to the killings.
More than 50 people including the Claver family attended the evening gathering. Part of an international campaign – Stop the Political Killings in the Philippines – it was coordinated by the Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights (PCTFHR), an alliance of human rights advocates in Canada some of whose members have been in solidarity with the Filipino peoples’ struggle for more than two decades.
Claver says the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines are part of the anti-insurgency plan of the Philippine government called Oplan Bantay Laya or Operation Freedom Watch designed to end the three-decade-old guerrilla war waged by the New People’s Army (NPA). Critics say the counter-insurgency plan is part of the U.S.-led global war on terror. It targets civilians who are members and supporters of progressive political parties and organizations opposing the Arroyo government.
“Therefore, as commander-in-chief, Arroyo is complicit in the killings of these people,” Claver continued, referring to the victims of the operation likened to CIA’s Operation Phoenix during the Vietnam War. According to the human rights group Karapatan, 869 people have been killed, 180 disappeared and over one million displaced since Arroyo took power in 2001. Majority of the victims are members of political parties and people’s organizations opposed to the Arroyo regime, which has been accused of electoral fraud, corruption and other allegations.
Claver himself was the provincial chair in Kalinga of Bayan Muna (People First), a progressive party-list organization and vice-chair of the Cordillera People’s Alliance. Since 2001, more than 100 of Bayan Muna’s leaders and followers have been killed by death squads believed to be led by state security forces. Currently, Claver is a member of Hustisya, an organization of victims and relatives of state terrorism. His testimony was used in the Second Session of the Permanent People’s Tribunal against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and U. S. President George Bush held last March at The Hague, Netherlands. Both regimes were found guilty of committing gross violations of civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights and of the rights to national liberation and self-determination of the Filipino people.
Last November a delegation of nine Canadians organized by the PCTFHR went to the Philippines to do a fact-finding investigation of the human rights situation. The mission found that the military and the government of Arroyo are behind the killings and intensifying militarization in the country. It will release its report early in September.
The PCTFHR is closely watching how Dr. Claver’s application for refugee status will be handled since the Canadian government still maintains that the Philippines is a functioning democracy. Despite international outcry against the political killings in the Philippines, including the findings of Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances, and Amnesty International, Canada has only expressed “concern” about the human rights situation in the Philippines. The PCTFHR is calling on Canada to withdraw its military, bilateral and multilateral aid from the Philippines. The group is also calling on the Canadian Parliament to conduct a hearing into the human rights situation in the Philippines. Contributed toBulatlat.com