“Our many meetings with communities from across the Philippines have left members of our delegation appalled by the continuing gross violations of human rights in the Philippines. The outright disregard for human life is unacceptable.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – “The world is watching.”
This was the stern warning that former Australian Senator Lee Rhiannon said after a four-day mission.Rhiannon was among the group of international church leaders, trade union organizers, and foreign dignitaries who arrived in the Philippines for a series of meetings with human rights defenders, and representatives of marginalized sectors affected by various government policies – ranging from its anti-illegal drug drive to the crackdown against dissent particularly in the island of Negros.
The delegation, too, conducted interviews and meetings with concerned government officials.
“Our many meetings with communities from across the Philippines have left members of our delegation appalled by the continuing gross violations of human rights in the Philippines. The outright disregard for human life is unacceptable,” said Rhiannon in a statement sent to the media.
Among those who joined he mission were Rev. Jeong Jin Woo of the Korea Democracy Foundation, Robert Reid of New Zealand’s FIRST Union, Teanau Tuiono of New Zealand’s Green Party, and Rev. Marma Urbano of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
In a forum on Dec. 6, Rhiannon shared that the “shocking stories” she heard from the ground is somehow “personal” for someone like her who has her own children and grandchildren.
“We came here with deep concern and deep commitment for the respect for life,” she said.
Women who are left behind by the drug-related killings, the former Australian senator shared, need not only contend with the grief of losing their loved ones but also how they hold onto life – working from the break of dawn until evening – to provide for their children and grandchildren.
Rhiannon said that “every death must be investigated and accounted for.”
Participants of the four-day mission visited the Negros province, where they spoke with families and victims of the apparent crackdown against farmers and activists. The Negros province is among those subjected to increased military deployment per President Rodrigo Duterte’s Memorandum Order No. 32.
“We heard disturbing accounts from indigenous youth about harassment and killings perpetrated by the military and paramilitary groups against their schools and communities. The displacement of indigenous communities by extractive industries and the targeting of environmental defenders is reprehensible,” said Tuiono.
For UN probe
Reid, who was among those who joined the delegation leg that visited Negros, shared that the delegation is grateful to the “brave men and women who shared with us disturbing accounts of murder, harassments and continued attacks.”
During the Dec. 6 forum, Reid stressed how shocked and astounded he was to find out that the human rights violations, including the fabrication of evidence, is not at all isolated. He described Negros as in a “state of siege.”
“What we found is not a war against illegal drugs but a war against workers, peasants, sugar cane producers, attorneys, and activists,” he said.
Reid also stressed how activists are charged with false non-bailable offenses, where they have to languish for a long period of time in jails only to be acquitted later on.
He added that they are are committed to bring the findings to its widest audience, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations and other international bodies. Bulatlat.com