The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples warns that the Arroyo government’s inability to stop extra-judicial killings in the Philippines is undermining its international standing.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples last week warned that the Arroyo government’s inability to stop extra-judicial killings in the Philippines is undermining its international standing.
The UN representative, Prof. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, said that the pattern of human rights violations victimizing human rights defenders, social activists, community leaders and other innocent civilians alike, “is seriously undermining the international standing of the Philippine government.”
Stavenhagen also said in a statement that violations of human rights in the Philippines have worsened, adding that the Philippine government lacks the political will to arrest of the deteriorating human rights situation.
“I am sorry to learn that the pattern (of human rights violations) continues, and that there is an increase of these incidents,” he said. “In some respects, the human rights situation of indigenous peoples has deteriorated.”
“Even more worrisome,” he said, “is that the legal framework of current economic policies favors the dispossession of indigenous lands and resources for the benefit of a handful of international corporations or other private interests.”
Stavenhagen was in Manila last week for a national consultation with the Indigenous Peoples. He was in the Philippines in 2002.
The Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Watch, a network of IP and non-government organizations monitoring human rights, has documented 123 killings of indigenous persons under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration, from February 2001 to Jan. 11, 2007. The report said that 84 of these alone took place beginning January 2003, barely a month after the Special Rapporteur’s official visit to the Philippines in December 2002. The highest incidence of extra-judicial killings of indigenous peoples was in 2006, with 42 victims.
Recent reports by Karapatan, the country’s leading human rights alliance, showed that the number of victims of extra-judicial killings under the Arroyo administration has reached 841. The figure does not include hundreds who have been reportedly abducted, scores of victims of torture and other victims.
The Melo Commission, tasked to look into the killings, recently confirmed allegations that a number of military generals were involved in most of the killings.
“Even if they (rights violations) have been denounced internationally, they continue to happen,” the UN Special Rapporteur said. “There is relatively little progress to stop this violence, insufficient investigation of these… (and the perpetrators) have not been prosecuted and brought to justice.”
Referring to the ancestral domain issue, Stavenhagen said that the land issues have heightened and there is no genuine free and prior informed consent (FPIC) from the indigenous peoples on development projects and infrastructure where they are affected. Thus, he confirmed, more protests from the communities are taking place. The incidents of violence as a response to these protests “continue to reflect the process of criminalization of protest activities.”
Stavenhagen said he has raised all these issues to the UN Human Rights Council and the Philippine government in 2002. However, he said, stories and testimonies of indigenous leaders in the consultation show that nothing has been done by the Philippine government to abate the increasing violence, land-grabbing, deforestation, displacement and other forms of human rights violations against the indigenous peoples.
“The continuing violations, and continuing impunity of the perpetrators exhibit the lack of political will, and political competence of those responsible for the protection of human rights,” said Stavenhagen.
Itik, a 6-year old Aeta boy from Central Luzon, held a photograph of his father, Nicanor de los Santos, while his older brother was telling the story of how their father was shot dead by armed men, five years ago in Rizal south of Manila. “Pinatay nila ang tatay ko, NPA daw siya, pero siya ay lider na tumututol sa Laiban Dam, lider katutubo sa Rizal, pinamatay ng mga militar sa ilalim ng task force panther.” (They killed my father, they said he was an NPA but he was a leader of those opposing Laiban Dam. He was killed by the military under the Task Force Panther.)
Until now, no one has been prosecuted for the killing. “At ngayon, pinagpapatuloy naming magkakapatid ang laban ng nalabi naming ama, para sa aming lupa,” Itik’s older brother said. (Today, my brothers and I continue to fight for our land that our father began.)
Asian Development Bank
The Laiban Dam is a project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Other cases of killings of indigenous leaders who were protesting and leading actions of opposition against development projects, mining and forestry projects were reported in the consultation with the UN representative.
Rafael “Markus” Bangit, 46, a tribal leader of the Kalinga Malbong tribe in the Cordilleras, northern Philippines was one of those killed in 2006. Agustina, Markus’ widow, said that in her state of the nation address last year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo condemned the political killings. “However,” Agustina testified, “nothing has yet been done in the killing of my husband.”
“I stand here on behalf of the others who have lost their loved ones,” the widow said. “We hold the Arroyo government accountable for these killings; for not being able to protect the lives of good people like my husband.”
In a separate statement, a representative of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC-KSK) warned that the recently-enacted anti-terrorism bill poses further threats to the human rights of indigenous peoples.
“The proposed anti-terrorism bill,” the LRC-KSK said, “will add ammunition to the already fully-armed military and paramilitary groups to threaten, harass and commit human rights violations against those who continue to fight for their right to give or not give their consent to projects in their lands, and those who defend their lives. With the Arroyo government adopting the ASEAN Mining Framework, we would see more approvals of large-scale mining companies, one of the largest threats to IP rights.” (Bulatlat.com)