Crossing the Bridge

The U.S. government has been criticized for its inconsistent human rights policy and for using it as part of its proverbial “carrots and stick” strategy chiefly to gain concessions from governments. It supports tyrannical governments and deals with states that have gained notoriety for committing atrocities against their own nationals.

By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA) Program
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
Posted by Bulatlat

The breakthrough in bringing the issue of the human rights crisis in the Philippines to the U.S. Congress this week has sent some mixed signals: That it would increase pressures on the Arroyo government to take a decisive action in stopping the political killings, or that nothing will come out of it. This development is expected to generate new questions on what other steps need to be done such as making the Arroyo government accountable upon show of evidence that these cases are part of a state policy or that the chief executive has done nothing to arrest the deterioration of the critical human rights situation.

Initiated by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the ecumenical and human rights delegation first visited Canada second week of March where bishops and human rights defenders met Canadian MPs (members of Parliament). There second leg was the trip to Washington, DC where they presented the human rights crisis situation at a three-day Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference. Thereafter, delegation members testified before the U.S. Senate’s subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the committee on foreign relations and before the House of Representatives’ committee on foreign relations. They also held briefings with the State Department. The deputy director of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Avelino Razon, and three other armed forces and police senior officers were refused entry into the Senate and were told not to “conduct surveillance on the witnesses.” The U.S. Congress hearings were to be followed by meetings with the UN Human Rights Council, both in New York and later in Geneva.

It was apparent that key committees of the U.S. Congress were keen on pursuing the church delegation’s proposal to review U.S.-Philippine security cooperation and military aid especially because these were being used to support a brutal counter-insurgency program leading to violations of human rights. Some officials of the state department have also suggested that economic and military aid to the Arroyo government extended by the U.S. and other countries be tied to the Philippine president’s human rights record.

The decision to bring the human rights crisis in the Philippines before the international community notably major ecumenical bodies, the UNHRC, Canada, the U.S. Congress and other foreign governments and institutions was actually a foregone conclusion, achieved at several forums and conferences in the Philippines over the last few years.

The organizations represented by the delegation looked beyond the limited findings of the Melo Commission and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, involuntary or summary executions, with their assertion that the mounting cases of political assassinations, forced disappearances, torture and other violations of human rights were the result of a state-authored counter-insurgency doctrine. To them, there was also no question that the state’s criminal justice system aside from Congress and even the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) were either dysfunctional, uncooperative and/or had institutional weaknesses making justice being denied to the victims and their kin.

No legal remedies

With no legal remedies to exhaust because these are non-existent anyway, the NCCP, together with other church and faith organizations and human rights watchdogs, had to raise the issue before the international community. Indeed, families of victims, eyewitnesses, lawyers and human rights organizations found themselves receiving death threats from the same perpetrators of political crimes; some of them eventually went missing. They “have agonized over the inability to cross the bridge toward justice precisely because there is no bridge at all,” thus said the 90-page ecumenical report, “Let the Stones Cry Out” which the delegation submitted to the Canadian Parliament, UNHRC, U.S. Congress and international ecumenical bodies.

In their meetings with Canadian and American legislators, the ecumenical delegation asked their respective legislatures to review economic and security arrangements with the Arroyo government including military aid to ensure that these do not result in the gross and systematic violations of human rights. However, the American legislators should have known all along that the military aid that they allocate for the Philippines was being used to kill and maim innocent civilians in a counter-insurgency that was tailored to fit Bush’s “war on terrorism.” They should know that U.S. laws prohibit the extension of military aid to governments known to have violated human rights – a fact which has been consistently cited about the Philippines in the state department’s yearly human rights reports. A recent report by the U.S. General Auditing Office (GAO) concluded that elements of the Philippine military were involved in extra-judicial killings and other violations of human rights. The investigation on the catastrophic results of U.S. military aid had earlier been asked by various lawyers groups and church congregations in the U.S. For instance, in June last year, the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, called for a probe into “the use of U.S. funding for Philippine military operations against the legal Left that are being conducted under the guise of the war on terror.”

Just the same, the Philippine church delegation’s mission to bring this demand to the U.S. Congress is the first step toward a legislative review of the Bush policy of support to the Arroyo government under the purview of “war against terrorism” and “counter-insurgency” program. Moreover, this is timely considering the fact that Congress, now dominated by the Democrats, is in the middle of intense debates calling for the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from Iraq. Necessarily, the debates will also touch on Bush’s national security strategy which includes its “counter-terrorism” operations in the Philippines and military aid to the Arroyo government.

Share This Post