Human Rights Advocates from the Philippines Testify to US Congressional Human Rights Commission

For Immediate Release
July 16, 2015

Contact: Berna Ellorin, 347.244.8953

L to R: Marie Hilao-Enriquez (Karapatan), Marietta Corpuz (Samahan ng Katutubo sa Sierra Madre), Brian Campbell (Ecumenical Advocacy Network for the Philippines), Bishop Solito Toquero (United Methodist Church), T. Kumar (Amnesty International)
L to R: Marie Hilao-Enriquez (Karapatan), Marietta Corpuz (Samahan ng Katutubo sa Sierra Madre), Brian Campbell (Ecumenical Advocacy Network for the Philippines), Bishop Solito Toquero (United Methodist Church), T. Kumar (Amnesty International)

WASHINGTON DC– On the eve of this week’s International Peoples’ Tribunal (IPT) on the Philippines, tribunal witnesses testified at a briefing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at Capitol Hill.

Formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the Lantos Commission is a bipartisan caucus of the US House of Representatives.

“Since President Aquino took office in 2010, there have been 238 documented cases of extrajudicial killings, among a host of other human rights violations, with a growing trend of filing of trumped up charges against activists, some 723 illegal arrests and detentions. Schools, medical, and religious spaces are used for military purposes, adversely affecting some 169,964 people, with forced evacuations affecting 49,612,” testified Bishop Solito Toquero of the United Methodist Church. “I myself have faced harassment by state authorities in the Philippines for my advocacy on behalf of the victims of these crimes.”

Promoting Human Rights Abusers

“President Aquino has not only failed to live up to his promise to hold the perpetrators of the over 1200 cases of human rights abuses committed by the Philippine military accountable from his predecessor’s term, but the killings and abductions of those critical of the Philippine government continue under his term,” testified Marie Hilao-Enriquez of the Philippine human rights organization Karapatan. “In fact, President Aquino even promotes Philippine military generals that are known to be involved in committing human rights violations. And the US government is complicit to this.”

Convened by the Ecumenical Advocacy Network of the Philippines (EANP), the briefing comes eight years after the 2007 US Senate hearing on the Philippines that led to a historic Senate decision to cut the US military aid package to the Philippine government, based on the Philippine military’s culpability in committing gross human rights abuses. As a result, restrictions were placed in the annual foreign military financing package until such time the Philippine government could prove compliance with human rights conditions, including holding the Philippine military accountable for human rights abuses.

The Aquino and Obama governments are pushing to have the restrictions to aid lifted, despite the former not having met the requirements set in 2007.

Amnesty Int’l to US Congress: Keep Restrictions on Military Aid

After a meeting in the Philippines in 2014, Presidents Obama and Aquino signed off on a new military pact– the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that will increase the number of US military troops and facilities in the country.

“The US government must address the human rights situation in the Philippines. It cannot use the Asia Pivot or its tensions with China as an excuse to lift the sanctions on military aid to the Philippines. Based on what we heard today from this hearing, those sanctions must remain in place,” stated T. Kumar of Amnesty International, who also testified on the Philippine government’s use of torture and the policy of impunity for the Philippine military.

“When you don’t punish the military, don’t hold them accountable, you essentially give the green light to all officers—from the general to the foot soldier—you send the message they can do whatever they want and not have to pay the price,” Kumar continued.

Both Kumar and Hilao-Enriquez testified back in 2007. Other witnesses who testified before the Lantos Commission were Marietta Corpuz, an indigenous leader, on the impact of foreign mining and other extractive operations in the country on rural communities, and US labor attorney Brian Campbell with the Ecumenical Advocacy Network of the Philippines.

Second Front

At least one expert witness on the impact of US military intervention on the Philippines, former Philippine Congresswoman Liza Maza of Gabriela Women’s Party, was prevented from traveling to the US upon orders of the US Department of Homeland Security last week.

In a July 14 press conference in Manila, Maza linked the travel ban to the US government’s “continuing extraterritorial and invasive character of a perpetual and borderless ‘war on terror’.”

In 2001, the Bush administration declared the Philippines the “Second Front” to the War on Terror.

Public Opinion Tribunal

Toquero, Hilao-Enriquez, and Corpuz are set to testify at the IPT this July 16-18 at Catholic University of America, while Campbell will serve on the prosecution team. The public opinion tribunal charges both the Aquino and Obama governments with gross human rights violations against the Filipino people.

Bishop Solito Toquero
Bishop Solito Toquero
Marie Hilao-Enriquez and Marietta Corpuz
Marie Hilao-Enriquez and Marietta Corpuz

“It is precisely the culture of impunity, the fact that it is Philippine state authorities themselves committing human rights violations with support from the US government, with no viable recourse for those seeking justice under the Philippine court system, that the victims, the Filipino people, and the international community are compelled to conduct this tribunal,” states Paul Quintos of Ibon International, one of the conveners of the IPT.

Other conveners of the IPT include the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, the National Lawyers Guild, and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.

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