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Clark Should Talk To Arroyo About Human Rights

15 March 2006

Helen Clark Needs To Have Woman To Woman Chat With Philippine President About Human Rights & Democracy

Helen Clark is currently in the Philippines making high-minded speeches about eradicating the causes of terrorism. She should be addressing her remarks to her host, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The Philippines under her leadership exhibits all the attributes of State terrorism - death squads whose crimes are never investigated, let alone punished; military and police who abuse human rights with impunity; systematic political murders, disappearances, torture and terrorisation of whole civilian populations.

In the past few weeks, Gloria has upped the ante to an absurd new level by declaring a State of Emergency (claiming that it was necessary to thwart a ludicrously improbable "Communist/military coup plot") and arresting a number of prominent political figures. Strangely enough, most of those targeted were from the Left, and most ominously she attempted to have arrested all six Congresspeople representing Left parties. Five made it to the sanctuary of Congress, where they are currently living under the protection of the Speaker (but under threat of arrest if they venture outside). The sixth, Representative Crispin Beltran, was not so lucky, being one of the first people arrested and is being held in maximum security.

Beltran, a veteran trade union leader now in his 70s, is well known to New Zealanders. The Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA) toured him through this country in 1999. Having endured arrest without charge and undergone torture under the Marcos dictatorship and not being in good health to start with, his wellbeing is in real and imminent jeopardy.

The Philippine government has pulled out all the stops, holding Beltran under 20 year old charges dating back to that Marcos dictatorship (he has long since been cleared of them) and producing that old favourite of dictatorships everywhere - a hooded witness to point the finger at Beltran and other Left leaders to try to frame them up on charges of "conspiracy and rebellion". The whole thing would be funny if it wasn't so serious for those on the receiving end.

All this is going on while Helen Clark is being wined and dined there. The same Helen Clark who won plaudits from Filipinos in the 1980s when she supported their struggle to get rid of Marcos and become a democracy. She has been resoundingly silent as the current Philippine government and military shown every sign of ditching whatever tenuous democracy there is and reverting to dictatorship.

By sheer coincidence, Clark is an in excellent position to personally urge Macapagal-Arroyo to reverse her disastrous slide towards dictatorship, to respect human rights and democracy, and to end this crisis of her own making.

A number of New Zealanders, ranging from academics to church groups, unions and the Green Party have joined Philippines Solidarity in calling upon to use her visit to the Philippines this week to stand up for the beleaguered Philippine people and make personally clear to their President that her dictatorial behaviour is unacceptable.

We hope that she does but the signs are not encouraging. For example, news reports from the Philippines indicate that New Zealand is offering scholarships to members of the Philippine National Police, who (along with the military) are the worst human rights abusers and monumentally corrupt. They are part of the problem, not the solution to the human rights crisis in the Philippines.

And Clark has been quoted as saying that New Zealand wants to encourage more Filipino students to come to NZ. But the deal being signed while she is there is with one of most prestigious private universities, a haven of the children of the rich. They're the last ones that need New Zealand's help. If New Zealand wants to help, then open the doors of our education system to the kids of the vast numbers of the poor in the Philippines. Not to policemen and the rich.


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