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Proof Of the Pudding Is In The Eating

PhilippinesChief Reporter

It's A Fine Thing That NZ
Is Now Officially Involved In Philippines Human Rights

But The Proof Of the Pudding Is In The Eating

The Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA), which has lobbied the New Zealand government for years to get directly involved in helping to rectify the appalling human rights situation in the Philippines, congratulates it for actually doing so. Particularly as we have been told by someone in a position to know that this outcome is a result of that very lobbying by ourselves and numerous other NZ organisations and individuals gravely at concerned at the reign of State terror in that country.

PSNA has been informed (by letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 7/2/08) that there are proposals for the NZ Human Rights Commission to become involved with "human rights education and training programmes for the Philippines Police and Defence Forces. Further, a project was launched on February 6 which supports the realisation of human rights for Indigenous Peoples. In relation to all projects, it is envisaged that the training will take place in the Philippines.The overall outcomes sought will be the integration of human rights into the practices of the Police and Military in both the Philippines and New Zealand; and the realisation of human rights for Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines". The MFAT letter specifically details "an exploration of the applicability of New Zealand restorative justice programmes to the Philippines". It also mentions the possibility of Judge Eddie Durie, former Chair of both the Waitangi Tribunal and Maori Land Court (who visited the Philippines in 2006), returning there to "share his experiences and perceptions in the area of historical land disputes with those involved in the settlement of ancestral domain claims in Mindanao".

The letter doesn't give concrete details of the NZ Human Rights Commission projects but we do know that the one for indigenous people will take place in communities on each of the three main island groups - namely Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, and that will cost just under $NZ1 million. Rosslyn Noonan, the Human Rights Commissioner, was in the Philippines for the launch of that project, on Waitangi Day.

This is all very positive but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Philippines under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has a well entrenched culture of impunity, meaning that the military and police and their paramilitary death squads can murder, torture, abduct, and falsely imprison anyone who is deemed to be "an enemy of the State" (overwhelmingly those from the real or imagined Left of the Philippine political spectrum). Those soldiers, policemen and hired thugs can do their dirty work in the full knowledge that they will never be held accountable for it, that they have the backing of the highest level of the Philippine military and Government. They are simply carrying out State policy, one which has seen nearly 900 political activists murdered so far since the President came to power in 2001; hundreds more have been disappeared with their bodies never found, and hundreds of political prisoners are tortured and held for years on trumped up charges. Gloria rules from a throne of blood.

The Philippines already has all the necessary human rights structures in place and the President and her Government all faithfully parrot the right phrases. The trouble is that one thing is said, but quite the opposite is done.

New Zealand must not get sucked into providing international respectability to this pariah regime, one which is desperate to appease foreign critics without actually doing anything about its murderous behaviour towards its own people. If our Government is serious, as it should be, about helping the long suffering Philippine people gain the basic human rights to which they are entitled, then it must ensure that NZ's involvement produces real results and helps to bring about systemic change to a country which is long overdue for it. Reality must match appearances.

ENDS


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