Helen Clark must follow through on human rights promise to the Philippines
Filipino unionist and activist Denis Maga in NZ to coincide with Arroyo’s visit in May
As Philippines president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo prepares to attend an interfaith dialogue in New Zealand this month. Since she came to power six years ago, 837 people have died in extrajudicial killings – including left-wing politicians, rights activists, unionists, journalists and religious leaders and others have been detained.
Among those detained is Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran. The ailing 74-year-old congressman was arrested in February last year on charges that date back to the era of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the early 1980s and were quashed in 1988. Since then, further trumped up charges of sedition have been laid. Beltran has now been held under hospital detention for sixteen months.
The situation in the Philippines has provoked international condemnation and concern, including that of Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Ms Clark raised her concerns about the human rights situation in the Philippines with Arroyo, including Ka Bel’s detention, in Cebu in January, during the East Asian Summit. Arroyo assured by her that “proper legal and judicial processes were being followed”. But since then, the situation has only worsened.
Renowned human rights expert and NYU professor Philip Alston has said that “virtual impunity” prevails in the country with regard to the extrajudicial killings which are “convincingly attributed” to the military.
Mr Alston, appointed by the United Nations as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in his report to the UN on March 27th and 28th: “the military and many key officials have buried their collective heads in the sand and announced that business will continue as usual”.
UPDATE: The Inter Parliamentary Union last month (April) visited the Philippines and announced a deal had been brokered for Ka Bel’s release. Despite promises that the state would not oppose an application for bail, two weeks later – and one week out from the Philippines congressional election – he is still detained.
Dennis Maga, a trade union community leader in the Philippines and spokesperson for the free Ka Bel movement will be in New Zealand from May 20th to June 2nd to speak on the dire situation in his country and on how New Zealand can help. His visit is planned to coincide with Arroyo’s trip between May 27th-30th for an interfaith dialogue in Waitangi.
Helen Clark has pledged New Zealand’s support for improving the human rights situation in the Philippines. Dennis Maga met with the NZ ambassador in Manila, on May 8th and requested the following from the New Zealand government
1. Write or issue a statement
calling on the Philippine government to honor its public
announcement and commitment to the IPU to immediately free
Rep. Beltran from his unlawful detention;
2. Sponsor a cross-parliamentary delegation to investigate the human rights situation in the Philippines
3. Send a representative of the New Zealand Embassy to the court hearings on Rep. Beltran’s case.
4. Redirect the NZ ODA funding from the Philippine government to the people’s organizations actively promoting and defending human rights.
5. Offer the NZ embassy as a safe haven for victims of repression and assure them of refugee status in NZ.
6. Campaign against the nomination of the Philippines as member of the United Nation Human Rights Security Council for the unabating occurrence of extra-judicial killings, involuntary disappearances militarization, political harassments and persecution
Helen Clark has pledged that New Zealand would “continue to encourage the Philippines, wherever opportunity arises, to work towards fully protecting the fundamental human rights of all its peoples and releasing individuals who appear to have been unjustifiably imprisoned.” It is time to follow through on that promise.
The following public meetings are organised:
Auckland: Mon 21 MAY 7.30PM Trades Hall
147 Great Nth Rd, Grey Lynn,
Wellington:Wed 23 May 7pm, 2nd Floor ANZAC HOUSE, 181 Willis St
Christchurch: Thurs 24th May 730pm, Trade Union Centre, 199 Armagh St
Northland: Sun 27 May, 7pm, St John’s Church Centre, 149 Kamo Rd, Whangarei
Monday 28th May, 730pm Bounty Inn, Cnr Bayview & Selwyn Rds, Paihia
BACKGROUNDER ON DENIS MAGA
Denis Maga is Secretary General of ANGLO-KMU (General Workers Federation within the Kilusang Mayo Union National Federation) of the Philippines. He is also spokesperson for the Free Ka Bel Movement and is currently running Ka Bel (Rep Crispin Beltran)’s Congress election campaign for the political party Anakpawis.
The Free Ka Bel Movement (FKBM) is an alliance of workers, church people, professionals, parliamentarians, artists, students, and supporters of Rep. Beltran calling for his immediate release. Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona is a convenor of the Free Ka Bel Movement.
For more information, please check:
BACKGROUNDER ON SITUATION IN THE PHILIPPINES
Crispin Beltran, fondly called “Ka Bel’’ by his many supporters, stands at the helm of the militant and progressive labour movement in the Philippines.
Ka Bel was elected to Congress in 2004 as Anakpawis Partylist Representative. As the chair of the trade union federation Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), he is recognized in at least 83 countries, as well as the International Labour Organization and various trade secretariats of the United Nations.
For the last 16 months the ailing 74-year old has been under state detention in a Manila hospital.
On 24 February 2006, Ka Bel had joined others to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the people’s uprising against the Marcos dictatorship. Earlier that day, the besieged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had declared a state of emergency, claiming an alleged coup to overthrow her, and banned all demonstrations.
The next day, Ka Bel was arrested on trumped up charges based on a Marcos-era warrant for rebellion that dated back to 1985, even though that case had been quashed in 1988. Under the harsh and repressive conditions of martial rule, Ka Bel had helped organise the Federations of Unions in Rizal and the Philippine Nationalist Labor Organizations until the KMU was formed in 1980. Marcos arrested Ka Bel and other labour leaders in August 1982. In November 1984, he escaped from prison and worked incognito with workers and peasants in the countryside. Ka Bel was officially ‘released’ by the Aquino government in 1986.
When it was clear these charges would not stick, Ka Bel was charged with incitement to sedition, relating to the 24 February 2006 rally. This was followed by further unsubstantiated charges of rebellion. His various show trials could drag on for years and his health is deteriorating as he languishes under military guard in hospital.
Even though he is absent from the parliament, his work there continues. Ka Bel devoted his last five years as a people’s lawmaker to lobby and campaign for the passage of pro-worker, pro-poor bills. On 20 December 2006 the lower house passed a pro-worker, pro-poor bills that legislates a P125 across-the-board wage increase for all workers nationwide. Despite his detention, Ka Bel remains an outspoken advocate of human rights and a sharp critic of the government’s repressive policies and practices.
Five other progressive congressmen also face charges of attempting to incite a rebellion on 1 May 2006. After being given refuge for 70 days in the House of Representatives, they were eventually granted bail. One, Satur Ocampo, was later charged with further offences relating to murders in Leyte province that occurred when he was in jail under Marcos. After bizarre late night attempts to spirit him from Manila to Leyte a judge intervened to quash the warrant.
The persecution of the leftist congressmen is only one aspect of the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines. Since Arroyo’s administration took power, 837 extra-judicial killings have been documented. The situation has been compared to that of Colombia.
Many of those killed are members of left wing political parties and have been deliberately targeted in order to prevent their election to congress on 14 May. UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston has noted government and military complicity in the targeting of left wing activists. “The executive branch (of the Philippine government), openly and enthusiastically aided by the military, has worked resolutely….to impede the work of party-list groups and to put in question their right to operate freely” This has meant not only the killing of activists, but the criminalisation and imprisonment of Congressmen Satur Ocampo, President of Bayan Muna and Ka Bel. 130 members of the political party Bayan Muna have been killed.
noted “a passivity, bordering on an abdication of
responsibility,” in the way the government and its
officials “approach their responsibilities in relation to
such human rights concerns”.
“Those government officials who must act decisively if the killings are to end still refuse to accept that there is even a problem,” he said.
An agreement was brokered between the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Philippines government two weeks ago and a motion was filed for Ka Bel’s release. Despite these promises Ka Bel is yet to be freed. The government seems intent to keeping him from campaigning for re-election.
Ka Bel has stressed the importance of political intervention to secure his release and an end to the current violence and repression. "There is no basis to have my case arraigned. I am being detained by the Macapagal-Arroyo administration purely out of political spite and repression," he said.
In a message to New Zealand last year, he said: “I would like to thank Helen Clark, who has been the only Asian leader willing to raise these issues directly with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It means a great deal to us. I appeal to Helen Clark to continue these efforts at the ASEAN, and if Arroyo’s planned visit to New Zealand in May proceeds, to urge her to make the Philippines a civilised country, because it is not civilised now.”
Ms Clark has pledged that New Zealand would “continue to encourage the Philippines, wherever opportunity arises, to work towards fully protecting the fundamental human rights of all its peoples and releasing individuals who appear to have been unjustifiably imprisoned.” It is time to follow through on that promise.