Sunday, April 1, 2012


Despite well-publicized efforts to prosecute past and present government officials, human rights advocates say the culture of impunity continues to thrive in the Philippines under the Aquino administration.

“No one is punished, no one is held to account for crimes committed,” Angelina Bisuna-Ipong, who at 66 was the oldest female political prisoner until all her charges were finally dismissed for lack of evidence and she was released in February 2011.

“We are deeply concerned,” said James Winkler, Secretary General of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church.

“We were hoping we would see an improvement under the administration of President (Benigno) Aquino III but we’re disturbed that doesn’t seem to be taking place,” he told the Manila Mail.

Bisuna-Ipong and Bishops Reuel Norman Marigza, Secretary General of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church and Chairman of the Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao had visited the American capitol to speak with US lawmakers and State Department officials.

“During the time of former President Arroyo more than 20 clergy and lay leaders of the UCCP were killed. Now under President Noynoy there are 2 from my church alone,” Marigza said.

Perhaps the most prominent church victim is Italian missionary priest Fausto Tentorio who was gunned down in Cotabato last October.

“We are concerned about everyone who has been a victim of extrajudicial killings or has been illegally detained but I admit we are especially concerned with church workers and church leaders who are very close to us,” Winkler explained.

Bisuna-Ipong, who is also Secretary General of the Society of Ex-Detainees Against Arrest and Detention (SELDA), listed 68 extrajudicial killings, 8 forced disappearances, 55 victims of torture and 81 instances of illegal arrests and detention since President Aquino took office in June 2010.

“Sa tingin namin (in our view) the present administration must have the political will to do something,” she stressed.

But they believe Pres. Aquino needs some prodding to make true on his promise to end extrajudicial killings and curb human rights abuses. “We are hosting this delegation that we may visit Capitol Hill and go to the State Department since we want American policy makers and political officials to hear personally from Filipino leaders about what is happening,” Winkler said.

Church groups pushed for the unprecedented Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in 2007. The probe was spearheaded by Senator Barbara Boxer of California and led to the placing of conditions to the granting of US military aid to the Philippines.

“Those small stories (from the Filipino delegation) will be the most important element in our effort to push the Obama administration place significant pressure on the Philippine government to improve the situation,” Winkler said.

“We will be pushing for a reduction in military aid and security assistance to the Philippines for as long as human rights abuses continued,” he stressed.

The US has given over half a billion dollars in military assistance to the Philippines since 2001, according to US Ambassador Harry Thomas. It turned over last year a retired US Coast Guard cutter – and is scheduled to deliver a 2nd ship this year – to beef up the Philippine Navy’s capability to patrol the disputed Spratly Islands.

They appeared convinced tying up US help for the Philippine military was the most effective way of producing results.

“We have a military that has been very active in political life to the point that if they don’t like what the president is doing talks of a coup d’etat suddenly surface,” Marigza said.

Most of the extrajudicial killings have been blamed on the police or military, including the Fr. Tentorio case where the alleged mastermind had tagged a police captain who was later left out in the charge sheet.

Bisuna-Ipong also pointed to the government’s failure to capture former army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan who’s been charged with killings and human rights abuses that even confidential State Department cables revealed by Wikileaks noted seemed to grow wherever Palparan was assigned.

“What we bring as church leaders is a moral and ethical dimension to lobbying on Capitol Hill,” Winkler averred.

“Our case is to say true security is based on democracy, on human rights, on the rule of law and when those abuses take place whether in the name of the war on terror or out of a perceived rivalry with another nation such as China, that allows for excuses to be made, for lies to be propagated and abuses to be ignored,” he explained.

“As people of faith that is not to be tolerated,” Winkler stressed.

Marigza exhorted President Aquino to be true to his word and deliver on his promises.

“Magpakatotoo siya sa sinabi niya tahakin ang tuwid na landas (He should be true to what he called the straight path). If his word is worth anything then he should follow-through on what he said regardless of the consequences whether that leads to giving up his share in Hacienda Luisita or going after the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings,” he said.

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