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April 28, 2008

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Canadian Parliamentarians Shocked to Hear of Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines

Members of the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights expressed deep concern over the continuing political killings perpetrated by the military in the Philippines and vowed to submit to Parliament the recommendations by three progressive members of the Philippine Congress on what the Canadian government can do.

"It's very shocking what we read in the reports - both (UN Special Rapporteur) Prof. Alston's and Judge Jose Melo's reports - on the human rights violations taking place," said the Liberal Party member of the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights, Mario Silva. "We as a country have to speak out and say this is outrageous."

Members of the Philippine House of Representatives Crispin Beltran, Luz Ilagan and Satur Ocampo testified before the Subcommittee on April 15. They reported that more than 900 extrajudicial killings and 180 enforced disappearances have occurred under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration. They appealed to the subcommittee to urge the Canadian government to put more pressure on the Arroyo government to end the political killings and to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. They further urged the Canadian government to precondition its bilateral aid to the Arroyo government upon its full implementation of Alston's recommendations. The three parliamentarians have been elected under the Philippine Party List system as representatives of marginalized sectors, namely peasants and workers, women and a coalition of grassroots organizations. Their 2-week human rights advocacy tour in Canada was organized by members of the Stop the Killings and Philippine Solidarity Networks, including The United Church of Canada. The parliamentarians also met with all the opposition parties and representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Investment and International Development Cooperation.

The Philippine legislators also urged the Canadian government to review its bilateral aid to the Philippine government , in particular, its Military and Police Training Assistance Programs, its mining investments and its development aid to determine if any part of it is used for programs involving human rights violations.

"I'm personally very troubled that 12 (Filipino) officers will be trained in this country," said New Democratic Party Subcommittee member Wayne Marston. "We need to get to the bottom of that." Marston also highlighted the need for Canada to heed a two-year-old subcommittee report on corporate and social responsibilities of Canadian mining firms operating in the Philippines, a few of which have been alleged to have used military and paramilitary forces for their security.

"I am quite astounded, despite this subcommittee's report that was produced two years ago, that this situation has not yet been corrected," added Bloc Quebecois member Diane Bourgeois. I'd like us to discuss that (report) in this subcommittee to find out what the government did to follow up. I am hoping that Canada will not once again be losing face."

Marston also acknowledged the grave risk the Philippine legislators have taken in bringing forward their criticisms and opposition against what they view as an oppressive government.
"I am very respectful of the courage that I am seeing here and that you are standing up on behalf of your country," Marston said.

The Filipino legislators welcomed the response of the subcommittee to their report and are optimistic that Canada will lend its voice to the growing international condemnation of the Arroyo administration and its gross human rights violations."We are also very pleased with the response of the subcommittee members," said Bern Jagunos, Asia Coordinator of the United Church and spokesperson of the Stop the Killings Network.. "We will certainly follow up on the subcommittee's promise to bring the recommendations of the Filipino legislators forward. We will also continue our lobbying efforts calling on the Canadian government to disclose to the public how taxpayers' money has been spent in the Philippines and to suspend development, financial and military aid to the Arroyo government pending a full review of its bilateral relations."

UPDATE! Armed men surrounded the residence of Rep. Satur Ocampo upon his return to the Philippines. He and two other Party List parliamentarians, Rep. Teodoro Casino and Rep. Liza Maza are at risk of imminent arrest. Rep. Casino had also just returned from a speaking tour in Geneva during the U.N. Human Rights Council's Universal Period Review of the Philippines. New charges of murder, dating back to 2001, have reportedly been filed against them at a provincial court. Past charges of rebellion and multiple murders against them which have been dismissed by the Philippine Supreme Court and this new charge are among the various forms of harassment they and other government critics experience and reported last week to the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

Open Letter to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of Canada

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