Philippines religious leaders call for an end to political killings

By staff writers
March 13, 2007

Philippines religious leaders will testify before a US Senate committee on 14 March 2007 concerning extrajudicial killings in their country. They hope to turn the spotlight on "unabated and unpunished politically motivated murders."

The delegation wants to send a message back home that US leaders are concerned about what is happening in the Southeast Asian nation, given that they are chief among its key allies.

The faith leaders also hope the meetings will serve as a wakeup call to the US Congress and the White House to stop sending money to a government implicated in human right abuses. They are backed by American Christians.

"We are trying to rattle the chains of the House and Senate and put some pressure on the State Department to insist that the government of the Philippines not be engaged in human right abuses," said the Rev Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

California Senator Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, called the congressional hearing to find ways to end violence that has claimed the lives of more than 800 people since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed the presidency in 2001.

Two Filipino witnesses to the hearing, Bishop Eliezer Pascua, general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and Marie Hilao-Enriquez, general secretary of the human rights alliance Karapatan, are part of a nine-member ecumenical delegation.

The delegation also will be part of a briefing with staff of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Both the Senate hearing and the House briefing resulted from concerted efforts of church and ecumenical bodies led by Dr Edgar, a former member of the US Congress.

"The delegation knows speaking out will "put them on lists to be threatened or harmed," Dr Edgar explained. "They indicated the risks were worth the dangers."

The latest killing took place on 9 March, and brings the total deaths since January 2001 to 836. In 2006 alone, there were 207 extrajudicial killings, or an average of four people a week.

A recent report of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) details cases of political killings and studies the chilling pattern and alarming number of deaths. The report links the unbridled political killings to the Arroyo government's counter-insurgency programme.

"The manner with which the victims were executed or abducted was done professionally and systematically, establishing a connection between the national security strategy and the incidents of violations," the report states.

The document notes the poor record of the Philippines government in both complying with procedures required of a member of the United Nations and keeping its declared commitments to the UN Human Rights Council.

Victims reportedly are killed for political beliefs, exercising freedom of expression and opting to serve others as Christians. Among those killed have been lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists, church leaders, local officials, community leaders and organizers, students, peasants, indigenous leaders, workers, professionals, women and children.

[Noel Pangilinan, media representative for the International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines, contributed to this report. With acknowledgments to UMNS]

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