Church and human rights bodies denounce killings in the Philippines

By agency reporter
July 1, 2010

World Council of Churches General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit has joined other church and human rights organisations in denouncing the extrajudicial killings of Benjamin Bayles and Jovelito Agustin, both lay ministers of the Philippine Independent Church.

In a 29 June letter to President-elect Benigno Aquino III, Tveit urged "the Philippines government to keep its commitment to international human rights instruments and put an end to the killings and to the culture of impunity by prosecuting the perpetrators and granting justice to the victims of human rights violations".

Aquino was inaugurated on 30 June 2010. He succeeds Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Bayles and Agustin were "active lay ministers, known in their churches as outspoken advocates of human dignity and of the rights of the most marginalised", Tveit stated. Bayles, a human rights advocate, and Agustin, a broadcaster who defended workers' rights, were murdered by suspected paramilitary groups on 14 and 15 June, respectively.

In denouncing the killings of Bayles and Agustin and reiterating his concern about the "ongoing extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and continuing impunity in the Philippines", the WCC General Secretary has joined the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and the Philippine Independent Church (or Iglesia Filipina Independiente, IFI).

According to the Rev Rex Reyes, NCCP General Secretary, the circumstances of the deaths of Bayles and Agustin "point to the pattern of continuing impunity against progressive organisations and their members, and journalists who raise critical voices".

For the Most Rev Godofredo David, IFI obispo maximo, Bayles and Agustin "are the latest victims of a systematic attempt to silence the Iglesia Filipina Independiente […] Their death clearly points to a re-intensification of political killings and worsening political repression and human rights violations in the Philippines".

David has called on the President-elect Aquino to "hold the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo accountable for the numerous cases of political repression and killings in the Philippines under the military's counter-insurgency policy".

The human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights) reports that 1,118 extrajudicial killings were documented in the Philippines between 2001 and October 2009.

During that same period, Karapatan recorded a total of 204 victims of enforced disappearance and 1,026 victims of torture. The human rights organisation denounces thousands of cases of forcible evacuation and displacement due to the military operations in the rural areas.

According to Karapatan, there have been six extrajudicial killings in July including those of Bayles and Agustin.


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