Church leaders challenge Philippines 'impunity' culture

By Ecumenical News International
21 Mar 2007

Church leaders from the Philippines have called on the United Nations to investigate more than 830 reported cases of extra-judicial killings since 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power - write Stephen Brown and Maurice Malanes for ENI.

"Sustaining the vicious cycle of human rights violations is a culture of impunity practised by the government and its security forces that traces its roots to the Marcos dictatorship of the 1970s," stated a 90-page report presented by the church leaders on 19 March 2007 at the United Nations office in Geneva.

In a "call to action" addressed to the UN Human Rights Council, the leaders said they wanted an urgent UN fact-finding mission to investigate "the extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other forms of violations of human rights in the Philippines". They also urged a comprehensive review of the country's criminal justice system by an independent commission.

The delegation included representatives of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the Philippines Ecumenical Bishops' Forum, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and the Moro Christian People's Alliance, as well as the US-headquartered United Methodist Church.

Some of the delegation members had earlier been in Washington DC where they called on lawmakers to ensure that US military and development aid to the Philippine government would not be used to perpetrate human rights abuses.

"With this report, we hope the US will reconsider its support to the Philippine military as various international and national fact-finding missions show that the unbridled political killings are linked to the Arroyo government's counter-insurgency programme," Philippine Independent Church Supreme Bishop Godofredo David told a 15 March media conference in Manila in advance of the presentation in Geneva.

The NCCP chairperson, Bishop Ignacio Soliba of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, stressed the "critical urgency" of the report. The spate of killings, including of church people, was "never before seen and experienced by the Philippine churches", he said.

A report published in February of an official commission probing the allegations said there was evidence to believe that military commanders were responsible for "allowing, tolerating and even encouraging" the killings of activists, church workers, journalists and judges.

Presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye said Arroyo was doing everything she could to help stop the killings. "For better results, we need the cooperation of all concerned," he said.

The full text of NCCP report: www.oikoumene.org/index.php?id=3408

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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