Episcopal Church challenges extra-judicial killings in the Philippines

By agency reporter
March 24, 2009

Human rights violations in the Philippines, in particular the abduction of Episcopalian James M. Balao, have been addressed in US-based Episcopal Church testimony sent to the United States House of Representatives' Committee on Appropriations and Sub-Committee on State Foreign Operations.

The Rev Canon Brian Grieves, the Episcopal Church's senior director for Mission Centers, and Alexander D. Baumgarten, international policy analyst in the church’s government relations office, submitted the testimony, this month outlining the Episcopal Church's concern for the continuing widespread human rights abuses in the Philippines, where extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances have been commonplace under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's presidency.

Extra-judicial killings and abductions occur without the permission of a court or legal authority and are generally carried out by a government in order to rid itself of a disruptive influence.

More than 900 such killings have been reported since Arroyo was sworn in as president in 2001, according to the human rights alliance KARAPATAN.

There have been 193 victims of enforced or involuntary disappearance under the Arroyo government.

Balao, who was abducted in September 2008, is a founding member of the Cordillera People's Alliance (CPA), a federation of grassroots organizations dedicated to the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples' rights.

"Over the past three years, the military has been publicly denouncing the CPA as a 'front organization' for the Communist party and accusing James of being a leader in the Communist party in the Cordilleras," the testimony notes. "As a result, CPA members are being assassinated, forcibly abducted, and tortured."

According to eyewitnesses, on 17 September 2008 Balao was scheduled to visit relatives when "five men in a white SUV forcibly took him," the testimony says.

"While two men held James at gunpoint, two others dragged him into the SUV, and the fifth waved his gun at the shocked onlookers telling them that James was a wanted drug dealer. His disappearance came four months after he complained to family and friends that he was under constant surveillance."

Former Obispo Maximo (Prime Bishop) of the Philippine Independent Church Alberto Ramento was found stabbed to death at his rectory in October 2006. (A concordat of full communion is shared between the Philippine Independent Church, the US-based Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in the Philippines.)

Known for his advocacy work for peace and human rights, Ramento had been an outspoken critic of the Philippine government.

Although there has been a marked decline in the number of extra-judicial killings in the last year, "partly as a result of oversight by the Congress," the testimony noted, "unfortunately, widespread human rights abuses continue and Congress must take additional action in order to improve conditions in the Philippines."

With acknowledgements to the Episcopal News Service

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