In a public hearing at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, church activists from the Philippines have criticised the Aquino government for not being able to improve the situation regarding human rights violations, citing an increased number of victims of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, as well as evictions in the country.
The public hearing was organised by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches on 30 May, in collaboration with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and the Philippine Universal Periodic Review Watch (UPR Watch).
The public hearing focused on the theme, ,Human rights record of the Philippine government: Telling it as it is!,
The members of UPR Watch, representing a coalition of non governmental organisations in the Philippines, were in Geneva to share their concerns about human rights violations at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 13th session of the Universal Periodic Review process.
In the public hearing, the church representatives from within the UPR Watch group shared the outcomes of their meetings at the UN Human Rights Council’s review process and efforts to lobby various country missions based in Geneva for the protection of human rights.
Among the main speakers were human rights attorney Edre Olalia, Secretary General of the National Union of People’s Lawyers; municipal councillor Ernan Baldomero of Lezo in Aklan province; Fr Jonash Joyohoy, executive director of the Ramento Project for Rights Defenders and Representatives of the NCCP; and Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the CCIA.
Mathews George spoke about the WCC’s engagement with churches in the Philippines. “The WCC has been accompanying churches in the Philippines in their struggle for human rights during the past four decades, since the martial law was declared in 1972,” he said.
“The rampant militarisation and human rights violations continued during the fourteen years of the martial law period in the Philippines, and still continue under successive democratically elected governments. This warrants more vigilance and international advocacy regarding the human rights situation in the Philippines,” he added.
In his presentation, Joyohoy questioned the Philippine government’s claim of a “dramatic decline” in the number of victims of human rights violations.
“Human right defenders, the victims and their families have submitted reports that belie the overstated achievements of the Philippine government. We count 76 victims of extrajudicial killings and nine victims of enforced disappearances since Aquino took office,” he said.
“While the government report is claiming a ‘dramatic decline’ in the killings, our count of a total of 85 precious lives speaks otherwise,” added Joyohoy.
He also mentioned the killings of Archbishop Alberto Ramento of the Philippine Independent Church, Fr William Tadena and the lay church volunteer Benjamin Bayles as examples of the government’s inability to curb human rights violations.
Joyohoy also expressed concern that in the government's report there is “almost no mention of the conditions of national minorities, Indigenous Peoples and the violent demolitions while highlighting so-called successes in the dole-out Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Programme.”
In another presentation, Olalia described how activists and dissenters are charged with criminal offences. Olalia called this a failure in the legal system and recommended that the international community “study the creation of special human rights courts to exclusively try and dispose of civil and criminal cases of human rights violations and implement a special procedure for such a purpose to make legal remedies simple, expeditious and accessible.”
He concluded, “We do not need those fancy and sophisticated schemes, bureaucratic agencies and mechanisms and even grandiose structures and plans. We need clear and plain answers."