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Ecumenical Voice’s lobbying in the US, Canada and the United Nations

Presentation at the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines

Quezon City, Philippines
20 July 2013

PANEL 4. Best Practices: International solidarity campaigns

General Secretary
National Council of Churches in the Philippines

Churches have a significant role in the struggle for human rights in the Philippines. Aside from lending their prophetic voice to announce and denounce the human rights violations in the country, they also accompany human rights organizations and basic sectors in mobilizations and fact-finding missions. Churches also utilize their resources to help victims and their families by providing sanctuaries and even funds in their quest for justice and their efforts to rebuild their lives.

Still, one of the most important contributions of the churches in the human rights struggle is in tapping its international ecumenical friends and partners. This is the church’s historical role in international solidarity since the 1970’s. The influence and resources of these partners enable Philippine churches and the broader human rights community in the country to gain access to governments like the US and Canada and intergovernmental bodies like the United Nations and the European Union. Significant efforts in relation to this are encapsulated in the following:

  • Hosting International Ecumenical Solidarity Visits. Tthe extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances intensified with the implementation of the then Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency program called Oplan Bantay Laya in 2002, reached an alarming rate by 2005. One person was killed or disappeared for political reasons every other day. Alarmed by the situation, the NCCP called to its international ecumenical partners. The World Council of Churches (WCC) and Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) responded by forming a Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit to reach out to the victims and their families and to personally witness the sufferings of the Filipino people. The high level delegation from Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Norway, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and United States joined hands with prominent church leaders in the Philippines, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, and visited Eastern Visayas, Hacienda Luisita, and Mindanao from July 14-21, 2005. It was one of the first international delegations on human rights in the country during the period. It encouraged other church institutions to speak out against the killings. Other church institutions also sent delegations like the United Methodist Church (UMC) Connectional Table, the UMC-California Nevada and California Pacific Conferences and United Church of Canada. The UMC California Pacific Conference delegation in February 2010 was one of the first international entities covered by the media that spoke against the illegal arrest and detention of the Morong 43.
  • The release of “Let the Stones Cry Out: An Ecumenical Report on Human Rights in the Philippines and a Call to Action”. This report was submitted to government and inter-government bodies in North America and Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Council. The said report was later published along with the chronicles of its submission to the aforementioned institutions in the book “Let the Stones Cry Out: The Continuing Search for Justice”. The book was hailed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno as the “embodiment of everything the human rights revolution stands for”. The book not only records what the ecumenical response to the impunity but also can serve as a resource book for continuing human rights advocacy.
  • Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines. The NCCP spearheaded the formation of a nine-member delegation of Protestant and Roman Catholic bishops and clergy, Christian and Muslim human rights defenders called the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines. The Ecumenical Voice sought to let survivors or relatives of victims of the culture of impunity to testify before international audiences. This is one of the outstanding features of the campaign to Stop the Killings. Thus, for instances and on hindsight the testimonies of Dr. Chandu Claver, Dr. Edith Burgos, Mr. Jonathan Sta. Rosa, Pastor Berlin Guerrero, Mr. Raymond Manalo, Ms. Melissa Roxas and Hon. Ernan Baldomero, among others, were powerful and real stories.

The delegation submitted the abovementioned report in March 2007 to: Members of Parliament in Canada, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Canada, the sub-committee on foreign relations in the US Senate, the Minister and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Germany to the Office of the United Nations at Geneva (the delegation also met with the minister in Germany’s capacity as President of the European Union), Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In the US, a hearing on the extra judicial killings in the Philippines was held chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer where two members of the delegation spoke. I would like to mention at this point that the UMC California Nevada Conference was one of those who lobbied the office of Sen. Boxer to conduct the said hearing upon their return from their solidarity visit. The said hearing was the banner headline of the Philippine Daily Inquirer the next day.

These efforts we could say contributed to the decrease in the number of killings by 2008.

  • Philippine UPR Watch. A delegation convened by the Ecumenical Voice, with the help of international ecumenical partners engaged in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The UPR was then a new mechanism under the UNHRC where member states’ fulfilment of its obligations to international rights treaties is assessed by their peers. The Philippines was among the first batch of countries reviewed. In January 2008, representatives of the Asia Working Group of NGOs at the United Nations (AWG) and the Philippine Working Group (PWG) within the Asia Pacific Forum of Church World Service (APF/CWS), along with human rights groups based in Hong Kong met with representatives of the NCCP and two of its partner organizations, CONTAK and Karapatan, to prepare for an organized international response to the UPR. Foremost among the responses that were planned was the lobbying during the UNHRC session in Geneva in March 2008 and during the actual UPR.

A seven member multi-sectoral delegation coming from the Philippines was sent. The multi-sectoral delegation was composed of church leaders, human rights defenders and victims/families of victims. There was also a two-person team that went to the US to speak at events in the US. This included Dr. Edita T. Burgos, whom you of course know very well and Mervin Toquero of the NCCP. The tour covered nine (9) different cities to raise awareness about the cases of politically motivated extrajudicial killings and disappearances as well as other forms of human rights abuses and repression.

The Geneva delegation reiterated that the Philippine government with its appalling human rights record does not deserve its seat in the UN Human Rights Council. Rep. Teddy Casiño, Mr. Jonathan Sta. Rosa and myself followed Atty. Edre Olalia of NUPL and Ms. Marie Hilao-Enriquez who were the advance team who did some prior lobbying in Geneva. There, we were joined by Donnie Mapanao of Migrante Switzerland. The delegation that went to Geneva for the UPR was not able to present oral interventions during the actual UPR session, but through other venues and actions was able to present an alternative report on the actual situation on the ground in contrast to the rosy human rights picture that the Philippine government painted. The continuing national and international campaign coupled with our lobbying among a number of the Permanent Missions paid off. Delegates from 17 countries took the Philippine government to task for its failure to address the problems of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, especially in the prosecution of perpetrators. They also scored the Philippine government for its failure to address equally important issues such as the protection of migrant workers, the trafficking of women and children, and corruption. Onthe 8th Session of the HRC that following June, civil society organizations were allowed to give oral interventions.

These efforts in relation to the Universal Periodic Review were successful. We were able to do lobby work with various missions, some of whom raised critical questions to the Philippine National Report especially on the issue of extra-judicial killings. We held two well-attended side events, one was at the WCC Ecumenical Center and the other was at the United Nations.

We were also able to deliver oral interventions in relation to the human rights report of the Philippine Government and the report of Prof. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. We even delivered a statement during the consideration of the UPR Report on the Netherlands regarding the violation of the human rights of Filipino exiles, asylum-seekers and refugees. We presented the objective realities prevailing in the country before the international community and it was very effective in countering the glossy human rights picture projected by the government before the world.

After those efforts, the cases of extra-judicial killings have gone down. However, to paraphrase Prof. Alston, the decrease in number while a cause to congratulate, is likewise a cause to condemn because it merely shows clearly who are behind the extrajudicial killings. The decrease was a result of the pressure to the Philippine government brought about by the widespread national and international condemnation. But it does not mean that the human rights violations stopped altogether.

In all these, the media in the Philippines was provided updates and copies of press releases and statements.

The UPR Watch was reconvened in 2011 during for the second UPR on the Philippines in 2012. This time, the human rights record of the government of Pres. Benigno Aquino was also assessed. A four-person delegation went to Geneva during the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council from 27th February – 23rd March 2012, in preparation for the actual UPR in May 2012. The delegation brought the compilation of reports of the different organizations under the Watch and conducted lobbying and other related activities to show to the international community the continuing human rights crisis in the country.

At about the same time, a delegation was sent to the US and then to Canada. The delegation in the US was composed of Angelina Bisuña Ipong or Angie, of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainee Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Association of Ex-Detainees Against Detention and Arrest), Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, General Secretary of the UCCP and Bishop Felixberto Calang of the IFI and Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao. For Canada, Ms. Ipong and Bp. Marigza were joined by Dr. Merry Mia Clamor of Health Alliance for Democracy and one of the Morong 43. The US and Canada tour was a success, and they were able to speak cumulatively to around 2,000 people and with good coverage. They were also able to lobby successfully with members of the US Congress and Canadian Parliament. In Canada the tour jumpstarted networking and organizing and helped reinvigorate the work for human rights issues in the Philippines. The tour organizers committed to sustain the momentum by inviting people to be part of the organizations under the Stop the Killings network.

Another Philippine UPR Watch delegation went to Geneva in May 2012 for the actual UPR. The 12 member delegation was joined by members of the International Committee on the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines, Bayan-USA, and Migrante-Switzerland.

The efforts of the UPR Watch were again successful. They were able to able to talk to 47 missions in Geneva and 10 missions (embassies) in Manila. Again, many countries put the Philippine government to task for its failure to curb if not to stop the human rights violations in particular the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Around 69 countries quizzed the Philippine government on its human rights record during the UPR session. One after the other, at least 22 countries expressed concerns on the continuing spate of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture in particular, and impunity in general. After the UPR, the delegation was also able to meet with representatives of the Sub-committee on Human Rights of the European Parliament (DROI) in Brussels, Belgium. The EU Parliament later released their resolution on impunity in the Philippines.

The Philippines state’s UPR came up for adoption on the 21st session of the Human Rights Council which fell on September 20, 2012. The Philippine UPR Watch again sent a delegation to the said session and delivered oral interventions in the plenary hall during the adoption of the Philippine UPR working group report. Karapatan chairperson Marie Hilao Enriquez, head of delegation, and Dr. Rommel Linatoc of the (NCCP), delivered oral interventions. The other members of the Philippine UPR Watch were Ms. Melona Daclan of Defend Job Philippines, Rev. Michael Yoshii, a leader in the Isaiah Circle of the UN and International Affairs ministry of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, and Ms. Maribel Mapanao of the International Coordinating Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICCHRP) in Europe.

In retrospect, what we did is to bring the voices of the suffering but struggling people to the world. Without the accompaniment and solidarity of our international partners, we could not have done this. However, despite these efforts, human rights violations continue as Oplan Bayanihan, the government’s new counter-insurgency program, is still being relentlessly implemented. Justice remains elusive and impunity reigns. The Philippine government made commitments during the UPR. Thus, the task now, with the international community, is to keep watch and ensure that the commitments made by the government are followed to the letter, especially on the ground and to tirelessly call for the scrapping of Oplan Bayanihan and the resumption of the formal peace talks to address the roots of the armed conflict. There is reason to believe that there will be more repression in the coming months or years. This solidarity must be maintained as it has been rightfully maintained that “human rights violations here is human rights violations everywhere”. We must also point out at this point, that our international advocacy is not focused on civil and political rights alone. We are also very active in international initiatives in relation to migrants and indigenous peoples’ rights as well as in issues related to food and trade.

The Ecumenical Voice is now a formal alliance of the organizations involved in that above-described international lobbying. We are ready to share our experiences with other faith bodies and people’s organizations in the name of solidarity.

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