The European Parliament on 26 April trained its sights on the human rights situation in the Philippines when the Subcommittee on Human Rights invited several experts for an exchange of views on human rights in the Philippines in the context of the presidential, legislative and local elections on 10 May 2010.
Invited to speak during the meeting were Atty. Leila de Lima, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the government of the Republic of the Philippines; Dr. Angie M. Gonzales of the Filipino Refugees in the Netherlands (FREN) and the International Coordinating Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICCHRP); Dr. Sophie Richardson of the US-based Human Rights Watch; and Mr. Rolf Timans, Head of the Human Rights Unit of the European Commission.
Also present during the meeting was the Ambassador of the Philippines to Belgium Enrique A. Manalo and other members of the Subcommittee on Human Rights.
Expressing serious concern over the election-related massacre on 23 November 2009 of 57 civilians, among them 32 journalists, in Maguindanao in southern Philippines, and about the several hundreds of unresolved assassinations and enforced disappearances of political dissenters, the Subcommittee welcomed the opportunity to exchange views with the experts. MEP Heidi Hautala of Finland, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, declared that the Members of the European Parliament are greatly interested on the issues of human rights violations in the Philippines and in the activities of human rights organizations regarding the issues.
In her presentation, Dr. Angie Gonzales informed the European Parliament about the elitist and inherently undemocratic electoral contests in the Philippines. “To be able to participate in any electoral contest,” she explained, “one needs to be a member of the rich and the powerful… (Political parties) represent the interests of Spanish colonial-era feudal lords and US-allied compradors, both competing to be the trusted steward of US colonial power in the Philippines.”
“Once elected,” she continued, “many of these officials use their public office and funds to increase their personal wealth and political influence. It is therefore not surprising that an incumbent official will violently fight off rivals, even if they belong to the same political party.” She pointed out that the warring political factions involved in the 23 November massacre belong to the ruling party of Gloria Arroyo.
Dr. Gonzales also deplored the often violent intervention of military and police forces – with the tacit approval of the Arroyo government – in the electoral exercise. “Leaders and supporters of opposition groups are often targets of vilification, harassment and threats, illegal arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings.” She continued, “From January 2001 to December 2009, 197 leaders of five Party-Lists had been assassinated; and 22 leaders of four Party-Lists had been victimized by enforced disappearance.”
Atty. de Lima, Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights confirmed that there is a high rate of election-related violence in the country. She also pointed out that a culture of impunity continues to exist in the Philippines, in a situation where perpetrators of human rights violations go unpunished.
Asked about how the CHR manages to do its work amidst the difficult circumstances in the country, Atty. De Lima acknowledged the important role played by independent human rights groups and victims’ organizations.
In a telephone broadcast from the US, Dr. Sophie Richardson of the Human Rights Watch presented the findings of their group about the Philippines. She expressed grave concern over the number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances occurring in the country, and the pointed out that most of these cases remain unsolved.
Meanwhile, Mr. Rolf Timans of the European Commission admitted that the human rights situation in the Philippines is a cause of concern, especially with the number of human rights violations and the prevailing culture of impunity. He pointed out though that the Commission has high hopes for the Philippines and is supporting several projects on human rights, including the €3,9 million European Union-Philippines Justice Support Programme (EPJUST).
Responding to the presentations, MEP Barbara Lochbihler of Germany proposed that the European Parliament request the candidates running for public office in the Philippines to declare their positions regarding the respect of human rights and the implementation of genuine land reform. She proposed further that the Parliament follow-up on these declarations once the candidates are elected.
Dr. Gonzales appealed to the European Parliament to directly support and help protect human rights defenders, human rights victims and their organizations. She also urged the EU to continue calling the attention of the Philippine government to its international obligations in promoting the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Filipino nation.
“As long as the international community continues in supporting human rights work in the Philippines,” she concluded, “then I can continue hoping that Filipino political refugees and migrant workers around the world can one day finally come home in peace.”
[Boyen Baleva, FREN News]