Philippines: Democratic Governance, Human Rights, and the Peace Process
2016 Book of Resolutions, #6118
Justice is pushed aside; / righteousness far off, / because truth has stumbled in the public square, / and honesty can’t enter. / Truth is missing; / anyone turning from evil is plundered. / The Lord looked and was upset at the absence of justice. / Seeing that there was no one, / and astonished that no one would intervene… . (Isaiah 59:14-16)
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you. How often I wanted to gather your people together, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that.” (Matthew 23:37)
“An injustice does not only affect the people against whom the injustice is committed, but threatens every one of us and the life we share together as an ordered society. It is a Christian imperative that we are vigilant in defending the rights of every person at all times. Long before human rights were formulated in law, they were inscribed in the being of every person, for it is in the very image of God that we are created. For human rights to have meaning they need to be vigilantly defended, where possible the dignity of those denied their rights needs to be restored, and those who are responsible for violations, be they states or individuals need to be made accountable. In our Philippine society we have seen the institutionalization of a culture of impunity, where those who violate the human rights of others, are able to escape investigation and prosecution” (Rev. Fr. Rex R. B. Reyes, General Secretary, National Council of Churches in the Philippines).
Our Concern: Intensifying Impunity Amidst Increasing Militarization in the Philippines
The United Methodist Church continues to be alarmed by and concerned about the unabated and egregious violations of human rights in the Philippines. Such violations that take place within the perpetual framework of US counterinsurgency and military doctrine, take the form of extrajudicial killings, summary executions, abductions, torture, arbitrary and prolonged political detentions, and enforced disappearances. Since the beginning of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s term in office, victims of human rights violations include over 226 extrajudicial killings and 26 forced disappearances, 693 illegally arrested and detained, and 491 political prisoners (KARAPATAN Report, December 2014).
The Philippines persists in officially collaborating with the United States-sanctioned war on terror, willingly subordinating itself to interests of U.S. militarism. The Philippines has adopted the US Counterinsurgency Program of 2009 as its blueprint for counterinsurgency, a methodology demonstrably dismissive of human rights. Criticisms directed at the Armed Forces of the Philippines about its dismal human rights record since 2007 have been defended by the defense establishment as falling within the frame of counterinsurgency. Such frame is inherently flawed and fundamentally at odds with the genuine pursuit of peace and the protection of human rights.
Very alarming and disturbing is the increasingly militarized approach of both the Philippine and US governments to the economic development of and humanitarian crises in the Philippines. This approach follows the 2012 announcement of plans by the US Department of Defense to “pivot to Asia” (See http://www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf). The Asia pivot heralds the Pentagon’s strategy to shift at least 60 percent of its military forces to the Asia Pacific, including the Philippines.
It is a US bid to protect and expand the United States’ market and military interests in the region. This military, defense, and foreign policy focus on Asia benefits the advancement of free-trade partnerships and agreements in Asia. Most notable for its disturbing features is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, otherwise called TPP Agreement (https://ustr.gov/tpp and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Partnership. Accessed February 2, 2015). This partnership agreement is modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that has devastated the economies of Mexico and Central America, triggering an exponential increase in the migration of people fleeing poverty and violence. This neoliberal economic strategy seeks to further open markets in the Philippines and throughout Asia, ultimately making the fragile economies of the region even more vulnerable to intrusion and domination by foreign multinational corporations.
The Backdrop of United Methodist and Ecumenical Witness in the Philippines
There is expressed opposition of the ecumenical community in the Philippines to the TPP. In a statement dated August 24, 2014, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) stated: “The President’s attempt to reopen the issue of Charter change is related to influence being exerted by the U.S. government, large corporations and some developed countries in the region to pave the way for the entry of the Philippines into a massive ‘free-trade’ agreement referred to as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP negotiations that were a central discussion point during the recent visit of U.S. President [Barack] Obama have been shrouded in secrecy.
“The TPP threatens to raise the legal status of large corporation to effective equality with sovereign nations, and to undermine the sovereign rights of participant nations to establish their own financial and product standards regulative regimes. The Philippines is currently on the sidelines of the TPP negotiations because our current Constitution does not conform to TPP requirements. The Constitution is a basic protection of our national sovereignty, and it is inappropriate for any other country, even when acting behind the scenes, to exert pressure for Constitutional change.”
Intimidation and violence have met the opposition by Filipino peoples to the economic impositions by foreign powers such as the TPP, and the violation of their human rights, especially the human rights of indigenous peoples, farm workers, and land tillers in rural areas. Philippine military, paramilitary forces, private armies and vigilante groups of warlords, and big landlords and multinational corporations have been documented to be in collusion (http://www.hrw.org/asia/-philippines).
Under the terms of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the US and the Philippines, since 2006 over 600 American special-operations forces have been on “permanent rotation” in resource-rich areas on the southern island of Mindanao. Joint training exercises involving several thousands of US and Philippine military personnel are conducted dozens of times every year on Philippine air, land, and water. Such exercises serve as a not-so-subtle reminder of the military muscle backing up both the Philippine military and US business interests in the region.
When Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon in recorded history to hit land, struck the Philippines in 2013, the enormity of destruction to human lives, infrastructure, and property was staggering. More than 6,000 people were confirmed dead, nearly four million people were displaced, and 1,600 were declared missing. The immediate response of the US government was to send military support to the Philippines. The US “pivot to Asia Pacific” meant sending ships, weapons, and soldiers, in stark contrast to other countries that provided medical professionals, engineers, aid workers, and food.
This militarized and securitized approach to humanitarian aid was cemented in a new agreement called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which was signed by the US and the Philippines a mere five months after Typhoon Haiyan. As the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and numerous Status of Forces and Mutual Logistics Support Agreements before it, forged between the US and other states after, the EDCA is also an access agreement. It grants the US the ability and flexibility to station its war material, Special Operations Forces, and forces to handle “housekeeping” matters, such as logistics support, administration, and military justice. The aim is to wage asymmetrical warfare against anyone: governments, “rogue states,” but also activists. The activists who are opposed to the economic and security interests of the US are casually branded as terrorists.
EDCA also protects the interests of the oil, mining, agribusiness, banking and technology corporations that depend on the US military to protect US investments and operations on foreign soil. Such protection extends to the water and airways that serve as the shipping lanes for global commodities, even when such protections have contributed to the destruction in the Philippines of livelihoods and properties of over 13,000 people and the displacement of nearly 50,000 people during Benigno Aquino III’s presidency.
Retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Hon. Reynato Puno, who was the first Filipino United Methodist to hold this high position, said in a university commencement speech: “One visible result of the scramble to end terrorism is to take legal shortcuts and legal shortcuts always shrink the scope of human rights… . These shortcuts have scarred the landscape of rights in the Philippines… . The escalation of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines has attracted the harsh eye of advocates of human rights… . Their initial findings do not complement our Constitutional commitment to protect human rights… . If there is any lesson that we can derive from the history of human rights, it is none other than these rights cannot be obliterated by bombs but neither can they be preserved by bullets alone. Terrorism is a military/police problem but its ultimate solution lies beyond the guns of our armed forces… . The apathy of those who can make a difference is the reason why violations of human rights continue to prosper. The worst enemy of human rights is not its nonbelievers but the fence sitters who will not lift a finger despite their violations.”
Patronage politics, an economy controlled by oligarchies, and a tightening space for democratic speech and organizing to air grievances against powerful political and economic forces characterize the Philippine situation today. This situation has led to prophetic and forthright witness by United Methodist leaders and members in the country, asserting it as a moral response. Speaking to the accountability of Philippine government officials in the way they disburse and use funds from the public coffers, United Methodist bishops of the Philippines and the leaders of the Philip- pines Central Conference Board of Church and Society asserted:
“[O]ur country has been governed by an oligarchy of big business people and big landlords who effectively influence all the branches of government and have succeeded in preserving their selfish interest at the expense of the greater interest of the people. The amassing of immoral wealth dog[s] the heels of the ancient shepherds/rulers who disregarded their flock… . The present outcry against PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] and DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program] is all about misappropriating the people’s money while shrugging off any responsibility especially to the poor of the land, and then shifting that burden to those who create those resources. Taxes and other revenues are all managed and manipulated by the unholy alliance of political and economic elites for their own benefit and to the neglect of the hungry sheep who are deprived of those resources” (Statement by Philippines Central Conference, The Filipino People Deserve Servant Leaders and Righteous Governance!).
The Human Rights Situation Is Appalling
Many international groups—religious bodies, nongovernmental organizations, foreign governments, and intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations—have pressed the Philippine government to do more to stop the many disturbing forms of human rights violations in the Philippines, urging the government to fulfill its constitutional and international law obligations. These human rights violations continue unabated and are escalating with impunity. Calls to stop them are contained in detailed, credible, and substantiated reports from various sources. Such reports were issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions; the US State Department, in particular its Country Report on Human Rights Practices, from 2007 to the present; Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Human Rights First; and the Asian Human Rights Commission.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), paramilitary units under its control, and the Philippine National Police (PNP) continue to be implicated in EJKs, enforced disappearances, torture, and illegal arrests and detention. One hundred ninety of the 226 victims of EJKs were peasant activists and indigenous peoples. The targeting of these specific populations reveals the victimization of people actively resisting economic exploitation, land grabbing, and forced displacement. (Many EJKs were conducted with impunity through the very familiar and visible method involving two men on a motorcycle with hidden or missing license plates, faces covered, driving up and shooting the victim or victims with a handgun, and then speeding off to evade identification and arrest.)
The US State Department 2013 Human Rights Report states, “The most significant human rights problems [continue] to be extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances undertaken by security forces; a dysfunctional criminal justice system notable for poor cooperation between police and investigators, few prosecutions, and lengthy procedural delays; and widespread official corruption and abuse of power.”
In 2013, from January to October, the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency in the Philippines responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of public abuse and impropriety, received 306 cases involving military and law enforcement officers accused of committing human-rights abuses. These cases included killings, injuries, unlawful arrest, and torture. Most were filed against low-ranking police and military officials. As of October 2014, some 302 cases were dismissed due to insufficiency of evidence, and eight are under investigation. There are no recorded convictions of high-ranking police or military officials.
Many of the victims of human-rights violations are themselves human-rights defenders, also labor leaders, peasant leaders, environmentalists, journalists, and others fighting against graft and corruption, and for peace and justice. They are frequently vilified as “enemies of the state” by the police and military establishments, tagged as supporters of a 45-year-long armed struggle conducted by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and its armed wing, the New Peoples Army. Their vilification has been used by paramilitary forces under the control of the police and military as some sort of license to arrest, even kill, these ordinary citizens and their community leaders.
Harassment by military and paramilitary forces is rampant among indigenous peoples who are protesting against dislocation from their ancestral lands. Forced dislocations have happened due to increased operation of extractive mining companies that have sprung up in many parts of the country, but mostly in indigenous peoples’ lands. A hearing on the killing of four members of the B’laan tribe in Mindanao, who protested against the large Tampakan copper-gold mine being proposed and developed by Sagittarius Mines Inc., disclosed that the mining company has paramilitary-armed men on its payroll who are under the nominal command of the AFP.
In the case of Manobo tribes of Southern Mindanao, armed paramilitary units operate in their indigenous communities and are pitted against their own tribes who are opposed to large-scale logging, mining and other foreign-funded projects like hydroelectric power plants that encroach into their ancestral lands.
Hamleting, food blockades, food rationing, and establishing curfew hours are just some of the harassment they commit to force these indigenous peoples into submission.
Those who dare resist are threatened and many of them eventually become victims of extrajudicial killings. In situations where entire communities protest the encroachment, massive military operations have been undertaken, causing dislocations of entire villages such as the evacuation of 118 families of the Talaingod-Manobos in 2014. The schooling of indigenous children is compromised, even stopped, under these situations. A campaign to spare schools from combat and to declare the schools as zones of peace is of paramount importance. (This area of Mindanao where the Manobos have their ancestral lands has been visited five times between 2010 and 2014 by a group organized under the auspices of the Philippines Task Force of the California-Pacific Annual Conference and leads hosting in the Philippines by Panalipdan-Southern Mindanao, a broad alliance of environmentalists and people’s organizations with a strong human-rights advocacy, and the Davao Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church.)
Persistence in Peace Negotiations
The past 46 years have been marked by two armed conflicts waged separately against the Government of the Philippines (GPH) by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Through the process of peace negotiations, the GPH and the MILF forged an agreement to end formally their armed hostilities. The two parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014. The peace talks between GPH and NDFP remain stalled.
The Filipino people’s clamor for peace with justice is a fervent desire. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) has called for “… principled negotiations to thresh out the issues, unearth and address the root causes of the conflict.” The NCCP asserted, “The peace negotiation is a way to just and lasting peace,” stating, “it is a way to end the armed conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands of Filipinos, combatants and non-combatants alike.”
Peace negotiations aimed to pave decisively the way to a just, sustainable, and durable peace must resume and aim for completion. It must focus on resolving the conditions that have provoked the past 46 years of armed conflict throughout the Philippines. Solving this long-term conflict, including ending the AFP counterinsurgency program that has been prosecuted with so many human-rights violations committed, is vital to achieving a lasting and durable peace and beginning a solid regime of human rights and human dignity.
Building peace requires building trust. Between 2002 and 2003, the US made a deal with the GPH whereby upon GPH joining the “Coalition of the Willing” to invade Iraq, the US would add the Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army (CPP- NPA) to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO), even though the CPP-NPA does not fit the State Department’s definition of FTO.
The listing of the CPP-NPA has been a significant contributing factor to the deteriorating environment for concluding a peace agreement with this insurgent group. Still, 27 years of sporadic yet persistent negotiations have produced more than 10 significant peace agreements aimed at addressing the lingering root causes of the Philippine crisis.
The call for peace with justice is an international call and the resolution of the Philippine crisis must involve the international community. The support of the Government of Norway in helping broker the peace negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP is most commendable.
The time is ripe and the moment is urgent. Both GPH and NDFP must proceed to implement in earnest and with good faith the agreements they have already negotiated between them. Among these agreements are The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG, 1995), and The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL, 1998).
There are palpable challenges to the peace process. Thousands of grievances have been filed against the AFP and PNP for violating the JASIG and CARHRIHL. The peace talks are derailed by the imprisonment of registered NDFP peace-negotiation consul- tants on false charges. There are the EJKs, disappearances, and illegal arrest and torture of NPA sympathizers. These governmental acts undermine the peace process and must be stopped at all costs.
The reported success of the December 2014 meetings of special teams from both the GPH and NDFP to discuss compliance with past agreements, along with the release of prisoners of war by the NDFP, augurs well for the resumption of peace talks. The resump- tion shows the readiness amongst various parties to come to the negotiating table for more needed steps in the peace process. The peace negotiations must resume as soon as possible.
The Filipino People Deserve Our Solidarity and Action
We welcome the release of “Let the Stones Cry Out: An Ecu- menical Report on Human Rights in the Philippines and a Call to Action” released by the ecumenical and nongovernmental community in the Philippines, led by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, whose production and distribution was led and supported by a couple of general agencies of The United Methodist Church.
We share with the ecumenical community in the Philippines the perspective posed and the burden of the question raised in the ecumenical report’s preface: “Something is wrong when members of the clergy and lay missionaries are being silenced when they are deeply engaged in missions that address the concerns of their constituencies—and the Philippine society as a whole. Something is wrong when members of the church and faith institutions are killed, go missing or are arrested while pursuing their calling to bring about justice closer to the poor, to fight for their rights, and advocate peace in a society that is torn asunder by armed conflicts fueled by structural problems. Of greater alarm is that the gross and systematic attacks on these pilgrims of peace and servants of God are forcing their institutions to an inevitable clash with the State.”
We issue this statement not only to support the ecumenical report from the Philippines and the direction in which its call to action points. We issue this statement because the struggle for human rights in the Philippines is at a point when our solidarity and accompaniment, as we have expressed in many ways and many times in the past, are crucial and needed even more so today.
We Commit to Action with Resolve and Dispatch
Filipino faith communities and citizens continue to address the situation in the Philippines. General boards and agencies of The United Methodist Church have addressed the human-rights situation in the Philippines in a variety of ways and venues, including providing to the Philippine Working Group (PWG) of the Asia Pacifi Forum of US and Canadian church and ecumenical staff executives, which helped produce the ecumenical human-rights report and supported the itineration in Canada, US, and Europe, of a Philippine ecumenical delegation called “Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines.” This ecumenical voice has briefed US House of Representatives members and testified at a US Senate hearing on March 14, 2007. This ecumenical voice was submitted numerous reports to, and addressed the sessions of, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, engaging this global-human rights body in its Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines. This ecumenical voice has since expanded its membership, and its voice is ever more heard and its perspective ever more sought, in the Philippines and abroad.
Our denomination also helped secure meetings with the US State Department and key congressional offices to raise concerns about the Philippine human-rights situation. Our denomination, through a number of its boards and agencies, also accompanied the ecumenical delegation in submitting the ecumenical report to a variety of United Nations-related offices in Geneva, Switzerland, especially the UN Human Rights Council, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Special Rapporteurs on Indigenous Peoples, and on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
Other annual conferences in the United States, such as California-Nevada, Pacific Northwest, Desert Southwest, California-Pacific, and Northern Illinois, have also addressed these issues, including conducting fact-finding, solidarity, and mission trips to the Philippines. In all these visits, Philippine church leaders and church workers showed them the appalling human-rights situation and in turn the visitors voiced their concern with government and military officials, and expressed their solidarity with church and community leaders.
We Commit to Work on the Following Actions:
We will submit this statement to concerned governmental and intergovernmental offices to convey our call to the Philippine government to stop immediately illegal arrests and prolonged detention; stop the killings, disappearances, torture, forced displacement; and stop all the other forms of human-rights violations. We also call on the Philippine government to take effective measures to bring to justice members of its security forces and their agents for whom there is credible evidence of human-rights violations, to comply with its obligations under international human-rights and humanitarian laws, to rescind national security policies that make no distinction between combatants and non-combatants, to hold free and fair elections, and to investigate any allegations of electoral fraud.
We call on the Philippine government to stop the practice of listing peace and human-rights advocates in its watch lists of individuals banned from entering or leaving the Philippines and to expunge such record of names already listed.
We call on other governments, but especially the governments of the United States of America, the European Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and significant development aid and trading partners like Japan, to look into these human-rights violations and pressure the Philippine government to stop them. To this end, we also support moves within the US Congress calling for a review of official development aid, and trade and economic arrangements to examine whether these do or do not further exacerbate human-rights violations.
We support the call to require the Department of Defense of the United States to file Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports, including social impacts, with every US military or resource deployment in the Philippines, to prevent environmental damages, as well as remediation of environmental damages caused US military activities.
We especially call for any military appropriations and official development assistance to the Philippine government to be withheld unless the Philippine government demonstrates strict adherence to international laws and standards of human rights and good governance, and thereby supports the development and use of benchmarks that will guide and measure the Philippine government’s adherence to the same.
Since human rights thrive under democratic, just, and peaceful conditions we therefore call for the resumption and full engagement of peace talks by the government, without preconditions, with all of the Philippine rebel groups. With the successful completion of negotiations the civil, political, social, economic, and cultural problems that beset the Philippines may yet result in just and durable peace.
We call on the United Nations and its agencies to continue investigating human-rights violations in the Philippines, and to offer help to the Philippine government in meeting its international obligations, including non-interference, empowerment, and capacity-building of nongovernmental organizations in their work of monitoring Philippine government compliance and pro- motion of human rights.
We call for the termination of military agreements between the US and the Philippines that prioritize profits over people and foster conditions that abet the culture of impunity in the Philippines. Lastly, we call on our general boards, agencies, annual conferences, and local churches in the US and throughout the global connection, including the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists, to work with Philippine annual conferences, ecumenical bodies, and nongovernmental organizations in joint undertakings to address the peace and human-rights situation in the Philippines.
Eyes on the Prize: Truth, Justice, and Peace
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) World Report 2015 called on Philippine President Aquino to “take decisive action against torture and extrajudicial killings by the police and other state security forces.” In his introductory essay of that report, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth, urged “governments to recognize that human rights can offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price” (Press Release by Human Rights Watch, “Philippines: End Police Torture, Killings,” Manila, January 29, 2015).
We must keep our eyes on the prize even as we struggle for the recognition of each one’s human dignity and fight for each one’s human rights.
“These are the things you should do: Speak the truth to each other; make truthful, just, and peaceable decisions within your gates. Don’t plan evil for each other. Don’t adore swearing falsely, for all of these are things that I hate, says the Lord.” (Zechariah 8:16-17)
AMENDED AND READOPTED 2016
RESOLUTION #6118, 2012 BOOK OF RESOLUTIONS
RESOLUTION #6078, 2008 BOOK OF RESOLUTIONS
See Social Principles, ¶ 165A, B, D.
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