Church activists from the Philippines on May 30 criticized the government of President Benigno S. Aquino III for failure to improve a climate of rampant human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and evictions.
They spoke at a public hearing at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva organized by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Also involved were the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and the Philippine Universal Periodic Review Watch (UPR Watch), according to a WCC news release.
Members of UPR Watch, representing a coalition of organizations 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 and lobby various country missions 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 councilor Ernan Baldomero of Lezo in Aklan province; Father Jonash Joyohoy, executive director of the Ramento Project for Rights Defenders and Representatives of the NCCP; and 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 militarization 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, Father William Tadena and the lay church volunteer Benjamin Bayles as examples of the government’s inability to curb human rights violations.
In another presentation, Olalia described how activists and dissenters are charged with criminal offenses. 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.”