Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Philippine Legislators Tour Canada for Human Rights

by J.D. Benjamin
Basics Issue #9 (May 2008)

Three Philippine Congresspeople – Satur Ocampo, Crispin Beltran, and Luz Illagan – conducted a cross-Canada tour in April, meeting with local communities, academics, journalists, and politicians to help raise awareness of the rampant human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Since current President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took power in 2001, over 900 activists have been killed and 180 forcibly disappeared. Ocampo and Beltran were victims of abuses through repeated criminal prosecutions based on fabricated evidence and false testimony provided by government agents. These and other abuses have been condemned by UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston, man countries and numerous international human rights organizations.

The tour featured public events and press conferences in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and a meeting with Manitoba premier Gary Doer.The legislators called on the Canadian government to review the foreign aid going to the Philippines to find out if any funds had been used by the Arroyo regime in its campaign of violence.

Bern Jagunos of the Stop The Killing Network echoed the call, saying, “It’s appalling to think that Canadian taxes may have contributed to the intimidation, detention, torture and executions of innocent people.”

Philippine activists have noted a decrease in the number of killings in the past year and credit increased international attention. Ocampo told Canadian parliamentarians, “The resolute efforts of human rights and people’s organizations, religious groups, and progressive political parties to document cases and bring them up to the United Nations, international bodies, governments and Parliaments paid off in 2007 [and] largely contributed to the noticeable decline in the killings and abductions.”

With $1.5 billion in bilateral trade, $1 billion worth of mining projects, 32 different development programs, and a military and police assistance program that has members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police receiving training in Canada, our government is heavily involved in the Philippines. We must demand that the Canadian government withdraw its assistance to the Arroyo regime and respect human rights of Filipinos!

Sadly, on the morning of May 20, after suffering head injuries due to a tragic accident at his home, Crispin Beltran died in hospital later that day. ‘Ka Bel’, as he was known, will be dearly missed by all Filipinos as their memory of him gives strength to their struggle. ∗

Crispin Beltran in Toronto, August 2008. Rest in Peace, 'Ka Bel'.