Print Version    Email to Friend
Government puts politics above human rights priest claims

HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : “The present government must account for 67 cases of extrajudicial murders, 4,766 victims of forced evacuations and 11,841 cases of the use of schools, medical, religious or other public facilities by the armed forces within its first 18 months in office,” Father Jonash Joyohoy, the executive director of the Ramento Project for Rights Defenders in The Philippines, told a press conference at the offices of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Kwun Tong on May 4.
 
The Ramento project is named in honour of Archbishop Alberto Ramento, from the Independent Church of The Philippines, who was murdered while sleeping in the rectory of his church on 
3 October 2006.
 
The archbishop had been a high profile defender of human rights, but within hours of his murder the police had rounded up sufficient witnesses and planted sufficient evidence in his room to justify a verdict of murder for robbery, although no one who knew him believes the story.
 
He had received numerous threats to his life, none of which have ever been followed up by the police, and Father Joyohoy said that the most significant question raised by the whole saga is how law enforcement officers were able to come to such a conclusion without ever talking to any of the priests in the archbishop’s diocese or members of his family.
 
Six years on, his case is still pending in Tarlac City Regional Trial Court.
 
Father Joyohoy mentioned several cases of human rights advocates who have been murdered in broad daylight without recrimination, saying that what every case has in common is an obvious weakness in police investigations that allow perpetrators to escape justice.
 
“These killings are happening in urban areas, while similar abuses continue to happen in most provinces and cities outside Manila,” Father Joyohoy told the press conference. “They extend to defenders of the environment, advocates for agrarian reform, workers’ rights and the universal right to life and protection.”
 
The priest of the Independent Church of The Philippines said that one of the major protections for the perpetrators of extrajudicial murders is the anti-insurgency policy of the current government, which differs from that of his 
predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, only in a change of name.
 
He noted that the content of the plan is the same, but has been wrapped it in candy paper to make the bullets look sweet and tempting for their victims.
 
As an illustration of the rampant violence that the government uses against its own people, Father Joyohoy showed a video clip from a major television network of the forced evictions from Silverio Compound in Parañaque City on April 23.
 
“Offering government resources, which are mainly land and mining sites to corporations, mostly foreign, for partnership naturally requires the dislocation of farmers, residents and indigenous peoples who have been occupying the land and mining sites for decades,” Father Joyohoy said.
 
It pointed out that the incident is a prime example of the impunity that police enjoy, as they can get away with blaming the people with firing the bullets, even as footage of police firing guns is showing on television screens.
 
He concluded that because of this, the type of violence that was seen on national television of police and members of the special forces security teams firing on unarmed civilians in order to remove them from their homes, it can be concluded that violence against innocent citizens is a government policy.
 
“Corporate and capitalist accumulation has never been compatible with the people’s economic and social rights,” the priest said. “In short, the government professes to protect human rights on the one hand, while facilitating corporate aggression on the 
other.”
 
He concluded that this prompts serious questions about the motivation of people in government.
 
Father Joyohoy noted that the insidious thing about this is that the people who struggle against this corporate and government aggression are representative of a more general political call for serious social change.
 
“This could be the reason why political activism, both above and underground, persists in The Philippines,” he said. “It really underscores the need for a political settlement of the ongoing human rights violations and the current climate of impunity in the country.”
 
Father Joyohoy believes that this is what lies behind the failure of the peace talks being brokered by the Malaysian government between the government and various factions in Mindanao.
 
“If we read closely between the lines, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, signed by representatives of the Philippine government and 
the National Democratic Front in 1998, contains important human rights provisions,” he explained.
 
Noting that this is the agreement on which a settlement in Mindanao ultimately hinges, he said that he believes that the reason why it is forever faltering is that it does seek to implement an effective remedy for the international human rights standards in The Philippines.
 
“Of immediate importance is the need to deal with human rights… and the government has placed politics above human rights by failing to implement it,” Father Joyohoy stressed.
 
However, Father Joyohoy said that amidst the doom and gloom, we must search for signs of hope in order to keep up the courage to resist the ongoing oppression. He cited the decision of the Supreme Court to grant land to the farmers at Hacienda Luisita, including the overriding of the claim of the president’s family for a hugely over-priced compensation package.
 
“The decades of struggle and the bloodshed and sacrifices offered by many, many people have resulted in victory. To achieve such a victory, there is a need for continued involvement of human rights defenders,” he concluded.</Story><Story>The decades of struggle and the bloodshed and 
sacrifices offered by many, many people have 
resulted in victory. To achieve such a victory, there is a need for continued involvement of human rights defenders
 
 —Father Jonash Joyohoy