A Reflection Gathering: Human Rights Under Nine Years of the Arroyo Government
We gathered at the Angelicum College in Quezon City on April 28, 2010 to reflect on the human rights situation in the country in the nine years of the Arroyo Government. Our reflection was marked by the stories of the kith and kin of victims of human rights violations and how these violations have been brought about by the government’s counter insurgency program through the Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).
We shared the anguish of these relatives. We grieved over the extra-judicial killings of more than a thousand people since 2001. We were saddened by stories of torture and the enforced disappearance of more than 200 people. We lamented the forcible evacuation and displacement of thousands of people in the rural areas as a result of military operations. We expressed alarm at the continuing detention of 43 health workers who were illegally arrested in Morong, Rizal.
The statistics are no mere figures. They represent the scale and magnitude of the gruesome impact of OBL. It is a counter-insurgency program that has not made a distinction between armed combatants and civilians propelled by the burning desire to serve and promote significant changes for the better in the lives of people mired in systemic poverty and neglect. The victims are farmers, workers, community leaders, indigenous people, Muslims, activists, students, health workers, churchworkers, lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and party-list organizers and volunteers. None in recent memory can match the viciousness of the OBL and the human toll on civilians whose only crime, if indeed it was a crime that warranted their deaths and suffering, was principled dissent against government and in favor of the welfare of the majority, the safeguarding of posterity and patrimony of this country. The OBL is very much in place. With the year 2010 as the deadline to beat. To meet the target means more bloodbath.
To this day not a single perpetrator of these killings and violence to human life has been convicted. It is a chilling indictment on a government which claims adherence to democracy. It breeds righteous indignation and fuels further discontent.
The human rights situation under the Arroyo Government is the worst since that of the Martial Law years under Marcos. None in recent years, can compare to the culture of impunity that characterized these assaults on human dignity. We recall with horror the massacre in Maguindanao characterized among others by the fact that it had the most number of journalists killed in a single incident.
Our reflection bids us to hold high the struggle for the vindication of the innocent and the punishment of those who willfully destroyed life. Our reflection bids us demand of those in power that perpetrators of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violation be brought to the bars of justice. The Arroyo Government must be held accountable for the repressive OBL and the death, disappearance and abuse of innocent civilians in the name of counter-insurgency.
We are people who believe in God’s redeeming love and call to be one people under God’s sovereignty. There can be no more compelling reason for us to bear witness and denounce this travesty, than the call to live out and bear witness to our baptism that calls us to uphold the sanctity of life. One killing is one too many. Oplan Bantay Laya is an abomination – an instrument of violence, bloodshed and defiance of the divine will of abundant life for all. It must be stopped.
Finally, we issue this challenge to those who will be victorious following the May 10 elections: fulfill your promises; give justice to the victims of human rights violations; end political repression; discontinue the OBL as a policy and never embark on any similar policy; and, address the roots of the insurgency namely, poverty and injustice.
*This Unity Statement was approved and signed by the 175 participants composed of church people and human rights advocates who attended “A Reflection Gathering: Human Rights Under Nine Years of the Arroyo Government” organized by the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights. The signatories include:
· Rev. Fr. Rex RB. Reyes, Jr., General Secretary, National Council of Churches in the Philippines
· Bp. Deogracias Iniguez, Jr. co-chairperson, Ecumenical Bishops' Forum
· Bishop Ephraim Fajutagana, General Secretary, Iglesia Filipina Independiente
· Dr. Edith Burgos, Chairperson, Desaparecidos
· Mr. Jigs Clamor, Deputy Secretary General, Karapatan
· Bishop Gabriel Garol, Bishop Emeritus, United Church of Christ in the Philippines
· Bishop Lito Cruz, Diocese of Rizal-Pampanga, Iglesia Filipina Independiente
· Sr. Maureen Catabian, Coordinator for Women, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, Religious of the Good Shepherd
· Fr. Joe Dizon, Promoter, Solidarity Philippines
· Ms. Norma Dollaga, General Secretary, KASIMBAYAN
· Rev. Mariesol Villalon , Co-chairperson, Promotion of Church People's Response
· Mr. Nardy Sabino, Secretary General, Promotion of Church People's Response
· Fr. Bong Sarabia, CM, Chairperson, Promotion of Church People's Response – National Capital Region
· Rev. Aniceto Villalon, Jr., Chairperson, Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church
· Fr. Terry Revullido, Dean, Aglipay Central Theological Seminary
· Ms. Donna Lou Galingan, General Secretary, Kalipunan ng Kristianong Kabataan sa Pilipinas