FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, D.C. â Wednesday December 12, 2007-- Two hundred and seventy seven (277) leaders of faith-based organizations, labor rights groups and Filipino-American associations have sent a letter of concern to members of Congress protesting human rights abuses in the Philippines and calling for restrictions and conditions on all military aid in the Omnibus spending bill currently before Congress.
If the human rights language proposed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees remain in the bill, it will be the first time the United States has ever placed human rights conditions on military aid to the Philippines, currently the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in Eastern Asia.
According to the U.S. faith group the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, letter signatories are asking to restrict military aid to the level requested by the Bush administration, not the $30 million requested by the Senate committee.
One of the letterâs signers Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, stated âWe are sending this letter to the U.S. Congress at a crucial moment. The last thing we need is an escalation in U.S. military aid to the increasingly repressive government of the Philippines. People of faith are deeply disturbed by the human rights violations taking place under the leadership of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.â
The letter urges the House and Senate Conferees to write three conditions into the final version of the bill:
(1) Limit the amount of military aid to the Philippines to the $11.1 million requested by the State Department in the Congressional Budget Justification, Foreign Assistance and USAID Operations FY 2008 Budget Request.
(2) Ensure that the human rights conditions (Sec. 688, H.R. 2764 EAS) are applied to the entire amount of military aid to the Philippines; and
(3) Make publicly available the reports by the Department of State requested by the Senate committee in order to promote greater transparency and understanding between the United States and the people of the Philippines.
Signers of the letter include heads and leaders of communions, including Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, Rev. William G. Sinkford, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and Bishop Roy I. Sano, Executive Secretary, The Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church.
The Philippines advocacy letterâs signers also include heads of union-related organizations such as Andrew Stern, International President of the Service Employees International Union, Bama Atherya, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum in Washington D.C., former U.S. Attorney General and labor rights attorney Ramsey Clark, historian Dr. Howard Zinn, and Bob Edgar, former U.S. Congressman and current President of Common Cause International.
The Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EAN), producers of the letter, is a loose coalition of concerned pastors and church workers, human rights advocates, and Filipino-Americans throughout the United States.
Rev. James Kofski of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns in Washington D.C., echoed the groupâs concerns. "There is no incentive to investigate alleged human rights abuses when the U.S. gives the Philippines unconditional military aid,â Kofski said. âMore than 800 political activists, journalists, lawyers, members of the clergy and others have been killed in the Philippines â sometimes in broad daylight â since President Arroyo took office in 2001. Special courts have been set up to try alleged perpetrators, but not one person has been convicted."
A variety of Filipino-American leaders also endorsed the letter to Congress, including Jon Melegrito, Director of Communications for the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations, Jerry Clarito, Director of Filipino Civil Rights Advocates, Katrina Abacar, co-organizer of Kararungan, a Filipino human rights organization, and Julia Camagong, Executive Director of Philippine Forum.
From the Philippines, Rev Emmanuel Ordindain. Moderator of the National Filipino Presbyterian Council, and Rev. Alex Veragara, President of the National Association of Filipinos of the United Methodist Church, also signed the letter to U.S. lawmakers.
Rev. Larry S. Emery, Pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church in Walnut Grove, California, and one of the contact persons for the letter, stated his concern that increasing the money given to the Philippine military was sending the wrong message. âThe Philippine government has already expressed that the bill in its present form is a vindication of the Philippine military.
âIt is a moral imperative that the American government ensure that it does not have blood on its hands,â Emery said, âby giving military aid to those who would kill and abuse innocent, unarmed citizens.â
Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines members say they believe that a meaningful application of the Leahy Law for Foreign Operations is crucial to promoting change in the Philippines. Under the Leahy Law when credible evidence of human rights violations exists, U.S. foreign operations military aid must stop until the U.S. Secretary of State âdetermines that the government of such country is taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.â
Several human rights organizations have documented human rights abuses In the Philippines and the role of military and security forces. According to United Nations General Assemblyâs Interim Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions by Phillip Alston. (August 16, 2007), the Philippine government is in a state of denial about the involvement of the military about the abuses.
Alstonâs report states, ââ¦ the criminal justice system's failure to arrest, convict, and imprison those responsible for (these) killings. This is partly due to a distortion of priorities that has law enforcement focused on prosecuting civil society leaders rather than their killers."
Katrina Abarcar, Coordinator of Katarungan: Center for Peace, Justice and Human Rights in the Philippines, expressed similar feelings on behalf of Filipino-Americans. Abarcar said, âThe range of support in the Filipino community for Congress to take action shows there is widespread feeling that we who live in the U.S., need to use our leverage to get the Philippine government to address the killings and cycle of violence that is affecting family and friends whom we have in our home country.â
Leahy Law for Foreign Operations, codified at 22 USC 2304, http://www.leahy.senate.gov/issues
The report of Prof. Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary & Arbitrary Killings in the Philippines, an advanced edition of the full report entitled: âPromotion and Protection of all Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development - Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions - Mission to the Philippinesâ can be found at: http://www.extrajudicialexecutions.org/
âLet the Stones Cry Outâ from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=3408) released March, 2007 and submitted to the US Congressional Record on March 14, 2007 through Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair for the Subcommittee on East Asian & Pacific Affairs United States Senate.
Human Rights Watch June Report 2007, http://hrw.org/reports/2007/philippines0607/
Testimony of T. Kumar, Advocacy Director for Asia & the Pacific for Amnesty International USA before the Committee on Foreign Relations, March 14, 2007. Subcommittee on East Asian & Pacific Affairs United States Senate, March 14, 2007, http://www.senate.gov/index.htm