Letter to Arroyo vs killings circulated among US lawmakers
Date of publication: July 10, 2007
Source: Inquirer (Philippines)
MANILA, Philippines -- A sign-on letter addressed to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo against extra-judicial killings and other forms of human rights violations has been making the rounds among members of the United States House of Representatives, an official of a US-based Filipino advocacy group told INQUIRER.net Monday.
After it gets the desired number of signatures from US congressmen, the letter would be sent to Arroyo by the end of July, Reverend Israel Alvaran, of the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines online newsletter, said in an exchange of e-mails.
The letter comes after the US Senate Appropriations Committee included language to the foreign military aid bill that decried the human rights situation in the Philippines, and directed the State Department to report to the committee no later than 90 days on the status of the killings and human rights abuses of the Armed Forces Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
The letter forms part of a strong lobby of Filipino-American church groups to stop the killings. Alvaran said.
The sign-on letter, initiated by Representatives James Oberstar (D-Minnesota) and Joseph Pitts (R-Pennsylvania), highlights the evidence that points to the Philippine security forces being involved with the extrajudicial killings, abductions, and disappearances and the need for investigations and prosecution of the responsible parties, according to a copy obtained by INQUIRER.net.
The letter to Arroyo has been sent to all members in the US House of Representatives asking that they sign on it by July 13.
"This is an important development because the letter is coming from the US Congress, a body that over the last few years has appropriated many millions of dollars in aid for the Philippine military. The Government of the Philippines is very concerned about its reputation with the US Congress. The more who sign, the more powerful the message: that the US Congress sees cause for grave concern and is monitoring the situation closely," Alvaran said.
In the letter, the American legislators ask Arroyo "to take strong action" to stop the political violence and "to investigate and prosecute" those responsible for politically motivated killings, abductions, and torture.
The congressmen have expressed "great concern" and have noted that the "level of political violence" in the country had been "very troubling," victimizing religious workers, labor leaders, farmers, journalists, and students.
In particular, they request the President's "attention" and "intervention" in the abduction, torture, and imprisonment of Pastor Berlin Guerrero.
"The Philippines is our friend and ally, but we cannot tolerate the unacceptable human rights condition in the Philippines. Just this year, it is estimated that pre-election violence claimed at least 110 victims before the May 14th mid-term congressional elections," the letter reads.
They repeated the observation of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Professor Philip Alston that the "murders were committed in a growing environment of impunity and that efforts to investigate these killings have been lacking."
They say the Philippine government has failed to hold accountable and prosecute those responsible for the crimes.
"The leadership of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines], PNP [Philippine National Police], and Cabinet officials steadfastly deny the involvement of military forces in these killings, despite strong evidence to the contrary…We are very concerned that the extrajudicial killings could be a conscious and systematic part of the Philippine government's counter-insurgency program and that financial assistance from our government is being used to support, directly or indirectly, those within the PNP and AFP who are responsible for the killings," the letter reads.
Alvaran thus urged fellow Filipino-Americans to lobby their representatives to sign the letter. "Sign-on letters like this are a great way for in Congress to take action together," he said.
The Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, which includes faith-based persons, human rights groups and national church programs, advocates for greater oversight of US policies in the Philippines.
"Our efforts are aimed at affecting changes where US policies have a detrimental impact upon human rights or otherwise aggravate the economic inequalities, which is the source of much political unrest in the Philippines," it says on its e-group Usapan.
Among the members of its network are Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns-DC, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society-DC, Colomban Justice and Peace Office-DC, and International Labor Rights Fund-DC.