Murder Uncontrolled in Philippines

To listen to the family members of those
murdered in the Philippines is to hear tragedy heaped upon

Manila–Yesterday was a long, hard day. After hearing one story after another of murder and mayhem the mind reaches a shut down. It can take in no more.

The stories are told with simplicity and those telling them are disarmingly unassuming. A mother speaks of a son who wanted to make the world a better place, a spouse tells of a hard-working father whose “crime” was seeking better wages, a father recalls a daughter teaching poor women simple, legal rights under law, a sister tells of her brother clergyperson who taught people they are valuable in the embrace of God. Each has been gunned down in circumstances more than mere coincidence.

The victims are always clergy or laity working with the poor, human rights educators teaching people their legal rights, workers pressing for living wage, women teaching poor women their rights, indigenous people protesting the exploitation of native lands.

Sometimes murder is carried out by armed, masked men riding motorcycles. They ambush their victims and speed off, mostly at night. However, one assassination of a pastor was carried out in full daylight around noon on the street in front of his house.

Sometimes it’s done by persons whom the victims contend are in the military. One father was an eyewitness to the murder of five fisher folk including his 18-year-old son by a military squadron from the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Their crime was living and working in a area where terrorists have operated but they were not terrorists, they were poor, working people.

We met with high-level military commanders at the national military headquarters and they deny these charges.

There is a pattern to many of the executions. People told us military personnel appear in a village, ask for a particular individual and that individual disappears. Sometimes the body is found, sometimes not.

False charges are made against a person publicly. A poster might be pasted around saying the person is a wanted terrorist, subversive or communist. The individual receives a death threat in the form of a note slipped under the door, or a text message or receives a telephone call. One priest who works with poor folk got a written note accompanied with several bullets placed in the offering plate of his church during worship on Sunday morning.

Law and order is breaking down in parts of the Philippines. The government, if not complicit in these executions, has not shown commitment to investigate the murders and bring perpetrators to justice. Neither has the administration of President Gloria Magapagal-Arroyo halted the labeling of church workers and activists as enemies of the state. This has led to murder with impunity.

Even a bishop of the church has been told he is listed as a subversive. This is like painting a target on a person’s back. It must be stopped. The President must intercede to prevent legitimate humanitarian and religious work among the poor of this country from being identified as disloyal and unsavory.

The fabric of Philippine society depends upon the protection of basic human rights, due process and rule of law. At the present time, the fabric is being torn dangerously. Good, innocent people are at risk. Lives have been lost and tragedy has been visited upon people who already live at great disadvantage and have limited options because of poverty.

A healthy democratic Philippines is at risk today. President Arroyo must exercise the leadership necessary to preserve the rights that will make the country strong and secure. She must stop the killing.

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