MANILA, August 30, 2011—In solidarity with Filipinos, the people of New Zealand urged President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III to help ease the pain and agony of the families and friends of the disappeared by surfacing them; or if quite impossible, make the people responsible in enforced disappearances and abductions in the Philippines accountable.
The call was made by a New Zealand human rights watchdog in commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared.
Murray Hurton, the general secretary of the human rights watchdog, Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA) pleaded to the Philippine government to use its political will to stop all atrocities and end the culture of impunity, and let the disappeared and illegally detained safely return to their families’ embrace.
Dismayed over GPH-NDFP peace talks
The PSNA, together with Auckland Philippines Solidarity (APS) and the Wellington Kiwi-Pinoy (WKP) had expressed their dismay over the state of the peace talks between the Reds and the Philippine Government (GPH), which is, again, in danger of deadlock due to allegations of gross disrespect of the military forces to human rights and the statements of GPH chief negotiator, Atty. Alexander Padilla on Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which he says, “inoperative.”
The JASIG, which was signed by the NDFP and GPH in 1995, virtually protects the members and consultants of the NDFP from arrests and detention.
“With the gross record of globally-condemned human rights violations under your predecessor Mrs Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, hopes for justice and change were raised when you assumed the presidency in June 2010. At the series of public meetings around New Zealand in October-November 2010 where Luis Jalandoni and Coni Ledesma of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Peace Negotiating Panel spoke on the prospects for peace in the Philippines, New Zealanders were keen to hear whether the perpetrators of the Ampatuan massacre have been brought to justice and whether the killings of journalists and activists under your presidency.
“[Yet] [w]e find it alarming that in addition to the thousands of unresolved cases under Arroyo, there are now 48 cases of extra-judicial killings, 5 enforced disappearances and 336 political prisoners remain in detention under your administration. Equally alarming is the fact that many peasant and trade union activists, social justice and human rights advocates including church workers and at least one labor rights lawyer are again threatened with arrest on trumped up charges filed at the time of Arroyo and now revived under your watch. We are also aware that NDFP personnel who played significant roles in the peace process are among the hundreds who have become victims of enforced disappearances and illegal detentions,” reads the open letter signed by Hurton for PSNA, Daphna Whitmore for the APS, and Rod Prosser for the KWP, dated August 30, 2011.
‘Arbitrary’ arrests continue
Earlier, the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and other militant youth groups had sounded the alarm over the arrest of three youth leaders in Cebu and some members of the local peasant group there.
In a statement issued by the LFS national headquarters in the social networking site, Facebook (FB), it says that Melanie Montano, a member of the League of Filipino Students UP Cebu chapter; Remy Jade Manzon, a member of Kabataang Artista para sa Sambayanan (Karatula)-UP Cebu chapter, and Januelle Rontos of the Nagkakaisang Kusog ng mga Estudyante, a political party in UP Cebu were arrested while elements of the Philippine National Police violently dispersed a protest camp of peasants in Sitio Camarin, Brgy Bonbon, Aloguinsan, Cebu as they were doing a “basic mass integration” in the area. The incident happened around 5:30 in the morning yesterday (August 29).
The arrest, said the LFS, was an overkill since 300 PNP personnel were deployed to disperse the peasants’ protest camp, erected in the disputed 168-hectare land of the Aboitizes, known shipping magnate in the country.
“The LFS is fuming over this recent blatant violation of the people’s human right, [which is] another manifestation of whose interest [that this] government is serving. The peasants of Sitio Camarin have all the right to defend their land, more so, [to] continue till it, but elements of… the Philippine National Police became the principal ushers of the ruling few in stepping on the right of the peasants to land and their right to peaceably assemble for redress of grievances,” the LFS statement read.
Church peoples saddened over postponement of GPH-NDFP talks
Even Church peoples have sounded the alarm over the indefinite postponement of the peace talks between the State and the communist insurgents, represented by the NDFP.
In the statement issued on August 28 by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), the largest and widest ecumenical formation of church leaders pushing for just and lasting peace in the Philippines, Kalookan Bishop Deogracias S. Iñiguez, Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J., and Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdez had expressed their fears that the peace talks, would once again, be derailed because of the indefinite postponement of the GPH-NDFP meeting in Oslo, Norway. Iñiguez, Ledesma and Ruiz-Duremdez serve as head of the secretariat and co-chairpersons of the PEPP, respectively.
“After the spark of hope that was brought about by the GPH-NDFP formal peace talks last February, which produced the February 21, 2011 Oslo Joint Statement, the recent pronouncements to the media from both GPH Peace Panel Chair Atty. Alex Padilla and NDFP Peace Panel Spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili, bodes for another postponement of the formal talks. The talks were postponed already last June and we feel that another postponement may truly derail the peace negotiations,” reads the PEPP statement entitled “Stay on Course, Pursue Formal Peace Talks”.
The PEPP says that the bone of contention, which started the exchange of words between the leaders of two panels, was the issue of the release of NDFP consultants, which the latter claims are covered by the JASIG.
“The NDFP called for a postponement of the talks last June to give time for the GPH to release the consultants. While the GPH already released four consultants, the NDFP is demanding that GPH honor the February 21 Joint Statement by releasing all consultants covered by the JASIG. The GPH recently stated that until the reciprocal working committees on CASER shall have completed the common tentative agreement on social and economic reforms, the talks will be postponed indefinitely and that there will be no formal talks on issues concerning the JASIG. This in turn was seen by the NDFP as a move to scuttle the negotiations,” read the PEPP statement.
“In this light, we would like to appeal to both panels to iron out their differences and proceed with the formal peace talks. We believe that it is better to engage in principled debate over the negotiating table rather than other venues. The PEPP also encourages both sides to abide by their own reaffirmation of the validity and binding effect of all previous bilateral agreements as stated in the February Joint Statement. This includes the JASIG. We have previously stated that both parties “… follow the spirit of the JASIG as it is a crucial issue around the formal peace talks” and that “… its faithful implementation enables the two parties to resume the negotiations in earnest” (“Resolve the Issue on JASIG, Resume the Formal Peace Talks” PEPP Statement, June 8, 2011),” the PEPP statement continued.
It also furthers that one of the big developments on the talks last February was the timetable for the negotiation.
“For advocates, the schedules indicated in the timetable can be guideposts to peace. We call on both panels to work hard in order to meet the proposed schedules. If both sides abide by this, and try to build bridges instead of hurdles, and we reiterate this — through principled negotiations — our country will enjoy what the Psalmist promised, “a future awaits those who seek peace” (Psalms 37:37),” the PEPP statement ends.
Peace advocates remove profile photos on FB for the disappeared
Meanwhile, the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP) and other members of the “netizens” had their share of the grief and longing of the families of the forcibly disappeared by making their faces at Facebook literally “disappear.”
The taking down of profile pictures in FB as a symbol of solidarity for the family and friends of the Desaparecidos (Spanish term for the disappeared) had started with the letter of appeal from the human rights advocates that reads:
“In solidarity with the friends & family of the missing who continue to seek justice, & in remembrance of the thousands of desaparecidos in the Philippines & around the world, we are requesting that you take down your profile picture on August 30, Tuesday.
“August 30 is the International Day of the Disappeared. Please pass to those who are supportive of this cause.”
Catherine Bantoy, a graduate student from University of the Philippines-Diliman and currently working as a guess coordinator in one of the big channels in the Philippines, says she needed not to think twice in removing her photo in FB.
“I have removed it (my photo) to show support to the family and also to stir awareness to FB friends who didn’t know [about] the issue,” she said in an email interview.
For Angelica Carballo of the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP), she did remove her photo in FB for she knows that “if these atrocities don’t stop, one day, I might become a victim, my child can be a victim, my sister, brother, parents, can be victims. And as a mother, I feel for the mothers of the disappeared who, until now, are searching for their children. Nothing can be more painful than to wait for nothing today or tomorrow.” (Noel Sales Barcelona)