Letter to Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President The Republic of the Philippines
Forty-nine members of the U.S. Congress are speaking out about human rights abuses in the Philippines. Today, Congressman James L. Oberstar (MN) and Congressman Joe Pitts (PA) sent a bipartisan letter to Philippine President Gloria Macapagel Arroyo to express concern with current human rights violations taking place in that country.
Human rights groups have documented more than 800 cases of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines since 2001. The victims include religious workers, labor leaders, farmers, journalists and students. Just this year, it is estimated that pre-election violence claimed at least 110 victims before the country's May 14th mid-term congressional elections.
The letter encourages the Arroyo government to take strong action to deter political violence and to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights crimes, which include extrajudicial killings and politically-motivated abductions and torture.
"Earlier this year, constituents brought to my attention their concerns with the inhumane killings in the Philippines." said Oberstar. "I hope this letter is an encouragement to President Arroyo to move forward to improve human rights in the Philippines and to bring to justice those who are responsible for these killings."
"I commend the Philippines Supreme Court for holding a summit to address the issue of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines," Pitts said. "This is an important development and I look forward to the implementation of plans discussed during the summit. However, the government must urgently address and resolve existing cases of disappearances and extrajudicial killings."
August 1, 2007
Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
The Republic of the Philippines
Dear President Arroyo:
As Members of the House of Representatives, we write to express our great concern with significant human rights violations in the Philippines and the government's response to these violations. The Philippines has long been a close ally of the United States, and we recognize and appreciate the long-standing friendship between our two nations. Due to this historic friendship, we believe it is necessary to make clear our strong concerns regarding the ongoing human rights crisis in the Philippines. In recent years, there have been a number of well-documented abductions and extrajudicial killings. Most recently, we have received reports of the abduction and imprisonment of Pastor Berlin Guerrero. We respectfully request your attention to and intervention in these cases.
As you may know, there is increasing evidence from well-regarded human rights organizations, including the Melo Commission created by your government, which indicates the involvement of personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP). The victims of these unlawful killings represent a cross-section of civil society, including church leaders and workers, journalists, labor leaders, and human rights activists. The killing of civilians who are peacefully exercising their lawful right in a democratic society to express dissent is a gross violation of universally recognized human rights and international law.
In addition, we are deeply concerned that the murders are committed in a growing environment of impunity and that efforts to investigate these killings have been lacking. The response of the AFP and PNP, as well as officials within the civilian ranks of the government, to the human rights abuses fail to hold accountable and prosecute those responsible for these crimes. The leadership of the AFP, PNP, and Cabinet officials, steadfastly deny the involvement of military forces in these killings, despite strong evidence to the contrary.
In one recent example, reports detail that on May 27, 2007, Pastor Berlin Guerrero was abducted by masked men while at a gas station with his family. The abductors beat him until he gave up the names of his family, parishioners, friends, and the password to his computer. They replaced his computer documents with their own incriminating documentation, allegedly belonging to the "underground left." Pastor Guerrero is currently being held at Camp Pantaloon Garcia, Cavite Provincial Police Office. Accounts suggest that during his time in detention, Pastor Guerrero has been tortured. This is just one of many similar cases.
The AFP and PNP receive a significant amount of aid from the United States to assist in training and professionalizing the Philippine security forces, to combat terrorist groups, and to upgrade military equipment and hardware. We are very concerned that the extrajudicial killings could be a conscious and systematic part of the Philippine government's counterinsurgency 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 numerous reports that our and other congressional offices receive indicate the need for our close monitoring of this situation, particularly regarding the alleged use of U.S. assistance to implement the abductions and killings.
Since the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines continue unabated, and given the fact that there are many unanswered questions about the role of the Philippine government and military in these deaths, we respectfully request your strong and immediate leadership in investigating and prosecuting those individuals and/or groups, including those in the AFP and PNP, responsible for these killings, and in eliminating the underlying causes of the violence. The well-documented violence that continues with impunity must be ended.
Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you to resolve these cases.