*originally published by Herizons Magazine, summer 2012.  (by alex felipe)

“On march 8, international women’s day 2005, I was abducted by the military, held incommunicado for 12 days, brought from camp to camp, I was not given benefit of a council, and I was tortured…. they undressed me and sexually molested me.  And my case is only a microcosm of what is happening in the Philippines,” Angelina Bisuña Ipong who was released six years later with all charges dropped.

In early April 2012 three human rights defenders, including two women who are recently released political prisoners, visited Ottawa to testify at the Subcommittee for International Human Rights on what Canada can do to stem the human rights violations against activists that are all too common in the Philippines. 

In June 2012 the Philippines will be undergoing a United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The delegation reminded the subcommittee of the two nations historical and modern ties, and urged them to use their voice to press the Philippines to end extrajudicial killings (EJKs), release political prisoners, and re-engage in peace talks with rebel groups.

According to Philippine-based human rights watchdog Karapatan there have been over 1250 political assassinations (153 women) since 2001, and with a total of 347 political prisoners (including 28 women) still languishing in jail.

Dr. Merry Clamor was imprisoned for 10 months along with 42 other community health workers (twenty-three of whom were women, including two pregnant women).  They were dubbed the “Morong 43” due to their arrest in the town of Morong, in Rizal province, by 300 heavily armed military and police.  They were arrested under a false warrant and charged with being members of the “New People’s Army” (the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines).

“They said we were making bombs,” says Dr. Clamor, “but what we were doing was conducting [health] training.  We were giving support to the mothers [of rural communities] so that even though they may not be [able to afford] a doctor, or health centres… they can still take care of their children.”

Dr. Clamor reported various forms of physical, psychological, and sexual torture during their imprisonment.  Even her family was threatened if she didn’t confess to being a ‘terrorist.’  And yet she and her 42 companions weathered the storm an after ten months, and two pregnant companions giving birth, they were released.

“Very clearly there’s a state over there of impunity where they’re having EJKs, they’re having people detained for no good reason, and people who are trying to do the right things seem to be the ones being abused by this particular government,” said Wayne Marston, an NDP MP, Human Rights Critic, and vice-chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

Dr Clamor lamented over the brain drain to the country resulting from poverty and human rights issues, “we have so many Filipinos that come to work here in Canada as caregivers and nurses leaving [Filipinos in the Philippines] with no one to care for them there.  Then those health workers that remain, like us, this is what they do.  [So how does this help our country?]  Who will want to stay and serve?”

The Philippines is currently the number one source country for migrants to Canada, bilateral trade between the two countries amounts to approximately $1.5 billion, $25 million is given for in aid and development funding, and Canadian military and police provide training, and are involved in the counter terrorism capacity building of the government of the Philippines.

Militarization around foreign owned mining is on the rise, with Canada being second only to Australia in this country where 30% of the land mass has been signed over to mining and exploration.

Amnesty international reports that human rights training of the Armed Forces of the Philippines focuses more on how to avoid investigation than to avoid violations.  It is written in the August 2010 Armed Forces of the Philippines Human Rights Handbook that “It is imperative that soldiers are conversant with the HR [human rights] standards in order to survive the ordeals of investigation in cases when he becomes involved in a HR violation.”

“[The] situation continues to be rather bleak,” says Bishop Reuel Marigza the General Secretary of the United Church of the Philippines (UCCP) and vice- chair of the National Council of Churches (NCCP).  “There are already 68 extrajudically killed, there are 81 new political prisoners, there have been reports of torture, as well as abduction,” he reports about the year and a half old regime of current President Benigno Aquino III who came to power in June 2010.

“I think it would be a very good thing if the Subcommittee… paid a visit to the Philippines.  We need to see the HR situation on the ground,” says Irwin Cotler, Liberal MP, Justice and Human Rights Critic, and vice-chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.  “I think this has not gotten the attention that it warrants… a broader, public appreciation, and in government and in parliament so that we can act on this.”