Filipinas Demand Basic Human Rights from the United States on International Human Rights Day

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FROM Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment
December 10, 2010
Contact: Irma Bajar, Chairperson, fire.nyc@gmail.com

Filipinas Demand Basic Human Rights from the United States on International Human Rights Day

NEW YORK CITY, NY – Newly elected President Barack Obama became the symbol of hope for many. The people of the Philippines, along with many other parts of the world, expected a shift towards more humane U.S. foreign policy, after the detrimental consequences of the Bush regime. However, those hopes plummeted when aggressive U.S. policies increasing U.S. militarization in the Philippines came to light. In the sixth decade of International Human Rights Day commemoration, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) implores civil society to protect basic human rights for all people, and to end torture, death, and militarization on Philippine soil for the sake of the “War on Terror.”

The War on Terror in the Philippines manifests itself under Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), a national security and counter-insurgency plan responsible for arming and training elements of the Philippine military, and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), where “war games” are conducted in civilian communities where the Philippine military suspects rebel fighters. U.S. military aid to the Philippines directly funds these activities, and Obama has explicitly given $30 million in 2010. U.S. delegates continue to praise “counter-terrorism” and the VFA, which is a direct violation of the Philippines’ constitutional ban of foreign troops on Philippine soil. With this, the Obama administration has proven that maintaining U.S. military and capital interests trump the basic human rights of the Filipino people.

The U.S. unquestionably supported the regime of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, though her statements conflated human rights advocates, peasant leaders, and opposition politicians with terrorists; as well as denying human rights to Philippines citizens and silenced community organizers; resulting in the tortures, deaths, and disappearances of over two-thousand Filipino civilians, including surfaced Filipino-American community health worker, Melissa Roxas. While GMA is no longer in office as President, under newly elected President Aquino, about 25 community leaders have died or disappeared since July 2010.  Filipinos living in the United States must remain hypercritical of these neo-liberal policies’ damaging effects on communities back home, and hold the Obama administration accountable for agreements that deny Filipinos their basic human rights to live free of military violence and state repression. 

The effects of a U.S.-backed Philippines are devastating on Filipino communities. The military presence of Armed Forces of the Philippines Marines (AFP), Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and the U.S. military is sharply felt by women and children. Rape and assault are common in militarized zones (the case of Nicole and U.S. Lance Corporal Daniel Smith is a prime example), as are harassment, intimidation, and displacement of indigenous Filipino groups. For those of us living in the U.S., it is our tax dollars that finance these interventionist policies and consequential effects on Filipinos back home.

On December 10th, President Aquino called for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop all charges against the 43 Health Workers (known as the Morong 43) who were illegally arrested, tortured and detained for the past 10 months on baseless accusations of being members of the New Peoples Army.  Aquino’s call does not, however, automatically release them as free citizens, replace the 10 months the Morong 43 spend imprisoned, or provide the lack of medical care otherwise received by the communities the Morong 43 served.  The Philippine government propagates this as a strategic act of compassion on International Human Rights day, however, it is the pressure of the international community which has demanded the release of the Morong 43.  This, along with the various community campaigns initated by the friends and family of the imprisoned 43,  the recent hunger strike, and the mainstream attention of the unjust incarceration are the true foundations of the Morong 43’s path to freedom and justice.

Human rights are not meant to be bartered, or overlooked for capital interests.  Violence and political repression  in the lives of everyday citizens speaks to the inexcusable corruption of the Philippine state.  Any nation providing military support or public funding to the Philippines to enact these crimes in the name of the “War on Terror”  is complicit in committing human rights violations against the Filipino people.   During these times,  it is vital that we remain vigilant of the Aquino administration, the DOJ, and their actions towards all victims of human rights violations.  The Morong 43 must be cleared of all charges, and unconditionally released with recompense.

Stop US military funding for the Philippines!

Release the Morong 43!

Surface all the desceparicedos! 

Free all political prisoners!

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Filipino American Women Honor the Disappeared and Families that Search for them

Jonas Burgos, desaparecido since 2007

For Immediate Release

Contact: Raquel Redondiez, Chairperson, GABRIELA USA, chair@gabusa.org

Filipino American Women Honor the Disappeared and Families that Search for them

On August 30th, GABRIELA USA commemorates the 27th International Day of the Disappeared, a day to remember the thousands of people that have been kidnapped or secretly imprisoned across the world.  As Filipina-Americans in the US, we remember the hundreds of missing Filipino community workers, union leaders, teachers, journalists, and civilians that have been subject to enforced disappearances by the Philippine government. In the last decade in the Philippines, there have been over 200 enforced disappearances with 31 of them being women under presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA).  GABRIELA USA also stands in solidarity with the thousands missing across the globe from Mexico, Colombia, Algeria, and other countries demanding the surfacing these citizens.

These disappearances have had a grave impact on women, especially the mothers of those who have disappeared. Edith Burgos, mother of Jonas Burgos who was abducted three years ago in Quezon City allegedly by the Philippines military, is still searching for her son. Connie Empeno and Linda Cadapan are mothers of Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, students at University of the Philippines-Diliman that were kidnapped four years ago in Bulacan while doing research. These mothers have not stopped searching for their children, and have become advocates and fighters for all those who have disappeared. We honor not only those who are still missing, but also the relatives that are still searching for their loved ones. Mothers have lost their children. Wives have lost their loved ones. Children have lost their parents. There must be justice for these families.

There have also been cases of those who have disappeared, but who have surfaced due to international pressure, including Melissa Roxas, a  U.S. Citizen and Filipino American human rights advocate who volunteered for a community medical mission in the Philippines. Last year in 2009, she was forcibly abducted at gunpoint, believed to be by Philippine military, along with two companions, blindfolded, and thrown into a cell where she endured physical and psychological torture until finally being released six days after.  She was surfaced due to an immediate campaign coming from people’s organizations including KARAPATAN and BAYAN USA who filed missing reports that hit international news circuits.

These cases of enforced disappearances are not individual cases, but a trend in conjunction with the Philippine military’s Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL). This program was GMA’s counter-insurgency plan that has terrorized thousands of  innocent civilians and has paved the way for extreme human rights violations. Since 2001, there have been over 1200 extrajudicial killings along with over 200 enforced disappearances. OBL places Filipinos at the mercy of a government that prohibits due process, and has resulted in an increased population of missing persons.  Under newly elected President Aquino, OBL continues to be   the primary excuse to assassinate, illegally imprison, or abduct labor leaders, teachers, and other community workers by targeting them as armed insurgents.

While newly elected president, Benigno Aquino III, has promised to thoroughly investigate these disappearances under Arroyo, we must continue to hold him and his administration accountable to pursue justice for the disappeared, their families, and all victims of human rights violations. As president of the Philippines, he should put an end to the terror of OBL by scrapping it and putting an end to this “witch hunt”, and investigating the cases of thousands of unsolved human rights violations.

GABRIELA USA strongly condemns the culture of impunity deeply embedded within the Philippines.  We urge for the prosecution Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and all involved government and military officials for their crimes against the Filipino people.  We demand justice for all victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings through the release of all political prisoners, and the surfacing of all victims of enforced disappearances.

SURFACE THE DISAPPEARED!

PROSECUTE GMA! END IMPUNITY IN THE PHILIPPINES!

SCRAP OPLAN BANTAY LAYA!

JUSTICE FOR ALL VICTIMS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN THE PHILIPPINES!

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Dear President Obama

Please watch:

I Am Melissa Roxas: http://www.vimeo.com/5446595

Obama, What About the Philippines: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbOQSv-DcMM

Dear Obama, GMA is on the Wrong Side of History: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFANG4L8d1Y

Please act:

Yup, it’s our turn. Please send a quick email to the White House! Here’s a template letter! Click, copy and send! HERE: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Template Letter to President Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

Before you meet with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the White House on July 30, I urge you to look into the case of Melissa Roxas, a U.S. citizen and survivor of torture in the Philippines. I urge you to include human rights in the Philippines and Melissa Roxas as an integral portion of your meeting with President Arroyo.

I am deeply concerned for the well-being of U.S. citizen, Melissa Roxas, a survivor of torture. On May 19, 2009, she was abducted while doing community health work in the Philippines. She has spoken out publicly in Los Angeles and is testifying in the Philippines right now about her traumatic experience of being abducted and tortured for almost one week. I know you share this concern. On the U.N. International Day in Support of Torture Victims, you declared, “Torture is contrary to the founding documents of our country and the fundamental values of our people. The U.S. must stand against torture wherever it takes place.”

With your support, we can move another step closer to demanding justice for Melissa Roxas by way of a criminal investigation, arrest and prosecution of the parties responsible for her abduction and torture.

Unfortunately, Melissa is one of thousands of victims of human right violations in the Philippines. She is among the very few survivors of abduction, and I admire her courage to speak out so that we will know the truth and take a stand for justice.

With your support, we can move another step closer to ensuring that no more U.S. tax-payers’ dollars are being used to enable state-sponsored human rights violations in the Philippines.

During your Inaugural Speech, you said, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.”

Please take a stand for justice and do not hesitate to defend and demand justice for our sister, Melissa, when you meet with President Arroyo.

Sincerely,

______________________________________ ____________
Signature and Date

______________________________________
Print Name

______________________________________
Address (Street)

______________________________________
Address (City, State, Zip Code)

FILIPINO-AMERICANS IN NY SAY “10 YEARS IS ENOUGH! JUNK VFA!”

News Release
29 May 2009

Reference: Jonna Baldres, BAYAN USA North East Co-Coordinator, jonnabebeh@gmail.com

FILIPINO-AMERICANS IN NY SAY “10 YEARS IS ENOUGH! JUNK VFA!”

NEW YORK – BAYAN USA, with its member organizations and allies in the New York/New Jersey area, gathered on May 27 in front of the Philippine Consulate in 5th Avenue to call for an end to the 10-year-long Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a treaty between the Philippine and the United States governments believed by the said alliance to have been detrimental to the Filipino people.

“May 27 marks 10 years of institutionalized atrocities against our people. But in fact, it’s not only 10 years, but more than a hundred years, that we have been suffering in the hands of the US imperialist. The Philippine-American war of 1899 had been the blueprint of the US war of aggression, and the human rights violations inflicted upon our people are much worse than ever to this day,” Gary Labao of the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP) said.

BAYAN USA also lambasted the Philippine government and demanded its accountability for the abduction of Melissa Roxas, a Filipino-American activist and a member of Habi Arts, a cultural organization and a member organization of BAYAN USA in Los Angeles. Melissa came back to the Philippines in 2007 to work as a full-time health worker and was abducted by who were suspected to be military elements last May 19 in Tarlac with two other companions. Days later, Melissa and her companions were surfaced, but BAYAN USA remains firm in its stand to demand justice for the abducted.

“I personally know Melissa, and I know very well that she does not deserve these acts of monstrosity carried upon her by the Philippine government. This abduction of Melissa and her companions is part of the Philippine government’s anti-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya II, to serve its own economic and political interests. And as binded by the VFA, the US also takes part in this crime by funding the military activities and exercises of the Philippine government through the US tax dollars! And the US, now under the leadership of Obama, had just put one of its citizens in danger by letting Melissa get in the hands of these bloody perpetrators!” Bernadette Ellorin, BAYAN USA Chairperson, exclaimed in outrage.

Aside from the abduction of Melissa and countless other activists and civilians, the VFA has also resulted to the rape of Filipino women by US military elements. “Vanessa”, a 22-year-old Filipina, was victimized by “John Jones,” a US Marine and a member of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) operating in the Philippines under the guise of the Balikatan (translated as “shoulder-to-shoulder”) exercises.

“The VFA paved the way for the US to exploit the bodies and the dignity of our fellow Filipinas. After Nicole, another rape victim, Vanessa, has come out but decided not to file a case because she was scared that the Philippine government would only favor the US, just like what happened in the case of Daniel Smith, who was acquitted from charges of raping Nicole. This is a clear indicator that the Filipino people has totally lost its trust in the Philippine government, as it only serves the whims of its master, the US imperialist,” said Melanie Dulfo of the New York-based Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE).

Valerie Francisco, Vice Chair of GABRIELA-USA, also added that aside from women, children are also directly being victimized by the VFA, “On February 19, Rafaela Polborido, a 16-month old girl was killed in a province in Bicol, after government soldiers bombed her home with grenades in preparation for the Balikatan exercises. These acts of terrorism against the people, especially children, must be condemned and should not be allowed to continue and prosper!”

Representatives of indigenous organizations who attended the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York City from May 18-29 also joined the protest action. Windel Bolinget of Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) and Dulphing Ogan of KALUMARAN, also shared stories of cruelty that they have experienced under the Visiting Forces Agreement. From North to South, militarization has been rampant in their communities and their self-determination as indigenous peoples has been disrespected in many circumstances.

Yves Nibungco, Deputy Secretary General of Anakbayan New York/New Jersey, also criticized the Philippine government for spending too much on militarization and the Balikatan exercises instead of providing the Filipino youth with the much-needed books and classrooms.

Allies from International Action Center (IAC), Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) and May 1st Coalition were also present and delivered solidarity messages.

After the action at the Philippine Consulate, the Filipino contingent marched towards the US Armed Forces Recruitment Station in 42nd Street in Times Square while chanting anti-VFA slogans. The whole BAYAN USA and GABRIELA USA contingents staged a die-in right in the middle of the famous New York tourist spot to deliver the message that the Filipino people want the US troops out of the Philippines and that they want the VFA scrapped.

Protest actions led by BAYAN USA were also held in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and teach-ins on the VFA were held in Seattle & San Diego.

For more information: http://www.bayanusa.org

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D10 Int’l Human Rights Day: GABRIELA USA’s Statement

For Immediate Release

December 10, 2008

Reference: Joanne Alcantara, GABRIELA-USA, National Coordinator (206) 859-7525, email gabrielawomen@gmail.com

GABRIELA USA Denounces Political Killings and Abductions
Philippine Government Must Honor the Human Rights of Philippine Women

Today, on International Human Rights Day, GABRIELA USA, a national alliance of progressive Filipina organizations and overseas chapter of GABRIELA Philippines, demand that the current administration uphold the rights of Filipinas across the globe. Since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidential term started in 2001, over a thousand activists have been killed and abducted in the Philippines, many of them women who advocate for the rights of the Philippine people. Several investigations by Filipino and international organizations, including the United Nations, have been published and reported, asserting that these human right violations are being sanctioned by the current administration.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, proclaiming that human rights should be protected by the rule of law. Article 3 states that all people have a right to life, liberty and security of person. In blatant disregard of this tenet, the Philippine government denies its people this basic human right by continuing the persecution of progressive individuals and organizations.

Another horrifying example is the current war in Mindanao, conducted by the Philippine army with the assistance of U.S military under the guise of the War on Terror. This ongoing assault have killed, maimed and displaced thousands of innocent civilians. Women and children, especially, suffer from the trauma of watching their loved ones being killed or taken away, in addition to being forcibly removed from their homes, as well as contracting illness due to lack of adequate shelter, food and health care.

Article 5 of the Declaration asserts that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” A direct violation is the case of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, two student activists who were abducted in 2006. Sherlyn and Karen were reported to have been brutally tortured and raped by their captors in military camp. Although they are believed to have been killed, they their bodies have yet to be surfaced for a proper burial, leaving their loved ones in a perpetual state of despair, unable to put their hopes and fears to rest. Two years have passed, and the perpetrators of the heinous crimes against these women are still at large. As the commander-in-chief of the Philippines army, it is President Macapagal-Arroyo’s duty to put a stop to its current repugnant practices and follow the standards set by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As community leaders here in the United States, the women of GABRIELA USA are deeply concerned about the case of the 72 activists from the Southern Tagalog region, referred to as the ST 72. Fabricated charges of arson, conspiracy to commit rebellion, multiple murders and multiple frustrated murders have been placed against 72 workers, lawyers, researchers and grassroots leaders, 20 of whom are women. Among these figures are GABRIELA Southern Tagalog Secretary General and Gabriela Women’s Party Nominee Helen Asdolo and GABRIELA Provincial Coordinator for Cavite, Amelita Sto.Tomas.

Valerie Francisco, Chair of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE, NYC) declares, “Arroyo. Aquino. Marcos. Torture, imprisonment, and abuse of the Filipino people’s basic human rights have been a historical occurrence. The real people who have created such injustice, should be the ones imprisoned. From the corruption issues of $329 USD million NBN-ZTE Deal; $ 503 USD million Northrail Project; P 728 million Fertilizer fund scam to almost a thousand extrajudicial killings and over 200 illegal abductions. Who are the real criminals of our society?” Francisco continues, “Those speedy warrants should have not been towards those 72 community members in the Southern Tagalog, those warrants should be towards Arroyo and her cronies who have been plaguing the Philippines with their corruption.”

Despite her reign of terror, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be giving her administrative order on human rights from Malacañang today, adding isult to those who have suffered under her rule. GABRIELA-USA, consisting of babae in San Francisco, Pinay Sa Seattle and Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment in New York, asserts that the current government, which is becoming more and more a military dictatorship, need to be held responsible for their crimes against the people. That Macapagal-Arroyo should dare declare an order on human rights, when her hands are drenched with blood of innocent civilians, is not acceptable.

STOP THE POLITICAL KILLINGS AND ABDUCTIONS OF OUR LEADERS!

DROP ALL CHARGES AGAINST ST 72!

FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!

JUSTICE FOR CADAPAN AND EMPENO!

OUST GMA NOW!

U.S. OUT OF THE PHILIPPINES!


http://www.firenyc.org
Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) is a mass-based women’s organization serving New York City and its surrounding areas. We connect the Filipino diaspora to the women’s struggle in the Philippines. By bringing woman-born and woman-identified people together, we challenge pervading stereotypes and create self-defined Filipina identities. For more information, please visit http://www.firenyc.org .

We are a proud member organization of GABRIELA-USA, the first overseas chapter of GABRIELA Philippines, with babae in San Francisco and Pinay Sa Seattle in Seattle, WA.

FiRE is a member of BAYAN-USA, an alliance of progressive Filipino groups in the U.S. representing organizations of students, scholars, women, workers, and youth. To learn more about BAYAN, please visit http://bayanusa.org/