MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Killings Haunt Gma In New Zealand

Published by MAC on 2007-05-29
Source: Philippine Daily Star

Killings haunt GMA in New Zealand

By MARVIN SY The Philippine Star,

29th May 2007

WELLINGTON (via PLDT) - Protesters greeted President Arroyo and human rights was one of the main issues she discussed with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark during their meetings here Monday.

After a bilateral meeting between the two leaders at the Prime Minister's Office at the Parliament House, Clark informed the media that the respective human rights commissions of the two countries "have started a dialogue and are exploring ways in which New Zealand might share its experience and support the work with its counterpart."

The Philippines was called a "disaster area for human rights" by New Zealand parliamentarians and human rights activists, which said hundreds of trade unionists, priests, journalists and human rights advocates had been systematically murdered since Mrs. Arroyo took office in 2001.

"An initial area of cooperation is likely to be in support of human rights-based training for the Philippine police and defense forces," Clark said.

The issue was extensively discussed by the two leaders during the Prime Minister's visit to the Philippines in March 2006 and January this year. Clark explained that the idea is for the respective human rights commissions of the two countries to work with each other and "go out and scope what could be done and then to follow through with some support from development assistance budget for helping make this work."

Human rights has also become an issue with the local media here as a group of protesters lined up before Parliament House to call for the release of Anakpawis party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran from jail.

Arroyo defended her record on human rights, as a lone activist in a steel cage outside Parliament called her the "worst dictator" in the troubled nation's history.

Around 25 individuals held up picket signs and banners bearing "Free Ka Bel" on the steps of Parliament House while the President was meeting inside with the Prime Minister.

Lone protester Dennis Maga said from his steel cage on Parliament's lawn that he was protesting the "extrajudicial killings in our country and the political persecution of progressive labor representatives."

"We have had 14 presidents ... and Mrs. Arroyo so far is the worst of them all for being a dictator and totalitarian ruler," said Maga, who said he was protesting the arrest of Beltran on sedition charges.

Mrs. Arroyo said the arrest of Beltran was done with due process and in accordance with Philippine laws.

She allayed concerns raised that Beltran's rights were being violated with his detention because of his case of rebellion.

"Others in the same situation as him have been able to get bail, going through due process. Let me assure you that all his civil rights and human rights are protected by our laws and the administration of those laws," the President said.

The President assured Prime Minister Clark that the Philippine government is doing everything to address the human rights issues, including the unexplained killings of militant activists and members of the media.

She reiterated that the work of the Melo Commission, an independent body that was tasked to investigate the killings and submit recommendations to the President, has resulted in the establishment of special courts for prosecution, the allocation of more money for the investigators of these crimes and the introduction of new laws to protect witnesses.

"On human rights, we share the values of democracy, social justice and human rights with New Zealand and other democracies. The Philippines is in a fight to turn around its economy, to lift up the poor, and winning it. Slowly but surely, we're investing in our people and creating a new hope and opportunity for our people," the President said in her statement, which she read at the joint press conference.

"Similarly we're in a fight to turn around our history of political violence and retribution. Like our economic turnaround, we are slowly, surely and steadily breaking down the cycle of violence. And I welcome our friends in the international community like New Zealand to work with us to erase this legacy of violence and violations forever," the President added.

The Prime Minister also noted that the officials of New Zealand's human rights commission have met with their counterparts in the Philippines in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss the human rights situation the Philippines.

"We will be having a New Zealand human rights commission official go to the Philippines in the not too distant future. We're looking to develop some cooperation where New Zealand in its small way, with its small development assistance program, might play a role in supporting human rights education training for Philippine institutions like the police and military," Clark said.

'Disaster area'

Green Party foreign affairs spokesman Keith Locke said last year Amnesty International condemned Arroyo's failure both to investigate this wave of unexplained killings or to prosecute the perpetrators – and it accused her of perpetuating a cycle of human rights violations.

"The Philippines is a disaster area for human rights. It would be helpful if Prime Minister Helen Clark could direct some of the concern she currently reserves for Fiji and Zimbabwe to the Philippine situation," he added. Mrs. Arroyo is attending the Asia-Pacific Interfaith Religious Dialogue from May 29 to 30 at Waitangi, where she also met with Clark.

"By attending an interfaith dialogue at Waitangi, Arroyo cannot duck responsibility for the atrocious human rights record in the Philippines, which extends to members of her House of Representatives," Locke said.

"She would have a lot more credibility if she tried practicing similar tolerance at home," Locke said.

He cited the case of Anakpawis' Beltran who has been in jail for over a year on rebellion charges.

"All of the members of parliament from three left wing parties in the (Philippine) Congress have either been subjected to imprisonment, or threatened with prosecution," Locke added.

At the same time, he scored the Arroyo government's failure to protect the safety and rights of Filipino journalists.

Locke urged New Zealand journalists to take the lead from Canadian journalism organizations, which have rallied this month to the defense of their colleagues in the Philippine media who have become deadly targets.

"Thirty-one journalists have been murdered since Arroyo took office, and the President's husband has only this month stopped a campaign he has waged since 2003 of mounting 43 separate criminal lawsuits against journalists he doesn't like," Locke said.

More rallies

From New Zealand, Mrs. Arroyo will proceed to Australia for a two-day state visit on the invitation of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, starting May 30.

Various Filipino and Australian groups will hold a peaceful rally in Sydney and Melbourne during the Australian visit of the President to highlight the unexplained killings of human rights activists, farmers, students, lawyers, journalists, and church workers in the Philippines.

The rallies will be held in the two major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. The Sydney rally will be held Tuesday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in front of the Philippine Consulate at 27 Wentworth Avenue , Sydney organized by Action for Peace and Development in the Philippines (APDP), Migrante Philippines–Australia and the Philippine-Australia Union Links (PAUL).

On the other hand, the Melbourne rally will be held Thursday in front of the Grand Hyatt at 123 Collins Street , Melbourne, organized by Philippine Australia Solidarity Association, Migrante-Melbourne and the Australia Asia Worker Links.

The rally will be attended by members of the Filipino-Australian community, parliamentarians, unions, churches and rights groups concerned about the worsening human rights violations in the Philippines.

Maori welcome

Mrs. Arroyo was greeted upon her arrival in New Zealand Monday with full military honors and a ceremonial Maori welcome at the Government House.

The President was greeted with the Powhiri or the Maori traditional welcome and the Haka or dance by male members of the Maori Cultural Group.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, who was beside the President during the ceremony, was given the task to pick up a rakau tapu or dart laid down by the Maori warrior.

Afterwards Mrs. Arroyo inspected the Royal Guard of Honor with the band playing the contemporary song "On A Clear Day" and a shot from canons.

The entire ceremony went without a hitch except for the last part where the President was supposed to do the "hongi" or the traditional touching of noses. Three school children went up to the President for the hongi but she missed touching the nose of one of them.

No more mining

Philippine-based environmental groups are warning the President, who is heading for Australia, not to seal another multi-million mining deal there because it portends bigger environmental disasters for the country.

"She is courting more danger by trying to seal a multi-billion dollar deal with BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company whose main headquarters is located in Melbourne," said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the environmental group Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE).

"We fear that GMA's trip to Australia combined with the government's refusal to uphold a moratorium on mining in the environmentally-critical island of Rapu-Rapu (in Albay) in deference to Lafayette's wishes will only encourage more mining firms to flock into the Philippines and engage in wanton, plunderous and irresponsible mining operations," Bautista said.

The Philippine government is vigorously wooing BHP Billiton, which according to Bautista, continues to evade responsibility for the environmental disaster it caused in the island of Papua New Guinea.

Mrs. Arroyo is meeting with executives of BHP Billiton and other mining executives from the Australia-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce (ANZCham) this week.

The meeting, Bautista claimed, "is a grave cause for alarm because BHP Billiton is a giant mining firm which has been facing a $4-billion class suit filed this January 2007 by the Ninerum people of Papua New Guinea for the Ok Tedi environmental disaster it caused."

Bautista said, "GMA in effect is actually wooing a giant mining firm that killed a river system in another Asia-Pacific country. And now she is practically begging these same mining firms to operate in the Philippines."

With Aurea Calica, Artemio Dumlao, AP, AFP

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