From the 22nd to the 28th 2007, the participants from the HRD reformed ourselves into the International Youth Solidarity Mission in solidarity with the World Student Christian Federation Asia-Pacific; Student Christian Movement of the Philippines and the Tanggulan Youth Network for Civil Liberties and Human Rights. In particular part of the program we broke into two exposure trip groups travelling to Central Luzon and Bicol regions.
The aim of the exposure trips was to show solidarity and support for the victims and their families, whilst conducting investigations, documenting and reporting of human rights violations towards youth and students victims of kidnappings and torture. The two groups travelled to Bicol and Central Luzon regions meeting with the survivors, families, victims, students, youth activists and human rights NGOs, religious leaders and the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines, studying documents of human rights violations whilst conducting a search of the military camps in Balanga, Bataan.
The overall objective of this fact finding mission was to look at the rate of extrajudicial killings, disappearances concerning youth and student activist. The findings were in reference to the in-depth analysis and examination of the deaths of Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empena, Juancho Sanchez, Roberto Bagasabas, Ronilo Brezuela and Farly Alcantara II.
According to the IYSM Statement it observes the following in relation to the above cases:
From our expedition it is clear to us that most, if not all, the extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances of youth activists are coordinated by the AFP and state agents. We found insufficient action on the part of the PNP, who have neglected to follow up on cases of human rights violations and also have interfered with the justice process by failing to keep correct documentation, such as preservation of crime scenes, custody of evidence, photo documentation and full autopsy reporting. Government bodies, including the Melo Commission, Task Force USIG and the Special Court set up by the Supreme Court, have had no significant effect on the rate of youth targeting. They have neither prevented further violations nor assisted in serving justice to any of the victims and their families. Rather, these serve as mere appeasement to the international community’s demand for action regarding the growing numbers of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. One human rights group has documented that the number of youth killed from 2001 to date is 21 with an additional 53 minors, and that youth disappearances stand at 8, plus 4 minors.
We call on the Philippines government under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to:
We ask for honesty and integrity on the part of the PNP and Commission on Human Rights, to live up to their mandate and carry out independent investigations of reported human rights violations.
After the Fact Finding Missions we held a press conference looking at the cases of two students who were kidnapped by the local military in their towns, and doing a fact finding documentation of their story through the advocacy and trauma of their families, the mothers of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno speaking to us about the kidnapping of their daughter by the government police and military forces. This helped us get a more succinct and grassroots understanding of the local human rights abuse cases happening in the Philippines.
The FFM was followed by a visit to the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), where the group presented the findings and discussed some issues and recommendation to the panel of lawyers and members of the CHR. In the dialogue, the CHR admitted to having no power to exercise authority when the military establishment is involved in the cases. They also express concern over the lack of support for the witness protection program involving cases of extra-judicial killings. In the end they requested Civil Society and groups like SCM and WSCF to help in following-up these cases and making sure that justice is achieved.
In conclusion to the exposure trips and fact finding mission the group that travelled to Central Luzon returned back earlier to attend a press conference held the University of the Philippines where various student groups and movements were meeting in solidarity to the disappearances of several students who have been missing for over a year of whom were last seen arrested by the police and militia for interrogation. The mothers and family members of the students missing took part in a press conference at the front foyer of the University seeking answers and expressing their anger and distress about the disappearances of their daughters and other such cases. We then carried on to a student demonstration and heading towards the centre of Manila city expressing their voices and concerns about the disappearances of students and seeking the stepping down of the current President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to step down from her Office. Our day closed with a the two groups meeting again on the last evening of our 3 day exposure trip, tired but filled with inspiration and renewed energy. We concluded the night watching a student concert at the University of the Philippines sharing skits and songs of students in solidarity.
Finally, we concluded the program with a farewell dinner and solidarity night; full of fun, laughter, tears and memories encouraging us to become more aware and committed to becoming Human Rights Defenders HRDs in our own countries. We would like to share a word of thanks to the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) for their hard and dedicated work, to the Philippine Christian Youth Federation (PCFY), the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), to General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) of the United Methodist Church in the US and Church of Sweden Mission (CSM) for supporting this initiative.