by Melva Sihombing
Melva Sihombing is a member of SCM Indonesia (GMKI). She is a WSCF AP Human Rights Intern for 2006. She spent one and a half months in the Philippines.
“What is Human Rights if there are no laws of peace and justice to defend ourselves from the violations”
I’ve read and heard stories about human rights violations in the Philippines but it did not make my “brain bleed” in shock and disbelief until I actually arrived Manila on the 3rd of December, 2006. As a Human Rights intern from WSCF AP, I joined an exposure program with human rights organizations called KARAPATAN, an Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Right’s and the EMJP (Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace). My host were SCM Philippines members composed of Dion Cefarron, Biyaya Quizon, and Leni Valerio. They gave me a brief orientation of my program and organized my itinerary during my one and half month internship in the Philippines. They also introduced me to the staff of Karapatan and EMJP and arrange my temporary settlement in Manila. They shared information about the current Philippines situation that made me really excited about my internship.
The context of my internship has been a time of an escalating violation of human rights in the Philippines. More than 800 cases of political killings, 200 cases of abduction, and thousands of human rights violations have been recorded by Karapatan and EMJP within the period of the current Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Many of the victims are peasants, workers, and indigenous people but there were also party-list organizers, priests and pastors, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, teachers, and students.
I spent most of my time with Karapatan and EMJP in their work around Manila. Karapatan is a leading organization advancing and defending human rights and helping human rights violations victims. It has many programs such as, organizing and mobilizing mass campaign, joining national or international solidarity group/mission, alliance work, human rights education and services (paralegal training, provide Fact Finding Mission, services to political prisoners consist of the following: health service, legal service, facilitation of family/relatives visits, etc), documentation work, etc.
The second organization I worked with is the EMJP that was conceived as one of the leading centers for human rights and anti-militarization campaigns during the dark days of martial law in the Philippines, some of their activities are: advocates for just and lasting peace; monitors and documents violations of human rights and international humanitarian law arising from militarization; conduct research; conduct fact-finding missions; generates material and financial support for its advocacy, services, and anti-militarization campaigns; establishes a broad network, etc. Because it was Christmas season and I had very limited time, I just involved in some of their activities/program.
One of the important thing I learned from my experience with Karapatan is documentation work to pursue and advocate cases of human rights violations. In Karapatan, I learned how to organize case files of victims of human rights violations. All the known cases are filed by year and every case has its own file. For example, the political killing documents file should contain: Fact Sheet, Autopsy Letter (if possible), Post Mortem Examination Letter from Municipal Health Office, Affidavit letter/s, News clipping, Fact Finding Mission Report, Minute of the Hearings, and other documents that are related to the case. A documentation officer is assigned to the case that will always update the documents depending on progress of the case, and they also have to make the summary for all the case monthly and yearly.
From 6th to 7th December 2006, I visited Karapatan’s “safe house” or refuge to help take care of the victims, witnesses, or their families who felt unsafe or have been threatened. During my visit to this house I met with a young girl named Malaya whose parents were abducted/disappeared since November 2006 in Davao, Mindanao. I accompanied her with other victims, Merdeka and Myra to look for her parents in several military camps and hospitals in Manila. Before we went to look for her parents, Karapatan/EMJP staff prepared all the documents and letter about this case. We started by sending the letters to the Human Rights Commission of Philippines office and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross). These agencies conducted an investigation of Malaya as she is the reporter of the case. The next day, accompanied by a lawyer, we looked for the missing persons at Camp Hospital (Private Military Hospital), we checked the register list; unfortunately we didn’t found their name on the list yet. Believing that the military were involved in this case, we went to the safe houses of Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame (Police Hospital), but the military officer didn’t allow us to enter; we just checked the register list and gave them the picture of Malaya’s parents. The last place we visited was Philippines Army Hospital at Fort Bonifacio, Makati City. Before we left this place, we gave them the letters prepared by Karapatan/EMJP to give them information in case they find these disappeared people in their custody.
I attended the US Militarism Conference in Cebu City, in the central provinces of the Philippines (1 hour by flight from Manila). When we arrived in Cebu City, we were informed that the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit was postponed until January 2007 because of a powerful typhoon that was predicted to pass-through Cebu province. Later I found out that the “typhoon” was only a flimsy excuse by the authorities because the Philippine government is not prepared to hold the meeting amid the volatile political situation in the country. The conferences, which brought together 230 local and foreign participants, were not affected by the postponement of the summit and pushed through with the event until December 11. The Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN) is one of the organizers of the Conference on Jobs and Justice, and the Conference on US Militarism and War on Terror. The later aims to raise awareness and understanding on the US war on terror and how it is being used to advance its economic and political interests in the region.
On the occasion of International Human Rights Day on December 10, all the conference participants together with the local and national organizations conducted wide rallies that assembled at Fuento Osmena (center of the city) and marched to the “Malacañang” of the South, where the President holds office every time she is in Cebu City. The rally highlighted issues about the rising cases of political killings, trade union repression, and human rights abuses in the Philippines.
Another conference I attended was the ILPS (International League for People Struggle) East Asia and Oceania Consultative Conference with the theme “Advance Peoples’ Solidarity and Struggle for Liberation and Democracy against Imperialist Plunder and War”. It just took one whole day and 150 participants from local, national, and international attended.
A Fact Finding Mission (FFM) is the best way to gather all the information, evidence from the actual source. In this process, we assume that the data gathered from police investigation is not credible, so we must make our own investigation according to the case. This time I joined a FFM that was related to the Killings of the Leader Labor Union of EMI (EDS Manufacturing Inc.)—Yazaki, Jesus Buth Servida on 12th December 2006 in Cavite, a province south of Manila. He was killed by motorcycle gunmen, and two other were also wounded, Joel Sali and Kenny Mari Savero. At least 30 of us were part of the FFM, the leader reminded us to be careful because sometimes there were harassments during the investigation; that is why we have to gather a lot of people to do the FFM. The Mission took a whole day, because we had to prepare the team that consisted of team leader, negotiator, documentation, and the marshals. We gathered all information that we have from Joel Sali, one of the survivors at DLSU (De La Salle University) Medical center in Cavite, where he was being treated. Then we went to the factory, where the incident took place; we took pictures and interviewed some of the workers in the factory. The last place we visited was the victim’s house. We interviewed Buth Servida’s family.
I also joined “Paskuhan sa NBP” (Christmas at the New Bilibid Prison) organized every year by human rights workers and advocates under SELDA (Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Para sa Amnestiya or Association of Ex-Detainees Against Detention and For Amnesty) on 21st, December 2006. There are 20 political prisoners still inside the NBP as of this year. Recently, 3 prisoners have been released, they are Modesto Tobias, Julito Tobias, and Ramil Orgasan; all were in prison for 17 years.
The New Bilibid Prison (NBP) is located in Muntinlupa, south of Manila. We started from Karapatan office at 7.00am and arrived at 9:30 am, we were given until 3:30 pm to finish our program inside NBP. The group was composed of 25 people. We brought food, presents, etc for the detainees. We were not allowed to bring cell phones inside the prison, but they let us brought the cameras. The objectives of this program were to gather families and friends of the political detainees on Christmas day, to strengthen and also to share the latest information out and inside the prison. During the program, I recalled one political prisoner making an interesting speech saying, “Yes, it is true that we are inside this prison now, but when we are released from this prison, we will enter the bigger prison that is the Philippines nation, because there is still no peace and justice out there”. Hearing this statement led me to ask questions of the reality of life outside prison.
There are still a lot of human rights violations that I am unable to mention one by one in this short report. At least 4 people have been killed since I arrived 3 weeks ago, and the number of political killing, abduction/kidnapping, harassment, massacre, forcible displacement, etc related to the human rights violations keep rising every day. Most of the attacks were carried out by unidentified assailants on motorcycles, at times wearing face masks, who were often described as “vigilantes” or hired killers allegedly linked to AFP (Armed Forces of Philippines) members. Who can stop these? When it will be stopped? I believe it is not only happening here in the Philippines, it might also happen in my country, Indonesia, or in your country.
“No one may be deprived of these rights and freedoms, whether by virtue of race, color, class, ethnicity, gender, creed, political, or other opinion. Anyone violating these rights and freedom violates not only the rights of the victims but also their human dignity.”