Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region


Stop the Killings in the Philippines

A Statement by the Hong Kong Christian Institute
16 August 2006

The Hong Kong Christian Institute (HKCI) is deeply concerned about the increasing number of political killings and human rights violations in the Philippines. We urge the Philippine government to take stronger action to address this issue and prevent further killings from taking place.

The right to life is the most fundamental human right. We applaud the Philippine government's recent decision to abolish the death penalty. Meanwhile, however, there are ongoing and escalating political killings taking place. HKCI is appalled that more than 700 people have died from extrajudicial killings since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took office in 2001. Moreover, hundreds of cases of abductions and harassment have also occurred.

Even though President Arroyo expressed her concern about these extrajudicial killings in her State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2006, and Task Force Usig (TFU) was set up in May, extrajudicial killings still persist. Just after President Arroyo's speech, for example, two people – Rei Mon Guran and Alice Claver – were shot and killed on July 31 in politically motivated incidents. In addition, Dr. Constancio "Chandu" Claver was also shot in the same attack and is in critical condition. HKCI is disappointed that the government's concern has not been translated into effective action to stop these political killings.

General Avelino Razon Jr. of the Philippine National Police (PNP) denied that more than 700 political killings have taken place in the Philippines since 2001, a figure reported by human rights organisations in the country, claiming instead that it was the propaganda of progressive groups. For the cases that the TFU has investigated, he asserted that the alleged perpetrators were primarily members of the New People's Army (NPA), but how can he make this claim when the investigations have not been completed and no one has been arrested?

The HKCI joined a fact-finding mission in July 2006 that interviewed a number of witnesses to these political killings. Many of the victims are members of progressive group and human rights activists. Before their death, some of them were harassed and warned not to continue their struggles. According to witnesses, some of the perpetrators were masked and were wearing military uniforms.

Although there are witnesses to some extrajudicial killings, they are too frightened to speak up, a reflection of the loopholes in the witness protection system that discourages witnesses from giving testimony. Some of the victims' families have even fled to other communities to avoid further harassment. Meanwhile, the commitment of the government and police to investigate these killings needs to be questioned as the victims' families have complained that investigations have been insufficient, and the cases have been dismissed in a short period of time because of insufficient evidence.

HKCI strongly denounces these political killings which have snatched people's lives. This political repression suppresses the expression of people's political beliefs and convictions and attempts to silence dissidents. HKCI wants to remind the Philippine government that the world is watching the alarming and increasing number of human rights violations in the country. Each killing is a blemish on the international image of the Philippines.

HKCI demands that the Philippine government protect the life of every citizen. Since members of progressive groups, union leaders, farmers, journalists, human rights lawyers and church leaders are the people at greatest risk, the government should take measures to ensure their safety. All threats reported to the police should immediately be followed up, and protection should be provided. When extrajudicial killings occur, the police should promptly and impartially investigate every killing and should bring the perpetrators to justice as soon as possible.

As for the loopholes in witness protection, the PNP should examine the deficiencies in the programme and quickly reform the system.

Furthermore, the government should stop labeling human rights activists as NPA members without evidence to substantiate these claims. These accusations can not justify the harassment and human rights violations committed against the victims; these accusations can not give the police and military a state-sanctioned license to kill.

Among the people who have died from these political killings, quite a number of them are from the church sector. HKCI is especially inspired by the courage and commitment of many Christian activists to be faithful to the Gospel and to walk with the poor, to challenge the oppressor and to seek justice for all in spite of many challenges and obstacles. Although their lives are at risk, they still dare to confront these challenges and obstacles. Their example offers so much from which we Christians in Hong Kong can learn, especially their witness and presence in society. In addition to joining the fact-finding mission, HKCI will continue to raise the awareness of Hong Kong's people about the violence that is threatening the lives of so many Filipinos. We add our voices to those of the Filipino people and others around the world: The killings must stop now!





Lack of political will to stop extrajudicial killings demonstrates drift from democracy

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
August 16, 2006

The Amnesty International report on the political killings, human rights violations and peace process in the Philippines published in August 2006 points to the need for the political will to investigate and stop political killings and the legacy of impunity in the country:

"Unearthing the evidence establishing responsibility for the current pattern of political killings will take political will. It will require political determination and persistent practical efforts to undo the legacy of impunity, which has the potential to undermine efforts to hold perpetrators of political killings accountable and is aided by the assumption that such killings are to some degree an acceptable by-product of continuing armed conflict."

What has become obvious is that, despite massive protests against extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, the government has shown no political will to stop these killings. No clear command has been given to the armed forces to stop these killings, and no clear command has been given to any authority to investigate all of these killings. What the government has resorted to, as many observers have rightly pointed out, is to engage in a multitude of public stunts to show some expression of concern but to announce or pursue no real action of any significance.

The government's unwillingness to address an issue of such enormous national concern, and one on which much international pressure has been exerted, raises serious questions about who has political control over the elimination of extrajudicial killings. Is President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo willing to stop these killings, or is she really supporting such action by the military? Or is she not capable of stopping these killings? If the latter is the case, a serious issue exists in which the government has no control over a military enterprise that is now affecting, not only a large number of lives in the country, but also the security of the people as a whole.

Given the fact that the killings are continuing despite expressions of massive public concern, the failure of the government to respond to these extrajudicial killings needs to be probed much deeper by all concerned people. If the government is afraid of creating friction with the military or some of its leaders, then the issue of greater concern that arises is whether the democratic form of government as envisaged by the Philippine Constitution is intact or not. The question is relevant to several other countries as well in which the effective command of many issues has shifted to the military while a formal, democratic form of government is presented as the public face of the political system.

Observing the nature of extrajudicial killings that are taking place in the country for quite some time, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is of the view that such a serious transformation has, in fact, taken place in the Philippines. Externally visible manifestations of democracy coexisting with internal transformation into an authoritarian system expresses itself in the sharpest possible way through these extrajudicial killings. The issue of political will therefore does not have the same meaning as it does in the context of a democracy where people still have the possibility to assert their will through their government. As authoritarianism takes root, there is a political inevitability of silencing dissent. What seems to be taking place in the Philippines is the shift of will of the actual power holders to silence dissent by drastic means.

The AHRC once again calls upon all concerned people in the Philippines as well as in the international community to treat the matter of stopping extrajudicial killings as an issue related to the very survival of democracy in the Philippines. The people of the Philippines have a long history of resistance to authoritarianism, and perhaps one more moment in their history has arrived for them to save their values and democratic system through open resistance. At this moment, the people of the Philippines deserve the complete support of all democratically minded people throughout the world.





Universal Destination of Goods, Anyone?

August 10, 2006

Some scenes, played out daily in the Philippines, could break your heart. For instance, you’d see thousands of people cramped in airports, trying to leave the country out of desperation to look abroad for jobs and opportunities that are scarce at home. But you’d also witness those equally trying to return home from war-torn Lebanon, cruel working conditions and other tragic work-related experiences in other countries. There are impressive posh villages, malls, high rise buildings, state-of-the-art infrastructures and business establishments in our cities; but these are drowned out by the sheer number of shanties, aging buildings, makeshift homes and rather slimy enclaves of the urban and rural poor. You would think you are in the middle of two worlds, two countries that are always meeting (with apologies to Mark Twain) but barely changing.

Prior Principle

I have often thought that one big reason why the Philippines and the world are in such a sorry state today is simply that so few own so much. Of course, there is such a thing as a right to private property. Even the Church recognizes that. But it has also been her constant teaching that there exists a prior principle to which that right is subordinate. Most people (surprisingly, even otherwise responsible Catholics) rarely know it. Or if they do, it isn’t easy to tell. But here goes. The Church through the Second Vatican Council makes it clear that “God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity. No matter what the structures of property are in different peoples…we must never lose sight of the universal destination of earthly goods” (GS 69).

Unbelievable? Consider this: This teaching is founded on God’s original intention of entrusting “the earth and all its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits” (Gen. 1:26-29; CCC 2402). And how does this concern you and me? You guessed right. This principle is the basic limitation of the right to private property. It was not to one individual man that the earth was entrusted but to man as a whole, that is, the whole human collectivity, as implied in the Hebrew word adamah (from the earth) which describes the condition of all human persons, male or female, regardless of race, culture or creed that originated from and dwell on the earth.

On the other hand, the neglect of this fundamental truth by our society’s subtle overstating of the right to private property has created the current monstrous imbalances in the distribution of the world’s goods. In the Philippines alone, the ratio that assigns almost ninety percent of the nation’s wealth to only ten percent of its population has resulted in the continuing and dehumanizing poverty of the masses.

Recent studies confirm the observation that only those who have control of the ninety percent of the country’s wealth has had the lion’s share of the benefits from the supposed tiger status (which only groaned and not roared among the poor) of the economy during the Ramos administration till the present. The irony is not lost to many that a nation which prides itself in its Christian identity and heritage could be so blatantly inconsistent with the teachings of its faith. The goods originally meant for universal destination are, in the Philippines, destined only to a particular few. What the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, judges to be “one of the greatest injustices in the contemporary world” (SRS 28) is a daily and ubiquitous reality in this Christian country.

The Need for a Concerted Effort Among Nations

Obviously the Philippines is not alone in the matter of imbalances in goods distribution. Hers is only one among many of such other imbalances in the whole world. Which is why the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines suggests a worldwide course of action to deal with the problem. “Because earthly goods are meant for all, there is a responsibility for developed countries to aid developing countries and to correct the terms of commercial relationships that presently favor the richer and more powerful countries” (PCP II 298).

To a poor nation this is necessary and to an objective observer, logical. But how does this sound to the collective ears (or hearts) of the world’s wealthier nations? In point of fact, it demands a collective movement from those nations in the upper rungs of the wealth pyramid, one that must address the present distribution imbalances in terms of offering concrete aids to the economies of poorer countries and, more radically, by making corrections to the existing one-sided commercial relationships in the world economy. Tall order? Indeed. Why? Because such an act has to be guided by a recognition of the social dimension of private property which sensitizes nations to the needs of the poorer portions of the human race and the injustice inherent in merely maintaining the status quo.

Such a recognition, admittedly, has very few adherents today except mostly in terms of lip service. Present realities do, however, admit of considerable efforts from developed countries to concretize the first proposition, that is, they offer certain types of economic aid to poorer counties. But the crux of the matter is that the world’s economic order is still a cross for poorer countries. The reason is as simple as it is stark: Very little is being done to correct it.

A Poor Country’s Courses of Action

Nothing is one-sided in the quest for social transformation. Poorer countries often learn the hard way that the needed action cannot come, and does not come, exclusively from the developed countries of the world. Not even the Church, immersed as always in everything local while struggling to fulfill a mission deemed universal, can remain on the sidelines. Besides, poorer countries realize that it helps to also help oneself find the way out of the woods.

For instance, the Philippine Church through PCP II already takes a serious look into the Philippine situation and makes suggestions of its own. It is good to look back and bring them into consideration. Fundamentally PCP II uses the principle of the universal destination of goods as a springboard. Setting the principle in the Philippine context the Council proposes a threefold course of action: (1) the avoidance of capital hoarding by using it instead to create employment for those who have no work or are underemployed; (2) the diffusion of the use and ownership of the goods of the land for the benefit of all; and (3) a truly comprehensive agrarian reform (PCP II 303).

Capital hoarding is still rampant but there are more signs of it being used now than before for employment generation and for re-energizing local businesses. But there is hardly a dent to the problem of the exclusive use and ownership of the goods of the land with the exception perhaps of more communal situations in the existing religious orders, in the Basic Ecclesial Communities and other communities of renewal. And, needless to say, a truly comprehensive agrarian reform remains an unrealized aspiration in the Philippines.


Our present situation is characterized by deep imbalances, disturbing but no longer surprising, considering that it is an outcome of an unjust economic and social order, now further driven by market forces that work by self-interest. The question is asked as to which should prompt the real changes? Forces from the outside seeking to break within? Or inside forces seeking to break out into the open? I say both. Our social concerns, after all, presuppose an informed social conscience. It is clear that PCP II’s suggested courses of action are possible only through a more mature, less profit-oriented and socially sensitive mindset among our economic, political and socio-cultural elite. We used to have a simpler term for this: UNSELFISH. But this mindset must be supported by appropriate laws and effective socio-economic-political structures.

In a word, the condition needed is nothing short of what the Christian faith calls a radical conversion or metanoia that must take place not only in the hearts of individual Filipinos, not only in the large majority of the population but also in those who influence structures that still prevail in our society and keep it from being truly free, equal and fraternal. To quote the late Pres. John F. Kennedy: “A society that cannot help the many who are poor cannot save the few who are rich.”






Samar Was Never Wounded

Vice-Chairman, Board of Directors
Catbalogan Cable Television Media Advocates Nucleus (CCATMAN)
August 7, 2006

Samar, it seems, used to be the official name of the third largest island of what in 1946 came to be known as the Republic of the Philippines. It also used to be the name of the province that bore the name of that island during Spain’s colonial rule in the Philippines.

The island (with a combined population of 1,517,585 in year 2000, 41 per cent of the Eastern Visayas [Region VIII] population of 3,730,765 or 2% of the Philippine population of 76,498,735) is 5,058 square miles or 13,100 square kilometers in total area, second to Mindanao in size, while Luzon is the largest of the Philippines’ 7,100 islands.

Yet, just how it was named, local historians have not found a very clear and acceptable answer even up to this day when it appears that more of the island’s inhabitants are engaged in a research that has got to do with the beginnings of Samar.

This should not, however, be construed to mean that a search into how Samar came to being as the name of the island that become an island province and that was divided into three provinces - Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, and Western Samar - by Republic Act 4221 (also known as the Samar Division Act) on June 19, 1965 would now be useless and irrelevant. The effort may in the end be rewarding, for then it may break a myth that stays on until today in the minds of many Samarnons, and Filipinos - to speak of a bigger community - that Samar was taken from the word samad, although that term, which in Waray-Waray, the local dialect in Samar means in English “wound” (for the noun function) or “wounded” (for the adjective function), could give a good historical value to the culture of the people that inhabited the early years of the island before they played host to Portuguese circumnavigator Ferdinand Magellan who rested in Suluan (south of now Guiuan, Eastern Samar and about 1.13 kilometers east of Homonhon island) waters between March 16, 1521 and the afternoon of March 25, 1521. Perhaps a scarcely supported literature ventured to claim that the word “samad” also aptly described the island’s rugged shape.

A cursory look into some available sources of information would show that four other places in the world and outside the Philippines have been named Samar. These are Samar in Sichuan, China, Samar in Izmir, Turkey, Samar in Chad, and Samar in Jordan. Apart from the place-name Samar, there are places named Samara (which in Waray-Waray dais a verb form signifying a command “to cause a wound or cut”) and these are found in Russia (where another administrative division and a river are also named Samara) and in Ukraine which is bordered by Belarus, Poland, Romania and the Black Sea. Could the Samar in Sichuan, Izmir, Chad and Jordan have existed and named long before the Samar in the Philippines during the Spanish time?

This fact is interesting. It might have been possible that the person who named the island “Samar” could have come from any of those four Samars, if they predated the Spaniards in Samar. Or, he could have been familiar with any of those foreign lands.

This brings up the questions: Who named Samar island “Samar”? and Where could he have come from?  Being able to trace that person might yet help in discovering the origin of the name of Samar the island. If he was with the early Spanish rulers, he could have persuaded the Spanish government in the Philippines to give the island that name. He could have existed much earlier than when manuscripts or books were written (some translated to the English language in much later years) about Samar, like that of Miguel de Loarca which came out in 1582, or by Fr. Cantius Kobak who referred to the arrival of the Jesuits in Tinago (also reported as Tinagon, it was the early settlement of present-day Tarangnan, a coastal town next to Catbalogan, the capital town of the province of Western Samar) on October 15, 1596 (also reported as October 22, 15 or 12 days after the Jesuits mission left Manila which they reached overland from Sorsogon on first on June 14, 1596 after sailing from Mexico as among 70 missionaries comprising an expedition led by Francisco Tello de Guzman).

There is no question about the name “Samar” that applies to the province that was christened by RA 4221 in 1965 as “Western Samar”. The provisions of the law are crystal clear. The law provided that Western Samar shall retain the name “Samar”.

The map produced by Antonio de Pigafetta showed the islands of “ZZamal”, “Zuluam” and “Humunu” or “Aguada ly boni Segnaly” (“the Watering-place of good Signs”). From this, it could be assumed that the name of Samar then was Zzamal and not “Samad” as later literature wrote. (Pigafetta was Magellan’s chief chronicler. He wrote Primo viaggio intorno al mondo, a full account of his day-to-day voyage with Magellan which was first translated in French and published in Paris in 1523 which turn was translated in Italian in 1536. Pigafetta’s diary did not interest Charles V of Spain.) A later translation of Pigafetta’s account used “Zamal” instead of Zzamal as used by Pigafetta. Based on this map and translation, it could safely be said that “Samar” was an improvement of the word “Zamal” and therefore the island named Samar was originally named Zamal.

But again, it might have been asked, why was the island named “Zzamal” or “Zamal”? Did Pigafetta hear it from the natives themselves of Zuluam (Suluan island in later years)?

It was in the afternoon of March 18 that Magellan and his voyagers first had a talk with the first nine men that approached them via a baloto (boat) from Zuluam. In the next friendly talks that unfolded at the Humunu (Homonhon) shore, Pigafetta recorded the natives having named the island where they (the Spanish voyagers) anchored as Humunu, but called it Acquada da li bouni Segnialli (the “Watering-place of good Signs”). Never in those talks did the natives of Zuluam explain how Zzamal got its name. It was not even suggested that the natives had any samad on their bodies or that they were a breed of men who loved getting wounded in bloody wars of spears, bladed weapons, and bows and arrows. From what Pigafetta wrote, it was even clearer to one’s imagination that the first people of Samar were friendly, hospitable and loved very much to talk about themselves, their culture, their land, and the things around them. They could have been the first tour guides of the Philippines! With a background of friendly people, it would be too hard to imagine that they could be sporting wounds and name their land after them.





Media Killings: A threat to Press Freedom

August 5, 2006

"...this country is becoming a world of lawless elements and hired killers."

When will killing of journalists stop?

I’m afraid it won’t. It won’t for now. Not until lording apologists and power-grabbing individuals learn to live in society become tolerant of freedom of expression not to their liking or equally dissimilar to them.

Not until, this country considers the value of a human life. It won’t stop not until some intellectuals in the government realize that continuing violence and killings of journalist endangers the whole society.

Since our country gained independence in 1986, some 56 journalists were killed in the line of duty, including some 17 other journalists who were also killed for reasons not connected to their work.

In Eastern Visayas, the latest journalist killed by still unidentified gunmen was Paquito “Pax” Diaz. He was shot at close range past 6 in the afternoon of July 6 near his home in Magallanes, Tacloban City while waiting to his friend at a shed. He suffered two fatal gunshot wounds at his left eye and chest and arrived dead at a hospital.

The police, however, traced the killing of Diaz as not connected to his media works as he is being identified heading the Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), which is very vocal in exposing government corruption and being a human rights advocate.

The serial killings of journalists, including those street demonstrators throughout the country nowadays posed a big threat to Philippine’s Freedom of Expression. The government, as I see it, appears to be inutile, if not disinterested at all, in solving these killings of the journalists, considered members of Fourth State.

Though this media killings, threats of violence and intimidation, nor any other form of illegal interference cannot stop us from our moral and social duty, this still remains the greatest threat to press freedom in the country.

I strongly believe Philippines as democratic society cannot expect to be governed well without the benefit of sharing ideas, freedom of expression and information. It is our lifeblood because we are free and has a right to live in a free country.

Without this freedom, they cannot expect from us to perform our duties as intended - encouraging and facilitating an open exchange of news and views through objectivity in reporting and to exercise of free speech through reporting and making accurate, truthful and timely information available to the general public.

According to a consolidated data released by different press organizations in the country, there has an alarming record of journalists killed in the Philippines from 1986 up to now.

In fact, this horrifying violence against us over the last several years earned the Philippines a ranking as the “most dangerous place for journalists to operate” by the International Federation of Journalists and as the single “most dangerous country for journalists” by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Most journalists killed in action are those noted to be critical on exposing corruption scandals or regularly attacking the government agencies such as the army, police, and politicians with a group of private armies and hired gunmen.

No doubt, this country is becoming a world of lawless elements and hired killers. Though despite the efforts of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration’s launch of a $92,000 Press Freedom Fund to curb violence against the media, a general culture of impunity continues to predominate in the Philippines, and I believe the journalists’ killers are still scot-free and not brought behind bars.

In cases where suspects have been identified and arrested, the person or persons who ordered the killing are still roaming around and enjoys the protection of some powerful individuals.

The end of the year brought lone landmark development, however. In November, former police officer Guillermo Wapile was convicted for the murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio, marking the first conviction among 22 cases of journalist killings since the wave of violence began in 2000.

But, just days later, George Benjoan, a radio and newspaper journalist known for his aggressive reporting on official corruption, was shot and killed in Cebu. Many more journalists in the country sides were killed. President Arroyo gave a 10-day deadline to his policemen to produce results, but as of this moment, no one has ever been convicted of these killings and nobody has been brought to justice. The deliberate targeting of journalists by those who seek to prevent media from exposing their activities represents a worrying trend in the world.

The unabated killings, violence and harassment towards media practitioners in the Philippines must be stop and cannot be allowed to continue. There can no longer be any excuses from this administration, no acceptable cause for killing a journalist. Crime against journalist -- who is also a human rights defender -- is simply unacceptable!

This is enough! Sacrificing our own lives, we and our fallen comrades have paid a high price for press freedom in this country, particularly during periods of military dictatorship. Our free-thinking journalists and hard-hitting commentators have been assassinated, persecuted, arrested or incarcerated and their offices attacked or printing presses destroyed, for insisting on telling the public the truth, for exposing corruption, for upholding public interests or for defending citizen rights to the freedom of expression.

Who are these elements trying to gag the press by silencing the journalists? Why is the process of prosecuting them so slow? The questions are still unanswered, anyone? We have no reason to doubt that the attackers have been greatly aided and emboldened by the law taking a lackluster course. The resolve to punish the killers has to be stronger rather than being rhetoric, and the pace of the legal process quickened, if we really want the lives of the journalists to be a little more secure.

The 2005 Annual Report of the Freedom House during the Freedom in Asian Cyberspace Conference that the situation in the Philippines was actually “partially-free” - better compared to other Asian country, it is still not acceptable to me. Our government should do everything to stop these media killings. This is a real threat to our constitution and independence.

So, we must join our hands in fighting back for freedom must be protected. We must guard that freedom not only for ourselves, but for all of us living in our beloved country, the Philippines.

Defend Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression at all cost!




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