By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — The Episcopal Church submitted a testimony to the committee on appropriations, Sub-Committee on State, Foreign Operations of the house of representative of the United States of America asking for an inquiry on the human rights abuses in the Philippines.
The testimony of Rev. Canon Brian Grieves the Episcopal Church’s senior director for Mission Centers, and Alexander D. Baumgarten, international policy analyst in the church’s government relations office submitted the five-page testimony dated March 18, regarding the human rights situation here in the Philippines and the U.S. military assistance to the Philippines.
The Church’s testimony also aired the urgent concern on the continuing widespread human rights abuses in the Philippines, where extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and enforced disappearances (EDs) are a common occurance under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency.
The testimony stated that because of the continuing human rights violations in the country that it is being submitted. It said that the church wants to highlight the case of James Balao in particular as he is a member of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. Balao, who was abducted in September 2008, is a founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), an international wide organization dedicated to struggle of the Cordillera People and of the indigenous peoples of the world.
“Over the past three years, the military has been publicly denouncing the CPA as a “front organizationh for the Communist party and accusing James of being a leader in the Communist party in the Cordilleras. As a result, CPA members are being assassinated, abducted, and tortured,” according to the testimony.
According to eyewitnesses, Balao was forcibly taken by five armed men. He was held at gunpoint while violently dragged into a white van. One of the men told the onlookers that Balao is a wanted drug dealer and they are arresting him.
Four months earlier, Balao reported to his family and friends that he was under constant surveillance. Balao noted on his journal that he was being followed by men in different vehicles.
Balao at that time was doing a research and documentaion of his clan’s geneology as president of the Oclupan Clan Association; and serving as a mediator for parties to clan and tribal conflicts.
Balao is still missing until today as the military continues to deny they have a hand in his abduction.
“The Episcopal Church has strong ties to our partners in the Philippines dating back to 1898. The Episcopal Church in the Philippines now numbers more than 150,000 members in more than 400 parishes. While Episcopalians are a small portion of the Christian community, our many institutions, including medical centers and schools for all ages, serve the country in important ways and give us important insights into the people and their concerns.
In 1994 our General Convention passed a resolution urging “the U.S. government to adopt a foreign policy for the Philippines which promotes the protection of human rights and to terminate direct and indirect military aid,” the testimony said.
The testimony stressed that they are painfully aware of the EJKs and EDs that have inflicted terror on the human rights community of the Philippines. The church added its disappointment on the lack of response from the Philippine government and the continuation of military aid by the U.S. despite the worsening human rights situation.
The testimony of the U.S. based church said their Anglican partners in the Philippines are being included by the military as “terrorists” because of Episcopalian mission work in far-flung villages considered strongholds of the revolutionary Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Since 2001, more than 900 have fallen victims of EJKs and 193 are missing under the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The testimony noted that Balao’s case exemplifies the failure of the Writ of Amparo that was created by the Philippine Supreme Court as a guarantee of “protection against any violation by an unlawful act or ommission by a public official or employee.” The testimony added that the writ actually has proven to be woefully wanting.
The testimony also said that a Regional Trial Court decision found that the likely motive for Balao’s disappearance was “his activist/political leanings.” Balao is well known for his work advocating indigenous peoples’ rights.
On December 18, 2008, the presiding bishop of the episcopal church, the most reverend Katharine Jefferts-Schori wrote to Arroyo, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of staff General Alexander Yano and Philippine National Police Chief Director General Jesus Versoza, and said: “Our church and others here in the US, as well as many of our ecumenical colleagues, have been waiting for news from your government concerning this case, to no avail. No word has been given concerning his whereabouts, what possible charges there might be against him, nor even whether he is alive or dead. This is unconscionable.”
The testimony challenged the U.S. government to pressure the Philippine government to sucessfully implement the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the respect of human rights; to prosecute those in the military and others responsible for the human rights violations; and the stop of the imputation of scandalous misbehaviour of military against the legal civil society and organizations.
The testimony also recommended that the U.S. government undertake a thorough investigation as to where and how U.S. military aid to the Philippines has been spent, with particular emphasis on whether these funds are being used in ways that violate the peoples right to life, liberty and security.
“We believe the rights and freedom of the Filipino people, including James Balao, cannot be fully realized until these steps are taken,” the testimony ended.
The U.S.-based Episcopal Church has long supported the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) in its mission and more recently in its commitment to transforming unjust structures of society and in advocating against human rights abuses. (Founded in 1901 as a result of missionary work led by U.S. Episcopal Church Bishop Charles Henry Brent, ECP was inaugurated as an autonomous province in the Anglican Communion in 1990.) # www.nordis.net