Four Guild women lawyers traveled to the Philippines in May on a human rights fact finding mission organized by the Philippine national women’s coalition, GABRIELA, in response to the recent State of Emergency and rebellion prosecution of Congresswoman Liza Maza and five other left members of Congress. In our short stay, the delegation met with members of the “Batasan (House of Representatives) 6”, their lawyers, other human rights lawyers, leaders of GABRIELA and other mass organizations, human rights organizations, families of victims of extrajudicial killings, members of the NDFP (the armed rebels) human rights monitoring committee, the government Human Rights Commission, and a U.S. embassy staffer.
Repression in the Philippines
Labor congressman Crispin Beltran, known as Ka Bel, a former Marcos detainee, has been detained in a hospital room for more than three months, accused of engaging in a left-right coup conspiracy. The other five congresspersons were forced to take sanctuary inside the House of Representatives building for two months. Although the five succeeded in leaving the building on May 8 without being arrested, the prosecution continues, even though no judge has yet found probable cause. On June 1, a court did find probable cause to hold Ka Bel to answer on the rebellion charge, despite the complete lack of any credible evidence. The rebellion case is based on some obviously fabricated, uncorroborated affidavits claiming that the left parties planned to join with disaffected military personnel and with the armed communist rebels to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Arroyo is widely seen as a U.S. puppet who gained reelection in 2004 by fraud and the progressive congresspeople have led the call for her impeachment. Under the Arroyo government, a key partner in the U.S. War on Terror, human rights violations are reaching a similar level to the Marcos era. The rebellion charges against the congresspeople and party leaders in the capital are just one component of a systematic campaign to eradicate the left. Outside of Metro Manila, left activists, progressive lawyers and judges, human rights workers, and journalists are being gunned down by military death squads. More than 600 people have been killed since 2001. During the one week our delegation spent in Manila, another person was killed almost every day. In fact, while we were in court observing proceedings on the rebellion case, word came in that one of the 51 defendants had just been shot at his home a few hours away. Another one of the 51 has been missing since early May. Hope and Support for Human Rights and Women’s Rights in the Philippines Despite these dire circumstances, we could not help but be inspired by the optimism and unity of the Philippine left and by the dedicated Filipino human rights lawyers who persevere despite rampant judicial corruption and despite being shot at and a number of their colleagues killed. We were particularly awed by the large, well organized, progressive women’s movement led by GABRIELA. While maintaining its militancy, GABRIELA has formed a women’s party with its own representative, Liza Maza, who in her short tenure in Congress, has succeeded in passing a critical Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and an Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act. She is working to pass many other measures of concern to women, including a law introducing divorce for the first time. GABRIELA leads international campaigns against sex trafficking and exposing the prostitution of women on the U.S. bases, as well as organizing grassroots women and providing service and support mechanisms for women victims of violence. Along with Liza Maza, a number of other GABRIELA leaders are being charged or are implicated in the bogus rebellion case, and 35 GABRIELA activists are among the 152 party-list activists who have been extra-judicially murdered.
While in the Philippines, the delegation held two press conferences, appeared on a TV talk show, spoke at a public forum at a law school, and received tons of Philippine media attention. We will be releasing our full report in July, which we plan to present to the UN through the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL). Watch for a more comprehensive article in the summer / fall issue of Guild Notes.
The Guild delegation was co-sponsored by Vanguard Foundation, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the IADL. Another international legal delegation is visiting the Philippines later this month to investigate the killings and attacks on lawyers and judges, and we hope that more will follow. We are reviving the Guild Philippines subcommittee. Contact Rachel Lederman at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.