Three Canadian human-rights activists claim they were detained for several hours by the Philippines Army. Trade-union activist Jennifer Efting and lawyer Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial, both residents of Vancouver, and former Vancouver resident Cecilia Diocson, a nurse, are part of a 32-member Canadian team “investigating reports of human rights violations” in the Philippines.
Efting, best known locally as an organizer with the Bus Riders Union, told the Georgia Straight that the three women were detained for a total of 13 hours over a two-day period on November 16 and 17. She said that machine gun–bearing military officials stopped the trio from entering the town of San Narciso, south of Manila. The women were then hauled off to a police station, Efting claimed.
“We were never held in a cell, but we were held in their offices and prevented from leaving,” Efting said in a phone interview from the Philippines four days after they were released. “We were threatened with arrest.”
Efting claimed that the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is relying on the military to conduct a “campaign of repression and terror against progressive movements in the Philippines”. Amnesty International, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, and the Manila-based Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) have all raised serious concerns about human-rights abuses and “extrajudicial killings” in the Philippines.
Efting said that the Canadians are very worried about what might happen to their hosts: human-rights activists with Karapatan, which has claimed that more than 700 activists have been murdered since 2001. Amnesty International has reported that 51 activists were killed in the first eight-and-a-half months of 2006.
“These aren’t random attacks,” Efting said. “They are attacks on labour leaders. They are attacks on people fighting for human rights. They are attacks on women’s organizations.”
She added that she felt nervous seeing so many men with M16 rifles walking around, particularly because some of them refused to provide their names. “They were wearing scarves over their faces and they were wearing their guns over their name tags,” she said. “We really have to ask, ”˜Why weren’t we allowed into that town?’ If there aren’t any human-rights violations going on, there should be freedom for human-rights observers to go in and see that as the truth.”
The treatment of the Canadian human -rights activists has generated media coverage in the Philippines Daily Inquirer, one of the country’s leading English-language newspapers, as well as in the New York Times. Efting claimed that the reception they received demonstrates that the Philippines is sliding into fascism.
Alcuitas-Imperial is seven months pregnant, according to her sister Hetty, who remained in Vancouver. Hetty Alcuitas told the Straight that the activists will write a report after they complete their investigation. She added that her father, Ted Alcuitas, a retired newspaper publisher living in Vancouver, is also part of the fact-finding mission.
“They’re going to lobby the [Canadian] government to suspend relations and all aid to the Philippines,” Alcuitas said.
She added that a “civil war” has been under way for more than 30 years between the government and the New People’s Army, which is the armed wing of the Communist party of the Philippines. Alcuitas explained that this is why the human-rights activists encountered so many military personnel in the area. “The Arroyo government has a counterinsurgency plan,” she said.
Officials with the Philippines Consulate in Vancouver did not return a call from the Straight by deadline.