Arroyo visit a chance to confront human rights abuses

The Green Party has welcomed reports that Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is attending a conference in New Zealand that is promoting religious and cultural tolerance and understanding.

“She would have a lot more credibility if she tried practicing similar tolerance at home,” Green Party Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Keith Locke says.

“Hundreds of trade unionists, priests, journalists and human rights advocates have been systematically murdered since Arroyo took office in 2001. Last year Amnesty International condemned Arroyo’s failure both to investigate this wave of extra-judicial killings or to prosecute the perpetrators — and it accused her of ‘perpetuating a cycle of human rights violations.’

“By attending an interfaith dialogue at Waitangi, Arroyo cannot duck responsibility for the atrocious human rights record in the Philippines, which extends to members of her House of Representatives. The Filipino MP Crispin Beltran has been in jail for over a year on trumped up rebellion charges. All of the MPs from three left wing parties in the Congress have either been subjected to imprisonment, or threatened with prosecution

” New Zealand journalists should be following the lead of Canadian journalism organizations, which have rallied this month to the defence of their colleagues in the Philippines media, who have become deadly targets. 31 journalists have been murdered since Arroyo took office, and the President’s husband has only this month stopped a campaign he has waged since 2003, of mounting 43 separate criminal lawsuits against journalists he doesn’t like.

“Arroyo has tried to appease world opinion by setting up inquiries — such as last year’s Melo Report, never published in full – that have tried to distance her from the murder campaign being waged by her security forces. However, Arroyo has blown her own cover by publicly praising former general Jovito Palparan, who has been cited by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in connection with many of the killings. Alston also blasted Arroyo’s government for not doing more to stop the murder campaign, or give adequate protection to witnesses.

“The Philippines is a disaster area for human rights. It would be helpful if Prime Minister Helen Clark could direct some of the concern she currently reserves for Fiji and Zimbabwe to the Philippines situation. Arroyo should be urged to stop the political carnage that she is currently condoning, release Crispin Beltran and engage with him and other opponents in a genuine process of national reconciliation,” Mr Locke says.