International Human Rights Day in Brussels: Solidarity with the
victims of intensifying violations in the Philippines
Dr. Wim De Ceukelaire
14 december 2004
For original article:
On December 10, International Human Rights Day, Belgian NGOs and solidarity
groups, including the Philippines Solidarity Groups Belgium (FGB), intal
and New World, highlighted the human rights situation in the Philippines.
The compelling testimonies of Filipino and Belgian human rights activists
made it a memorable evening.
Coni Ledesma of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)
opened the evening with an overview of her country's human rights situation.
“The intensifying militarization of the countryside, the 'disappearances'
and killings of activists and journalists are like a flashback from the
darkest days of the Marcos dictatorship,” she said. Her testimony was
illustrated with images, including footages of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.
In this bloodbath, 14 protesting farmers were mercilessly killed by snipers
less than a month ago.
Her enumeration of human rights violations because of state repression
was not exactly comforting and yet she managed to end with a message of
hope: “The people's movement is very vibrant and is unwavering in its
struggle for the respect for human rights.” She showed that this struggle
has already born fruit with the recent establishment of a joint secretariat
of the government and the NDFP that has to monitor the respect for a human
rights agreement that both signed. “So far, more than 200 complaints were
filed against the government and three against the NDFP,” she added.
Jos Van der Velpen, the chairperson of the Liga voor de Mensenrechten
(Human Rights League), put Ledesma's testimony in the context of the global
'war on terror,' which counts human rights among its first victims. From
the perspective of the poor in Manila's slums he passionately advocated
the social and economic rights. “As long as they are neglected it doesn't
make sense to talk about civil rights,” he argued, “and that is why we
need a war against poverty, instead of a so-called 'war on terror'.”
After some heartwarming songs by Henri and Latifa, the second part of
the evening started: the book launching of 'At Home in the World: Portrait
of a Revolutionary.' This book by the prominent Filipino author Ninotchka
Rosca consists of interviews with Jose Maria Sison, a Filipino revolutionary
who lives in the Netherlands as a political refugee and who was put on
the terrorist list by the United States and the European Union. The story
of his life was introduced through a multimedia presentation—the fruit
of a unique collaboration between Belgian, Canadian and Dutch activists.
Jose Maria Sison himself made a surprise appearance and read his poem
'Sometimes, The Heart Yearns For Mangoes'. He had been able to secure
a special permit to leave the Netherlands for the occasion. One of his
lawyers, Jan Fermon, explained the importance of his case. According to
Fermon, it is a landmark case for two reasons: First of all because the
most elementary principles of jurisdiction are ignored and secondly because
of the consequences for Sison. “In both instances we are thrown two- three
hundred years back in time,“ Fermon said, “we are not even allowed to
know on the basis of what documents, testimonies or evidence he was put
on that list. That's like the Spanish Inquisition convicted heretics.”
The consequences of Sison's inclusion in the terrorist list are far reaching.
He cannot lead a normal life anymore: he is unable to get health insurance;
cannot sign any contract; his bank account is blocked and he cannot enter
into any economic transaction with anyone. Jan Fermon: “Such a sentence
only existed under the rein of Louis XVI when it was known as 'civil death'.
The sentence ended their social, political and economic existance. They
Author Ninotchka Rosca, a frail and charismatic lady, was the last to
go on stage. In an interview she showed how much she was affected by the
human rights situation in her country. “When I saw those footages from
Hacienda Luisita, I had to go out of the room and smoke a cigarette first,”
she said with trembling voice.
She spoke with respect about Jose Maria Sison, her co-author of 'At home
in the world': “For us, Filipino intellectuals he opened a new world.
We learned to appreciate the history of our country from our own perspective
and not from that of the colonizers and he introduced us to the world
of the workers and peasants, who are the majority of the Filipinos.” Rosca,
a prominent feminist, also paid tribute to Julie de Lima, Sison's wife,
who played an important role herself in the history of the Philippine
About president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, however, who recently declared
that the New People's Army (NPA) was the worst human rights violater in
the Philippines, she spoke disapprovingly. “How many cases is she talking
about?” Rosca responded, “Not more than six in all those years, while
11 women leaders from Gabriela Party-List were killed and 48 activists
of Bayan Muna.” According to her, one has to analyze the causes: “Many
people have lost confidence in the government's justice system. Is it
surprising that they turn to the NPA in their quest for justice?”
Representing the Philippines Solidarity Groups, Anne Konings gave the
closing remarks and called on everyone to sign the petition for the Mamburao
7, peasants who have been detained for six years already and who risk
the death sentence for a murder they didn't commit. She also presented
the urgent action request to send protest letters about the Hacienda Luisita
massacre. “Solidarity with the victims and with the people's movement.”
That is how she summarized FGB's human rights advocacy.