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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:
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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 became 'non-people'.”
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 people's movement.
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.

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