Human Rights: “Don’t use Canadian dollars to kill us”, witnesses plead


Philippine activists call on Canada to stop supporting the Philippine government

By Ysh Cabana in Toronto and Teodoro ‘Ted’ Alcuitas in Vancouver

“Canadian dollars shouldn’t be used to kill us,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of rights group Karapatan, during a virtual hearing by the Canadian Parliament’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (SDIR) on May 4, 2021.

Palabay, together with Rappler founder and foremost critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Maria Ressa, were among a group of witnesses who appeared before the Committee to look into the human right situation in the Philippines.

Ressa, recently named 2021 laureate of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, deplored the “weaponization of the law” and “state sponsored attacks” including so-called “red tagging” or calling someone a terrorist.The outspoke critic who faces 10 arrest warrants and a conviction of a libel case, cited the intensified violence and culture of impunity that lead to the extrajudicial killings (EKJ’s). 

The killings which has conflicting numbers, has not abated amidst a worsening Covid crisis. While official military reports say 4,000 were killed, human rights groups claim it is closer to 20,000 to 30,000.

According to Karapatan, 15 human rights workers were among the 394 civilians killed “in the course of the Duterte government’s counterinsurgency campaign.”

Names behind the numbers

Lost in the dizzying numbers are the names, faces and stories of the victims.

Local government official Froilan Saez Oaferina III, 45 years old, was a victim of police killings on April 25. Two days later, Bishop Hamuel Tequis and five others, including two social workers and an indigenous leader were accused by state agents of “harboring communist terrorist groups.”

The anti-terrorism law which is used to harass human rights and other civil society organizations into silence, raises grave concern about Canada’s funding of a program to combat “the financing of terrorism”, according to the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP).

Canada must end its policy of quiet diplomacy

Another witness, Quebec lawyer Guy-Lin Beaudoin, reiterated ICHRP’s call on Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to publicly condemn the atrocities committed by the Philippine government and its security forces.

In particular, he asked the Minister to urge the Canadian Embassy in Manila to “apply vigorously” the tools in Canada’s guidelines on supporting human rights defenders (Voices at Risk) to protect those who face immediate danger of being killed or arrested.

“Canada must end its policy of quiet diplomacy,” said Beaudoin, who is co-chair of the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines – Quebec.

Citing abuses by Canadian mining companies operating in the Philippines, Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch also urged the federal government “to protect those who are criminalized and whose lives are threatened for speaking out in defense of human rights and the environment.”

Palabay said the “Canadian government to actively take action on these concerns with urgency, as our country further descends into an authoritarian state.”

“Whether there’s a public health emergency or not, there should be no lockdown on human rights.We should normalize putting rights at front and centre of governance and society,” she added.

The parliamentary hearing is part of a multi-faceted campaign that started last year with an open letter to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and petition tabled by the Member of Parliament for Edmonton Strathcona, Heather McPherson, in the House of Commons on February 25.

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