Acting on increasing concerns of Canadians and the international community on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines, the International Human Rights Subcommittee of the House of Commons of Canada conducted a briefing on 4 May 2021 with experts and human rights advocates from the Philippines and Canada.
The parliamentary briefing, presided by IHR Subcommittee chair MP Peter Fonseca, heard testimonies from Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of Philippines human rights alliance Karapatan and Maria Ressa, Executive Editor of online news site Rappler. Ressa, named one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year in 2018, is facing multiple charges of cyber libel levelled by the Duterte government. Other speakers were Catherine Coumans, Phd, of Mining Watch Canada, Guy-Lin Beaudoin, of the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines - Canada and Emily Dwyer of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability.
In her testimony, Ms. Palabay cited the killings of 15 Karapatan members in the last five years. “These deaths define the climate of fear and impunity in the country. Perjured testimonies, fabricated evidence, questionable search warrants are used for arbitrary arrests and detention. We eat death, rape and sexual violence threats online and offline,” Palabay said.
“Community pantries, journalists, lawyers, the opposition, the Commission on Human Rights are consistent targets of ‘red-tagging’… a part of counterinsurgency and murderous campaign which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. We implore the Canadian government to take action on these concerns with urgency as our country further descends to an authoritarian state,” she said.
Maria Ressa spoke of her experience of arrests and bail under the Duterte regime. She also testified about the numerous political killings in the Philippines.
Couman, for her part, said that Canadian mining companies operating in the Philippines should be made accountable over the negative impacts of their operations, including the alleged use of paramilitary forces to force communities to give their consent to mining activities. She said, “Canada should not be selling military equipment and providing defence support and cooperation to the Philippines.”
She also recommended that Canadian consular staff in the Philippines be mandated to protect human rights. Procedures need to be fast tracked so that, she said, “rights defenders whose lives are threatened can receive visas for temporary relocation to Canada and other safe countries.”
Beaudoin on his part said that Canadian aid should not be used for committing violence. “Aid should be used to defend human rights and sustainable peace, not violate them,” he said.
The Canadian Government is expected to reply to the IHR Subcommittee’s report and recommendations within 45-60 days.
Shortly after the briefing, Director-General Alex Monteagudo of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency posted a picture of Ms. Palabay on his Facebook page, accusing her of advocating for the rights of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army to recruit minors to the NPA, to kill innocent civilians and to destroy livelihoods.
Members of the Canadian Parliament expressed their concern to this false statement, seeing it as a threat against Ms. Palabay.