Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Clinton urges Filipino faith community to defend human rights

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the Philippines' faith community to help defend human rights, build peace and to strengthen democracy in their nation.

To promote and defend human rights, the Philippines needs "an independent judiciary and a strong faith community that can speak up when human rights are violated", Clinton said in a 13 November forum telecast nationwide on the ABS-CBN News channel.

The forum held at the Catholic-run University of St Tomas was part of the 12-13 November itinerary of the top diplomat of the United States, who also visited survivors of September's floods in Marikina City where she pledged US$5 million in relief.

Clinton's recipe for lasting peace in the Philippines, including the resolution of a Muslim secessionist rebellion and a communist insurgency included "a functioning government, a functioning market economy, and a functioning civil society, which includes a strong faith community".

Faith leaders hailed Clinton’s recognition of their role in nation building but made it clear they are already paying a heavy price.

"Approved," said Roman Catholic Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Diocese of Baguio.

Bishop Benjamin Justo of the United Methodist Church told Ecumenical News International, "I am glad Ms. Clinton is strongly for human rights."

Clinton's assertion is "very welcome, and we are doing this", said the Rev. Rex Reyes, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

"But Ms Clinton can push her pronouncements further by asking the Philippine government to pave a stop to extra-judicial killings and for the U.S. government to stop military aid to the country's armed forces, " he added.

United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur Philip Alston in 2007 linked extra-judicial killings to armed forces' counter-insurgency operations, but military officials denied this.

The NCCP has documented eyewitnesses' accounts of extra-judicial killings, which it says have happened since 2001, and, in collaboration with U.S.-based churches, brought this to the attention of the U.S. Congress in 2007.

Of the more than 800 extrajudicial victims recorded by the independent human rights watch group Karapatan, 28 were church workers. The latest was the Rev. Cecilio Lucero, a Catholic priest and human rights' advocate, who was reportedly ambushed by 30 armed men in Samar province in September.(Maurice Malanes / Anglican Media)


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