Pastor disputes Philippines government human rights record claims
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (BosNewsLife)– A Protestant pastor who says he was tortured while being detained in the Philippines has warned of widespread killings and other attacks against church members in the Asian nation.
In comments obtained by BosNewsLife Monday, May 4, Berlin Guerrero of the United Church of Christ said claims made by the Philippines government to a good human rights track record “are utterly false”.
The pastor testified last week for the United Nations Committee against Torture, amid reports of executions and other abuses carried out by the Philippines’ military. Victims have been accused of supporting rebel groups opposing the government. “Church people have not been spared from torture,” Guerrero told the UN Committee. “Most of the victims of torture among church people are from member churches of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and I am one of those who have been victimized,” Guerrero added.
There were 1,010 documented victims of torture in the Philippines between 2001 and 2008. Extra judicial killings over the same period amounted to 991, according to cited figures by the human rights group ‘Karapatan’, or Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights. Guerrero spoke before the 42nd session of the UN Committee against Torture meeting in Geneva, Switzerland last week to review the human rights record of Philippines and other countries.
Guerrero was abducted May 27, 2007 in front of his family, soon after Sunday worship at the local church in Malaban, Biñan, WCC said. “No warrant of arrest was shown despite our pleas and protests,” he recalled in his statement to the UN committee.
After “one year, three months and 15 days”, he was released because of the “insufficiency of evidence” against him. “To experience this kind of persecution strengthened and confirmed my faith,” he said. “While in detention I was happy to be able to serve the prison community by starting a Christian ministry to my fellow detainees.”
The World Council of Churches had campaigned for his release. Guerrero said although international pressure helped decrease “extra judicial executions” in the Philippines, they could increase again ahead of a scheduled general election next year. “With general elections scheduled for 2010 they are peaking again, with a rate of one person killed every week.”
Raymond Manalo, another torture victim, was among those accompanying Guerrero during his WCC-sponsored appearance in front of the UN Committee. Manalo, a 27-year old farmer in San Ildefonso, in the northern province of Bulacan, was allegedly abducted together with his brother Reynaldo in February 2006. He was reportedly held for 18 months in three different secret detention facilities within military camps.
“The soldiers beat us with pieces of wood on our backs and different parts of our bodies, beat us with chains, burn different parts of our bodies with cigarettes and heated metal tin, kicked us with their combat boots on, hit us with the butts of their rifles, poured gasoline on my waist and legs while threatening to burn me,” Manalo told the UN committee.
He witnessed “soldiers summarily killing civilians whom they accused of being rebels or aiding them” as well as other captives being tortured. After admitting to his captors’ accusations, the torture was eased and he entered a slave work regime.
Manalo escaped with his brother in August 2007. With help from human rights organizations he was able to file criminal complaints against members of the military he was able to identify amongst his alleged torturers.
“I do not want this ordeal to happen to anybody else. I wish that the extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture in my country will stop […] I hope that President Gloria Arroyo will end the impunity,” Manalo said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
The government has denied widespread human rights abuses and says it is targeting groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) a Muslim revolutionary group located in Southern Philippines.
It is one of several armed groups fighting against the government for the alleged oppression and suppression to the Bangsamoro people since the Philippines gained independence from the United States of America in 1946.
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