Philippines killings sign of undemocratic society: Bishop

As news spreads of the shooting of the leader of a fishermen's group, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Vice-President Bishop Antonio Ledesma has described the spate of killings of activist and human rights workers as a sign of an undemocratic society.

In the latest killing, Orlando Rivera, a local leader of Pamalakaya, a the nationwide federation of fisherfolk organisations, was shot by four heavily armed men who barged into his house in Bulacan province, Philstar.com reports.

Mr Rivera's group has been protesting the operation of a garbage site and the passage of trash-laden barges along the Obando River, according to Rafanan and Ruth Cervantes, a spokeswoman for the local human rights group Karapatan.

On Tuesday, the London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the Philippine government had "failed to protect individuals and their human rights."

But the Presidential Palace rejected what it called "blanket accusations" by Amnesty over the spate of unsolved political killings in the country.

A spokesperson said President has "openly denounced these killings, pressured our law enforcement agencies through her 10-week deadline" to solve the killings and "expressed her intention to create a new special probe team for this purpose."

"These killings are appalling and the President condemns them in the strongest possible terms," said the spokesperson.

President Arroyo ordered police early this month to make arrests in connection with at least 10 political killings or attacks on journalists in the past 10 weeks.

Amnesty said police have arrested suspects in just three of 114 cases since 2001 which a special task force has been assigned to investigate.

Speaking to Catholic Radio Veritas, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Vice-President Bishop Ledesma (pictured) warned that "we are trying to avoid the same pattern of killings we had before martial law years. This is really a sign of undemocratic society."

"We can't really stand upright and say that we are for human rights when there are extra-judicial killings taking place in our society," Bishop Ledesma stressed.

Meanwhile, the Uniting Church in Australia, has released a report in Canberra on its investigation into the deaths of 14 clergy and members of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines since May 2005, according to a SunStar report.

"The 14 cases of murder and summary execution outlined in this report suggest the use of serial killings and systematic violence by the Philippine military and the police to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation," the report said.

"That faithful and nonviolent Christians are the target of such sustained violence amounts to an organised regime of Christian persecution with, at the very least, the tacit approval of the Philippine government," it concluded.

Philippine Ambassador Ernesto De Leon said he "strongly" objected to the claim.

"We are one with you in finding out the truth behind all these killings, and I assure you that the government of the Philippines will not condone, tolerate or even support any of these killings," Mr de Leon told church leaders at the report launch.

He also urged the church to probe whether its members were behaving provocatively toward security forces.

Another activist shot dead in Bulacan (Philstar.com, 17/8/06)
Australian church blames RP gov't in murders of Protestants (Sun Star, 16/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bishop Antonio Ledesma
Philippines: Growing number of political killings risks retaliatory spiral (Amnesty International, Media Release, 15/8/06)

Bishop's nephew in latest Philippines political shooting (CathNews, 7/8/06)
Catholic reporter shot dead in Philippines
Philippines Church officials criticise Vatican declaration (CathNews, 11/9/00)

17 Aug 2006