Sunday, August 9, 2009

Recommendations from the fields of Mindanao

Since 9-11, the U.S. has been poviding $30 million in military assistance annually as part of a counter-terror operation in the Philippines. This assistance is being subsumed in the larger civil war between Bangsamoror freedom fighters and the Philippine government. Unfortunately, this puts the U.S. on the side of one of the most corrupt governments in Asia, where impunity is widespread.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty international, Human Rights watch and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions have all conducted and issued extensive reports on this in the past several years. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines 6th in it's world impunity index, worse than Mexico, Russia and Afghanistan. Filipino humanitarian workers in Mindanao recently found over 200 houses burned by the Philippine army, which is directly supported by American tax dollars. Peacebuilders field workers have witnessed the deployment in central Mindanao of “ghost units” of the Philippine military, operating without insignia or identification.

To top it off, Melissa Roxas, an American woman from California volunteering as a community health outreach worker, was recently abducted, tortured and accused of being a communist. Evidence suggests that this was carried out by agents of the Philippine military. This has been widely reported in Philippine news, but not in the U.S.

These are just several examples of the many human rights problems in the Philippines. The government and military here have virtually no accountability. Rarely is there prosecution and conviction of perpetrators, if even an effective investigation.

Currently, only $2 million of the 30 million U.S. military aid is contingent on human rights conditions. We are at an important juncture as the government and Muslim sides in Mindanao have declared a truce in the fighting and the country heads into it's "election season" for the 2010 presidential elections. The U.S. government needs to make it clear that fighting terror does not mean condoning rampant impunity and disregard for basic human rights.

Therefore, we at Peacebuilders Community are remmending the following policy initiatives:

1) Immediate suspension of U.S. military aid to the Philippines pending an inquiry into counter-insurgency military operations, human rights and impunity, especially the case of American citizen Melissa Roxas.

2) Creation of a multi-sectoral task force to visit the Philippines to investigate the human rights situation and make recommendations for further policy changes.

3) Re-positioning of U.S. policy and program initiatives related to the civil war in Mindanao as a more neutral arbiter.

4) Conven an international advisory group of peace "elders," especially from the Muslim nations, to help shepherd the peace process forward for both the Muslim and Communist insurgency and to submit recommendations for a long term transitional/restorative justice process (aka, truth & reconciliation commission).

5) The creation of a UN peacekeeping force to intervene in Mindanao.

6) Creation of an environmental report card/sign posts for appropriate development so that the root causes of conflict are addressed in an ecological way.

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