U.S. House member expresses concern over political killings

Rep. Joseph Courtney of the U.S. House of Representatives has expressed concern over the spate of extra-judicial killings that continues under President Benigno S. Aquino III. A member of the powerful Armed Services Committee, Courtney said that although the Philippines is “a friend and …I strongly believe that we cannot tolerate the unacceptable human rights conditions.”

Courtney’s statement was contained in a letter he wrote to Epifanio San Juan, Jr. San Juan, Jr. is a Filipino-American literary academic, writer, and poet and a director of the Philippines Cultural Studies in Connecticut. In 1999, San Juan, Jr. received the Centennial Award for Achievement in Literature from the Cultural Center of the Philippines because of his contributions to Filipino and Filipino American Studies. The U.S. Congress has taken note of the political killings in the Philippines reminding the former Arroyo government that military aid will be contingent on human rights record performance. Representative Courtney’s letter follows:

August 13, 2010

Dear Epifanio,

Thank you for contacting me regarding human rights concerns in the Philippines. I appreciate your comments and having the benefit of your views.

As you know, the level of political violence in the Philippines is very troubling. Human rights groups have documented more than 800 cases of extrajudicial killings since 2001, including religious workers, labor leaders, farmers, journalists and students. It is estimated that pre-election violence claimed at least 50 victims before the May 2010 national elections. Ongoing violence between the Philippine armed forces and Muslim separatist groups has continued to increase the death toll.

In response to the human rights crisis, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created the "Melo Commission" to investigate the human rights atrocities. In January 2008, the Commission filed an initial report that has found the Filipino military and police force accountable for the extrajudicial killings. The United Nations has also stated the Filipino military is in "almost total denial" regarding the human rights situation. Newly elected President Benigno Aquino III has vowed to fight corruption and end the conflict with separatist groups peacefully. In June 2010, President Aquino announced the creation of a 'Truth Commission' to investigate allegations of corruption and human rights abuse which occurred during former President Arroyo's nine year presidency.

You may be interested to learn that Representative Edward Royce of California introduced H.Res.1435, which condemns the recent violence against members of the media in the Philippines, on July 21, 2010. This resolution recognizes the ongoing violence and murder of members of the media, particularly those known for investigating corruption and political issues. Over 65 members of the media have been murdered in the past 20 years, while only 5 of these murder cases obtained convictions. This lack of convictions and the ongoing media intimidation prevents the Philippines from establishing true freedom of speech. This legislation was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where it awaits further consideration.

The Philippines is a friend and ally of the United States, but I strongly believe that we cannot tolerate the unacceptable human rights conditions as experienced under the previous administration in the Philippines. In Fiscal Year 2009, the United States provided $138 million in grant funding to promote peace and encourage economic development. Please be assured that I share your concerns and will continue to monitor President Aquino's investigations into human rights abuses.

Again, thank you for sharing your views on this issue with me. Should you have any additional comments or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me in the future. For more information on my work in Congress, please visit my website at courtney.house.gov and sign up for my e-newsletter at courtney.house.gov/forms/emailsignup. You can also connect with me at facebook.com/joecourtney or receive updates from twitter.com/connecticutjoe.


Member of Congress

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