Monday, January 27, 2020

Filipino-Canadians demand justice for slain farmers in Negros

About 20 Filipino human rights activists staged a protest on Wednesday, April 10, condemning the recent killings of 14 farmers in Negros Oriental and urging the Canadian government to stop "all security and military assistance to the Philippines." Protesters stood outside 160 Eglinton Avenue East, a busy midtown street where the Philippine Consulate is located, chanting: "No justice, no peace. Stop the killings in the Philippines. Not a nickel, not another dime, no more money for Duterte’s crime." Curious passersby were handed leaflets that demanded justice for the farmers, saying like Filipinos killed in the so-called "war on drugs" in the Philippines, they were "victims of the violent and oppressive policies of the Duterte administration."

The protest was part of a "Global Day of Action" urging "Justice for Negros 14," which simultaneously took place in other Canadian cities, including Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver. It was organized by cause-oriented groups Bayan-Canada, Migrante, and the International Coalition of Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP). Eight farmers were killed in Canlaon City, two in Sta Catalina town and 4 in Manjuyod town March 30. The Philippine National Police claimed they were killed during an anti-criminality campaign. (READ: Cops in bloody Negros Oriental operations took victims' money – relatives)

End tokhang-style operations But Rhea Gamana, secretary general of Bayan-Canada, disagreed, saying the farmers were massacred as part of the Duterte government’s organized effort to silence Filipinos clamoring for justice and human rights. Some of those killed were peasant leaders clamoring for genuine land reform, she said. (READ: Rights groups call for independent probe into Negros Oriental killings) "The scenario is quite familiar. Struggling poor people challenging the government to uphold their rights, subjected to tokhang-style criminal justice operations disguised as war on drugs," she said. Gamana said about 200 peasants have been killed in the last 3 years. "This means one peasant is killed every 5 days in relation to land disputes." Gamana also urged Filipino-Canadians to "take to task the Duterte fascist regime for waging war against the Filipino people." She encouraged them to support human rights defenders in the Philippines and to attend the ICHRP conference scheduled May 11 to 12 in Ottawa.

"There is cooperation around security programs between Canada and the Philippines," Bern Jagunos of the ICHRP said in an interview. She cited training provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to the Bangsamoro police, as an example of this cooperation. Canada also provides about C$5 million multilateral funding for counter-terrorism programs through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN.)

Jagunos said the ICHRP has filed an access to information request to find out how much military assistance Canada gives to the Philippines, but has not had any success. Reconsider chopper sale

In 2017, Canada provided C$23.5 million in bilateral and multilateral aid to the Philippines for projects that promote gender equality, education, economic growth, environment, and climate action and peace and security, according to the Canadian International Development Platform.

Funds came from multiple sources, including the RCMP (which is under Canada’s defense department), which contributed C$55,986. There is no breakdown, however, on where the aid goes. The only time Canadian-Philippine security relations came into public view in Canada was on February 9, 2018, when then-Canadian trade minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced the cancellation of a controversial US$235 million trade deal to sell 16 new Canadian-made Bell 142 helicopters to the Philippines.

He said the cancellation was due to the Liberal government’s decision to review the agreement a day after it was signed February 6. The review was prompted by an Agence France-Presse report that quoted Philippine defense department spokesperson Arsenio Andolong as having said that the helicopters were “multi-purpose aircraft for anti-terrorism as well as HADR,” the military parlance for disaster response and humanitarian missions. Champagne said it had been Canada’s understanding that they were only to be used for humanitarian and disaster relief operations. Angered by the delay, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the cancellation of the agreement.

Earlier in 2017, the ICHRP had already sounded the alarm. Jagunos wrote a letter to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland asking her to look into reports that 8 Canadian-made helicopters sold to the Philippines in 2015 were being used in airstrikes during military operations against communist rebels and that these had also targeted civilian communities in Malibcong, Abra. The ICHRP again urged Canadian officials to reconsider the decision to facilitate the sale of the new batch of 16 helicopters, citing the Duterte government’s poor human rights record, which included thousands of extrajudicial killings related to the "war on drugs."

The Canadian government went ahead and signed the agreement, however, until that fateful comment from Andolong forced it to reconsider.

Months after the cancellation, reports surfaced that Bell Helicopter was trying to revive the deal, according to the National Post. But the Canadian Commercial Corporation, the federal government agency which brokered the original deal, had stated it was not going to facilitate Bell’s plan, the Post reported.