The government of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is well known for its shoot-first “war on drugs” that has claimed thousands of victims since 2016. Investigate PH, an independent commission with United Church general secretary Rev. Michael Blair among its high-level members, wants to hold the regime accountable for widespread human rights abuses.
Investigate PH released its first of three reports in mid-March, and found that Philippine police and military were implicated in at least 376 extrajudicial killings up to the end of last year, including “journalists, church people, indigenous people, human rights workers, lawyers, and environmental advocates.” Many of those killed are first “red-tagged” or publicly named as Communists or terrorists.
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The second report, which came out in early July, highlighted police involvement in covering up and obstructing justice for extrajudicial killings, as well as the role of the United States, Canada and other countries in aiding human rights abuses through providing financial aid, weapons, training and intelligence.
The testimonies in the first report, says Blair, “are heart-wrenching to the point of numbness.” But it’s important for United Church people “to continue to make these issues open, to bring them to the light, to call upon our governments here in Canada to be responsive to the violation of human rights.”
The United Church of Canada is pleased to announce the appointment of the Rev. Michael Blair as its new General Secretary beginning November 1, 2020. Find out more: https://t.co/8UJvsZCWnr#UCCan pic.twitter.com/EM5js63XBy
— United Church Canada (@UnitedChurchCda) August 28, 2020
Of the 17 commissioners and sub-commissioners from church and civil groups in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia, two more have a United Church connection: Rev. Chris Ferguson, a former General Council staff person now serving as general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches; and Rev. Marie-Claude Manga, representing KAIROS Canada.
The commission’s findings build on a June 2020 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that also implicated the Duterte regime in killings and human rights abuses but failed to approve further investigation or effective action. Investigate PH’s reports, including a third report to be released in September, will go to the UN Human Rights Council this year and later to the International Criminal Court.
“We want to create a situation where we actually make a difference,” says Ferguson, “where lives are saved, and violations of people’s lives and livelihoods stop.”
With files from Emma Prestwich
Mike Milne is a writer living in Owen Sound, Ont.
A version of this story first appeared in Broadview’s July/August 2021 issue with the title “Church leaders join Philippine human rights investigation.”
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