Monday, June 04, 2007

Ka Bel's freedom regained at last!

Dear Comrades, friends and allies,

Great news! Rep. Crispin "Ka Bel" Beltran will very soon walk free from unjust detention! Various people's organizations immediately gathered and rejoiced this afternoon over the Supreme Court's decision to junk the trumped up rebellion cases against Ka Bel, the Batasan 5 and other progressive leaders. (Along with a couple of articles below are our wholehearted thanks for your solidarity.)

We owe this not to the Supreme Court but to the local and international mass movement that caught the world's attention and created overwhelming international pressure on the Philippine government to free Ka Bel. We thank the hundreds of organizations in at least 33 countries that have thrown their support for Ka Bel in various ways - solidarity messages to Ka Bel, protest letters to the government, picket protests in Philippine embassies, fact-finding missions and solidarity visits - all these have sustained and even heightened Ka Bel's morale all throughout his 15 years of incarceration.

But the fight for freedom and justice isn't over yet - the real criminals must be made pay for the 15 months of injustice on Ka Bel and the toiling masses that he represents; for arresting Rep. Ka Satur Ocampo, and attempting to arrest Representatives Ka Paeng Mariano, Liza Maza, Teddy Casino, Joel Virador and several other leaders of the progressive people's movement; for the continuing political repression and extra-judicial killings that had claimed lives of hundreds of labor and peasant activists and human rights fighters. Also, we must ensure that comrade Dennis Maga, spokesperson for the Free Ka Bel Movement, is not arrested or worse when he returns home to the Philippines after exposing Pres. Arroyo's human rights violations in New Zealand.

Let us press the Philippine government to immediately, without any delay, implement the Supreme Court Order to Free Ka Bel. Let us continue calling on Pres. Arroyo to Stop Political Persecution, Harrasment and Extra-Judicial Killings and bring the perpetrators to justice.

This week, Pres. Arroyo's three consecutive state visits in Japan, New Zealand and Australia were all hounded by protests. We ask you to encourage your allies, friends and comrades in Italy, Germany, Portugal and China, where Mrs. Arroyo will next set foot on, to echo our calls for freedom and justice. On June 03, Pres. Arroyo will be in Rome, Italy for the canonization of the Blessed Marie Eugenie, from which she will fly to Lisbon, Germany to meet with Pres. Anibal Cavaco Silva, as well as to visit the Shrine of the Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima. She will then proceed to Portugal to meet with the Filipino community, and later will head for China.

Through our solidarity, we regained Ka Bel's freedom.
Through our solidarity, we will find freedom and justice for all the oppressed.

Matt McCarthen: Faith meeting hides hypocrisy of controversial participant

5:00AM Sunday June 03, 2007
By Matt McCarten

Over the past week, two visitors from the Philippines have been guests in New Zealand. One of them, Philippines President Gloria Arroyo, was welcomed into the country by the Government. The other, Dennis Maga, a leading trade union and human rights activist in the Philippines, was welcomed here by a number of trade unions, including my own, and other progressive groups.

Arroyo was feted at a State luncheon with our prime minister. Her fellow countryman, Maga, spoiled it all by imprisoning himself in a cage on the steps of Parliament. Maga's aim was to draw our attention to the fact that while they were nibbling on New Zealand's finest foods, Arroyo's political opponents who hadn't already been murdered were languishing in prisons without being convicted of any crime.

Helen Clark and Arroyo then popped off to Waitangi to meet other international guests to chat about religious good deeds. The purpose was to discuss how religion could be used for good, rather than as a vehicle for fanatics and opportunists to kill people they didn't like.

Of course, the irony of their guest heading up a murderous regime at the Inter-Faith Dialogue organized by our Government has obviously missed their attention. Since Arroyo came to power six years ago, almost 900 political killings – three a week have taken place, according to reputable human rights groups. This is on top of a similar number who have disappeared or been kidnapped and who are presumed to be dead.

Terrorism's best recruits are from the urban poor in countries like the Philippines. Yet 130 members of a political party that lawfully organises the urban poor to fight for their rights have been murdered.

And it's getting worse. In last month's election alone, 126 people, including candidates and ballot scrutineers, were killed. One political leader was abducted, and another narrowly escaped a similar fate. Ballot scrutineers claim thousands of votes for opposition parties were discarded, and in numerous cases they were forced to register non-existent votes for candidates allied with Arroyo.

Maybe someone could have pointed out at the Inter-Faith Dialogue that the number of victims in one of the guest's countries far surpassed the region's casualties from terrorism. Maybe a little less prayer and more soul-searching might have been a better use of time.

I suppose it's easier for our Government and media to focus on the antics of protesters outside the Waitangi Marae than to expose Arroyo or the hypocrisy of hosting her. There is no doubt in my mind that if Jesus were alive today, he'd be with the protesters outside the marae, and I mean the real protest with Maga, not the grandstanding by Destiny's Brian Tamaki that the media focused on.

We stoop low when we take the antics of an ambitious fundamentalist politician seriously when he claims we must be run as a Christian country. Christian fundamentalists don't seem to get the irony that while they're berating New Zealand for not being a Christian state, they're attacking as backward Islamic countries.

It's the warped thinking of these Christian that gets us into quagmires like Iraq. The real danger is not secularism. It's fundamentalists like Tamaki, who lead us all into extremism. If there is a God, it would be interesting to hear Him giving the bishop a good telling off when he dies for his Unchristian behaviour. It'd be almost as much fun as the telling off that our other fundamentalist wannabee politician, pastor Graham Capill, will be getting.

Even Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who was present at the meeting, confused Tamaki's silliness with the real issue that Maga and his supporters were making. Peters claimed that the protesters were being disrespectful to the marae and the local people. But local Maori spokesman Arthur Harawira quite rightly said it was the Government who was disrespectful to local Maori by bringing in someone whose regime was murdering its own people.

Despite the wringing of hands of the dialogue participants, it's not religion that is the cause of terrorism. It's the rise of unearned privilege by the rich and powerful at the expense of ordinary people. When the rich and powerful suppress their people and kill their leaders, then some people abandon legitimate political activity and turn to extremism.

Dennis Maga is not a terrorist or an extremist. He was invited to New Zealand to tell us the truth about Arroyo and her regime. But by bearing peaceful witness to the murderous regime in the Philippines, he has now been marked for death by embarrassed leaders in his country. His trade union in the Philippines learnt this week that he will be arrested and imprisoned when he returns. Another reliable source says he will be murdered. These aren't idle threats. One of my staff was in the Philippines for a week this year, and in that time, three trade union activists were murdered, apparently by state forces. Maga's family and supporters have begged him not to return until he has an assurance from Arroyo and her government that this won't happen.

The attendees of the Inter-Faith Dialogue and our Government must ask Arroyo to promise them that no harm will come to Maga. If she doesn't, he mustn't leave New Zealand. If something does happen to him, all attendees of the Inter-Faith Dialogue will be associates of a known terrorist.

Wellington Protest

NZ to help on Philippines human rights

Page 1 of 2 5:00AM Tuesday May 29, 2007
Philippines President Gloria Arroyo is a little off target with her hongi with Warrant Officer Doug Wallace in Wellington yesterday.

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo is a little off target with her hongi with Warrant Officer Doug Wallace in Wellington yesterday.

New Zealand will help the Philippines improve its poor human rights record, following a wave of extra-judicial killings and questionable political detentions in that country.

Prime Minister Helen Clark announced the help - as well as police and environment agreements - during a state-visit by Philippines President Gloria Arroyo.

But while the two leaders were giving a joint Beehive press conference, Filipino unionist Dennis Maga stood outside in a cage to protest the execution-style killing of an estimated 800 left-wing activists and journalists since 2001.

Mr Maga also called for the release of prominent left-wing lawmaker Crispin Beltran who has been in custody on what his supporters say are spurious coup-plotting charges for over a year.

Inside, Helen Clark refused to condemn Mrs Arroyo's record, but said the Government was committed to providing help.

Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan had spoken with her Philippines counterpart and the pair were looking at what form help could take.

An initial area of co-operation was likely to be support for human-rights based training for the Philippines police and military.

Several independent watchdogs, including United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston have blamed the police and military as the most likely culprits for the killings.

Mrs Arroyo yesterday acknowledged her country had a problem with political killings, but said it was fighting to improve its record.

It had set up a commission with special courts to look into the killings, had allocated more money for investigators and was introducing new laws to protect witnesses.

There had already been arrests relating to the slayings, and some trials of soldiers.

"We are in a fight to turn around our history of political violence and retribution.

"Like our economic turnaround, we are slowly, surely, and steadily breaking down the cycle of violence."

She welcomed New Zealand's offer of help.

She said in the case of Mr Beltran, due process was being followed. But Mr Maga disagreed, highlighting the Inter-Parliamentary Union's criticism of his continuing detention.

In relation to the killings, Mr Maga said the Government had not gone far enough and the killings had not stopped.

Mrs Arroyo's regime was the worst in his country's history, with the political death toll - about 130 a year - worse than the 100 a year that had been killed under dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 1980s, he said.

Mr Maga, brought out to New Zealand by the National Distribution Union, will take his protest to the Regional Interfaith Dialogue today, which both leaders will attend.