Protest picket at the White House

during the Obama-GMA meeting


Washington D.C.


July 30, 2000


Prayer Vigil in San Francisco, California



Photo by Paul Tañedo


Photos courtesy of KItim


29 July 2009
Reference: Garry Martinez, Chairperson-09217229740
Ailyn Abdula, Media Officer, 09212708994

Migrants group to Obama: What change?

A global alliance of migrant Filipinos dubbed the Obama-Arroyo meeting as another raw deal- in- the -making that will guarantee continued assurance for the United State’s interest in the Philippines in exchange for President Arroyo’s way out from the wrath of the Filipino people.
“President Arroyo’s main agenda in meeting President Obama is how she will be assured of her safety from prosecution once her term ends in 2010. Such assurance could include the US nod to her plan to be prime minister through charter change after the election,” explains Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International.

Martinez expects that President Arroyo will in turn assure that US interest will continue to be its prime concern. The deal, Martinez alleged, will include not only the revisions in economic provision in the Constitution favoring foreign businesses but also of its continued support to the US War on Terror through the Visiting Forces Agreement and its Anti-Terrorism Law.
“President Obama has made change his mantra along with the calls for respecting human rights and abhorrence to despotic leaders. For him to shake hands with President Arroyo, who represents all that is opposite to his alleged principles, means only that much is at stake for the US. In this looming shady deal, only one thing is certain: the Filipino people who will once again be left in the losing end.” declared Martinez.

Migrante added that there is no way that President Obama can come out clean after the said meeting. The group suspects that President Arroyo has already prepared a spin on how she will politically benefit after the photo opportunity with President Obama.

“President Arroyo is a shrewd political opportunist. She will shamelessly capitalize on the said meeting as her shroud of protection and blessing for her diabolical plans. This is the very same reason why she made her SONA so vague on her political plans,” Martinez added.
Despite its avowed pessimism of the meeting, however, the group still stated their message to President Obama on his meeting with President Arroyo.

“The change we want is for the US domination in the Philippines to end so that we can finally chart our own future as a genuine sovereign nation. The change we want is for us to harvest the wealth of our nation and rebuild a society where families are not broken up by force migration. If President Obama is not ready to accept this kind of change, then the only change that will be revealed in the near future is the change on his true political color,” Martinez concluded. ###


Press Statement
July 31, 2009

Katrina Abarcar, Katarungan: Center for Peace, Justice, and Human Rights in the Philippines, email:;
Peter Arvin Jabido, NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP)

US-based rights groups are registering disappointment over the outcome of US President Barack Obama’s meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines yesterday at the White House.

“Yesterday, Obama shook hands with a leader who stands on the wrong side of history,” states Gary Labao of the NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), a New York City-based human rights advocacy organization. “Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo fits the description of one who clings to power though deceit, corruption, and the silencing of dissent to a tee.”

A few hours before Arroyo’s arrival on the White House driveway, DC-rights group Katarungan: Center for Peace, Justice, and Human Rights in the Philippines and the Columban Center for Outreach and Advocacy sponsored a prayer vigil for the victims of extrajudicial killings and abductions by the Philippine military in front of the White House gate. Other sponsors of the vigil included the Ecumenical Advocacy Network for the Philippines, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church-USA Washington DC Office, the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, the Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ, the International Labor Rights Forum, and NYCHRP.

Members of NYCHRP, Anakbayan NY/NJ, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment, and Sandiwa Fil-Am Youth Alliance traveled from New York to join the vigil, in which around 50 advocates stood in a circle in front of the White House gates and renewed their call for US Congress to cut a greater amount of US military aid to the Philippines and tag greater human rights conditions. Also discussed was the case of Melissa Roxas, an American abducted and tortured in the Philippines last May. It is widely-believed that Roxas was taken by elements of the 7th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) based in Central Luzon.

Katrina Abarcar of Katarungan spoke on Roxas’ behalf and reiterated the words from a statement of Roxas, who is currently in the Philippines testifying against the Philippine military– “I can no longer count how many times I have narrated the incident and my ordeal. But I will not tire to tell the truth about what happened for I seek justice, not only for myself, but for others who have gone through the same. I seek justice, not only for what they did to me, but for other victims of human rights violations.”


Arroyo’s White House Arrival Met with Protest

After the vigil, the rights groups staged a protest in front of the White House gates in anticipation of Arroyo’s arrival.

Chanting “Gloria Tuta, Diktador Pasista!” (Gloria, Puppet! Fascist Dictator!) and “Inutang na Dugo, Singilin, Siniglin, Pagbayarin!” (Blood Debt, Payback Now!) and “Gloria, Don’t Lie to Me. Torture Don’t Make Democracy!”, as Arroyo’s car entourage drove into the White House driveway, protestors marched to and straddled the White House front gate with banners and signs reading “Justice for Melissa Roxas!” and “Obama: Say to No to Torture! Say No to Arroyo!”

During the 45-minute meeting between Obama and Arroyo, the groups stayed outside the White House holding picket-protest, explaining to tourists and passersby the state of unequal relations between the US and the Philippines, and why more Americans should demand that US Congress withdraw all forms of support to the Arroyo government.

Prior to the meeting, US human rights advocates were pushing for Obama to include raising the case of Roxas and human rights with Arroyo in person.

No Public Mention of Roxas or Human Rights in the Philippines

But the subsequent post-meeting press conference did not indicate whether or not the issues of Roxas or Arroyo’s human rights track record were raised behind closed doors. Instead, the only reference to human rights was Obama’s praise for Arroyo’s so-called efforts to address the human rights situation in Burma, as well as eagerness to work with the Arroyo government by appointing the Philippines as the coordinator of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), an economic organization of countries in the region framed to promote economic, social, and cultural progress.

“We assume his silence means he is more committed to continuing Bush’s foreign policy on the Philippines, which includes maintaining and even increasing US troop presence on the island nation, and using the Arroyo government as a proxy to uphold US economic and political interests in the region,” Abarcar said. “So much for standing ‘against torture wherever it takes place.’ ”

Arroyo critics continued with the picket until Arroyo’s departure, in which the chanting resumed until the car entourage was off the White House premises.

Katarungan and NYCHRP, along with other US-based groups and churches, have been actively lobbying the members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to cut a greater portion of US military aid to the Philippines. They expect a final decision on the 2010 military aid package released by September. ###



News Release
30 July 2009
Reference: Emmi de Jesus, Secretary General, 371-2302 / 0917-3221203

“Obama-Gloria, No Deal on ChaCha, Philippines Not for Sale” - GABRIELA

“Obama and Gloria, no deal on cha-cha! Philippines is not for sale!” This was the call of the militant women's group GABRIELA on the current talk between US President Barrack Obama and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“We are sure there will be a meeting of evil minds on the issue of charter change. The US is intent on further expanding and strengthening its economic, political and military power in the Philippines. Meanwhile, Arroyo is hell-bent in extending her term. Both these interests meet in the amendment of the Philippine Constitution,” said Emmi de Jesus, GABRIELA secretary general.

The women's group take particular issue on the proposed constitutional amendment that will formalize the Visiting Forces Agreement and remove the constitutional provision that disallows the US military bases within the Philippine territory.

“We cannot allow the US further military access in the country. As it is, countless Filipinos – women and men – has yet to get justice for the abuse and crimes committed against them by US soldiers. Yet, knowing how rabid a US lapdog Gloria, we can only surmise her complete sell out of Philippine sovereignty and dignity,” said De Jesus.

The women's group took part in the protest action in front of the US Embassy denouncing the US-Arroyo collusion against the Filipino people.

“No matter how their talk turns out, though, eventually the Filipino people's will shall prevail. And the people had spoken against charter change.”###

Public Information Department
GABRIELA National Office
(+632) 3712302



Following letter was sent to Obama through House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

His Excellency President Barack Obama
Washington District of Columbia
United States of America

Dear Mr. President,

We shared the wonderful jubilation of the American people during your historic election triumph. When you assumed office early this year, we rejoiced at the audacious hope that you inspired, and on your promise of change for the common good.

We joined all freedom loving people of the world who exulted when you declared that “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent…are on the wrong side of history.”

The Filipino people share the same morals, ideals and aspirations that define the envied way of life of the American people. Filipinos yearn for the same kind of leaders that the American people yearn for themselves; leaders who are imbued with the right values, lead principled lives, and govern withn the highest ethical standards. The ideals of justice, democracy and the upliftment of human rights animate the Filipino people’s dreams of a better world in much

the same way that these ideals animate the dreams of the American people.

Upon your invitation, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will have the chance to meet with you on July 30, 2009. In your meeting with Ms Arroyo, it may serve you well to be mindful of Ms Arroyo’s legacy of corruption, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, bribery, election cheating, among others. We do not wish to belabor you with details of these high crimes which have surely been documented and reported by the U.S. State Department to your Office.

The Filipino people also yearn for change from the effrontery of hopelessness and the curse of decadence that Ms Arroyo represents. In your meeting with Ms Arroyo, we feel confident that you will make clear to her that a Government that does not comply with the Principles of Democracy and respect for Human Rights cannot have the approval and support of your administration. We implore you Mr. President to inspire hope and be an instrument of change for the common good of the long suffering Filipino people.


Teofisto Guingona Jr. former vice president; Jovito R. Salonga, former Senate president;
Franklin Drilon, former Senate president; Camilo D. Quiason, former SC Justice;
Former senators Wigberto Tañada, Sergio Osmeña III, Vicente T. Paterno, Agapito A. Aquino;
Josefina T. Lichauco, former cabinet secretary, Concerned Citizens Movement; Francisco I. Chavez, former Solicitor General; Corazon J. Soliman, former cabinet secretary; Juan Santos, former cabinet secretary;
Jejomar C. Binay, mayor, Makati City; Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva, national chairman, PJM; Sr. Mary John Mananza, OSB, co-chairperson, AMRSP; Harry L. Roque, Jr., UP Law, Concerned Citizens Movement; Jun I. Lozada, state witness, ZTE/NBN



An Open Letter to Senator Barbara Boxer

Dear Senator Boxer,

Of all members of the United States Congress you are the one most informed about the human rights abuses taking place at the hands of the Armed Forces of the Philippine. In 2007 you were Chairperson of East Asia and Pacific Island Affairs Committee which held a hearing on the Philippines. Since that time many people, including myself, have met with members of your staff updating them on continued human rights abuses by the Philippine military which has victimized pastors, union leaders, journalists, lawyers, and community activists among others. Just this summer members of your staff in the San Francisco office met with Melissa Roxas, an American citizen of Philippine decent from the State of California, who was abducted and tortured last May, allegedly by the Philippine Military. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has said publically that her story is credible and is currently receiving testimony concerning her experiences. Because you are familiar with this important issue, and because one of the victims, Melissa Roxas, is from the state you represent, the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines asks you to make a public stand on behalf of human rights in the Philippines.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines and other groups around the country waged a successful effort to get human rights language in the Foreign Military Financing Appropriations in the State Department Foreign Operations bills for 2008 and 2009 and which supplied specific conditions to part of the money appropriated. Subsequently, there has been a decrease IN extrajudicial killings but virtually none of those responsible for the killings have been brought to justice. In addition, disappearances of community activists continue and there has been an increase in the filing of trumped up criminal charges like sedition and murder against members of opposition groups, a blatant effort to intimidate and stifle dissent.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston, who did an investigation of the Philippine situation in 2007 recently filed a follow-up report in which he stated, “---- most of the Government’s formal actions in response to the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations have been symbolic, and lack the substantive and preventive dimensions necessary to end the culture of impunity.” The response of the Government of the Philippines to this follow-up report is characterized by a statement to the press by Justice Secretary, Raul Gonzalez who said of the report: “We better just ignore it.”

The Philippine Judiciary is trying to address the problems of extra-judicial killings, abductions and torture but the Philippine military refuses to co-operate. The chairperson for the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines; Leila de Lima, has for instance publicly stated that the Philippine military has not co-operated with her investigation of the Melissa Roxas case and even tried to stop her from an onsite inspection of a military camp suspected as being where Roxas was held.

It is therefore most discouraging to discover that the Appropriations Committee of the United States Senate recently approved 33$ million in aid for the Armed Forces of the Philippine, above the previous years 30$ million, with only 2$ million having any human rights conditions attached. The comments from the committee on the Philippines mentioned how extra-judicial killings have decreased, but mention nothing about the rise in abductions, torture, illegal arrest and detention. We had asked the committee to include specific language about military co-operation in human rights investigations in the conditions, but this was ignored. The Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee is Daniel Inouye, Senator from the State of Hawaii, which has many retired Philippine military officers - who tend to retire very rich. Remember, where Ferdinand Marcos was sent when he was removed from office by the People Power Revolution of 1986? At Senator Inouye's insistence, appropriations to the Armed Forces of the Philippines stands as it is.

We strongly believe that the United States government should not be giving this kind of material support to the Philippine military until such time that extra-judicial killings, abductions, and torture comes to an end, and that the Philippine military is cooperating with all legal investigations and proceedings concerning human rights abuses on the part of its members. Therefore, the members of the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines asks Senator Barbara Boxer:

a.) Take the lead on this issue and publically go on record as opposing the Appropriations Bill as it now reads; to call for a substantial reduction in the funding of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, not exceeding the appropriations request of President Obama; and to call for the inclusion of measurable human rights conditions on at least one third of the money appropriated, specifically mentioning abductions and torture as well as extra-judicial killings.

b.) Publically ask President Barak Obama, when he meets President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines on July 30, to discuss human rights abuses by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and to insist that she go on record as commanding the military personnel to fully co-operate with all legal investigations and proceedings concerning extrajudicial killings, abductions and torture perpetrated by members of the military, and specifically that they fully co-operate in all legal investigations and proceedings in the case of American citizen Melissa Roxas.

The Filipino-American community, Church groups, and human rights organizations are beginning to be concerned at the lack of response from our government to these human rights abuses in the Philippines. Senator Boxer made some bold statements during her 2007 hearing, we hope she will begin to back them up with strong action.

Rev. Larry Emery
Pastor,Community Presbyterian Church, Walnut Grove CA
Spokesperson, Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines
(916) 284-6986 Text and cell
Twitter: lets_talk101



Obama and Arroyo: Time for a Reset
John Gershman | July 29, 2009
Editor: John Feffer
Foreign Policy In Focus

President Barack Obama will meet Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on July 30, his first meeting with a Southeast Asian head of state. Although it's too early to see where the Obama administration will take policy in Southeast Asia, Obama's personal connection to the region will likely increase Southeast Asia's profile in Washington.

This meeting marks a first opportunity for Obama to push the reset button on U.S. engagement toward the region. The administration is poised to move beyond the Bush team's narrow focus on counter-terrorism, its dismissal of regional institutions such as ASEAN, and its reliance on the Pacific Command as the dominant face of U.S. policy in the region.

Several developments make this an important juncture in U.S-Philippine relations. The Philippine government has launched a new offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines, with a mandate to rout the group by the end of the year and to capture three suspected members of the Indonesian terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiah, who are believed to be hiding on the island of Jolo. U.S. troops, which have been based in the Philippines since January 2002, are providing advice and intelligence and may be accompanying Philippine troops into combat. The long-term presence of U.S. troops has raised concerns over U.S. objectives in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government just announced a halt to offensive military operations against elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a political-military organization fighting for the self-determination of Muslim Filipinos (known as Moros) in the southern Philippines. Although a ceasefire has formally been in place since 2003, fighting broke out following the collapse of negotiations last year in a dispute over the status of land and natural resources in a political settlement. The fighting led to an increase of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Mindanao, currently estimated at 300,000-430,000, down from 600,000 last September.

Finally, peace negotiations between the government and the Marxist rebel group that has been fighting for nearly four decades are scheduled to reopen in August after a long hiatus.

Against this backdrop of war and negotiations, a series of recent reports by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House, the State Department, and the United Nations, describe the Arroyo administration's ongoing failure to hold perpetrators of political violence accountable. These reports chronicle the conscious and systematic erosion of democratic institutions and the rule of law.
Arroyo's Goals

President Arroyo will be aiming to use this visit to deflect attention from abysmal poll numbers and a poorly performing economy, as well as to ask for increased aid resources for the Philippines in the run up to elections next year.

Arroyo has the dubious honor of being the least popular president of the post-Marcos era and the only one since 1986 with a negative approval rating. In June, 26% percent of Filipinos surveyed approved and 56% disapproved of her performance. Accusations of election fraud in the 2004 elections and a series of major corruption scandals have driven down her popularity, a decline also reflected in several impeachment efforts and three coup attempts. Her political survival, purchased at the cost of the conscious erosion of already fragile democratic political institutions, has involved strengthening patronage networks in the Congress, granting the military carte blanche, and preventing the legislature from exercising oversight over the executive branch.

Despite increases in GDP, poverty rates in the Philippines increased from 2003-2006 (the latest figures available) according to economist Arsenio Balisacan. Overall, poverty rates have stagnated or worsened since 1997. Poverty and lack of access to basic services are worst in the Mindanao-Sulu region. Within that region, the very worst situation is in the autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao, which was established following a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front in the 1990s.
Human Rights and Wrongs

The Arroyo government stands accused of several varieties of human rights violations that are most closely related to the erosion of democracy and the rule of law. These include unlawful detention, torture, and extra judicial execution of activists, the impunity of attacks against journalists, and the resurgence of death squads operating at the behest of, or with the complicity of, local political elites. Other sources of civilian deaths in the Philippines are also important, including clan violence, bombings by terrorist organizations cum criminal gangs like Abu Sayyaf and the Rajah Solaiman group, and attacks on civilians by the MILF and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its military wing, the New People's Army (NPA). The CPP/NPA has pursued a strategy of assassinations against former members of the CPP as well as against independent left leaders, in violation of its own commitments to respect human rights as a signatory of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, which it signed along with Philippine government in 1998.

Attacks on citizen activists have increased under Arroyo, as part of a particular strategy of counterinsurgency against the CPP/NPA, which involves targeting citizens alleged by the military or police to be "linked to" or supportive of the CPP. Estimates of the total number of politically oriented extrajudicial executions since 2001 range from 200 (according to some government agencies) to over 800 (according to some Philippine human rights advocates). This is on top of accusations of disappearances, unlawful detentions, and harassment. Most recently, Melissa Roxas, a Filipino-American, has alleged that elements of the Philippine military kidnapped and tortured her in May, and has recently testified before the Philippine Commission on Human Rights regarding her allegations.


The main issue associated with these killings is the impunity of the perpetrators. According to Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions:

Since 2007, the Government has successfully prosecuted just one perpetrator of an extrajudicial execution. And not a single member of the armed forces has been convicted for killing leftist activists…Additionally, neither the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) nor the Philippine National Police (PNP) have significantly stepped up their investigations of the killings of leftist activists. Impunity for past killings, combined with a green light for future killings, will prevail unless there is a sharp change in course.

Journalists have been another major victim of assassinations, harassment, and threats. The Committee to Protect Journalists identifies 35 journalists killed as a result of their work in the Philippines from 1992-July 8, 2009 — the fifth highest in the world. Three journalists were murdered in June of this year alone. Yet only three cases have resulted in a conviction. The Committee ranks the Philippines sixth worldwide in its "Global Impunity Index," which lists countries that fail to prosecute cases of journalists killed for their work.

Although the military sometimes harasses and attacks journalists, local political disputes drive the majority of these incidents. There is no overarching strategy animating extrajudicial executions and harassment of activists. But the impunity associated with these issues reflects the same institutional problems: the weakness of the Philippine state, and unwillingness of the Arroyo administration and elites to subordinate the exercise of coercive force to constitutional principles.
Setting a New Tone

The Obama administration should use the meeting with Arroyo to begin laying the foundation for a new relationship with the Philippines, one that addresses the immediate human rights violations as well as long-term efforts to resolve the political and social conditions underlying insurgencies. This would require addressing concerns over the long-term presence of U.S. troops, ensuring that military aid doesn't fuel repressive and unaccountable military institutions, and providing aid that strengthens democracy and respect for human rights.

Under pressure from U.S. and Philippine human rights advocates, the U.S. Congress imposed conditions on a symbolic amount of military assistance ($2 million) in last year's budget, contingent on the human rights record of the Arroyo government. The funds were released even though the U.S. government didn't publicly report on the implementation of these conditions. Obama should publicly support transparent reporting on whether the Philippines has met those conditions.

The Obama administration can also ease suspicions over long-term objectives of U.S. policy by renouncing plans for the establishment of bases of any type and setting a timetable for withdrawal of the several hundred troops based in the Philippines. What was presented as a short-term deployment of U.S. advisors in early 2002 has now mushroomed to a de facto permanent presence of Special Operations forces in Mindanao, as well as a dramatic increase in other training efforts and military assistance. This task force doesn't benefit the long-term interests of the United States if such assistance reinforces unaccountable and repressive tendencies within the military and the police, weakens civilian control over the military, and contributes to erosion of the space for popular participation and citizenship.

Obama should resist calls for an expansion of aid and emphasize the importance of respect for human rights and positive steps toward addressing the political roots of insurgencies.

These aren't issues that can be resolved by outsiders, and a rapid increase in foreign aid could only reinforce unaccountable military and civilian institutions. Better and more aid should be on the agenda. As the International Crisis Group noted earlier this year, "It is not additional funds that are needed so much as creative thinking about how existing allocations could be used to maximum benefit."

Some U.S. foreign aid, especially in Mindanao, has supported valuable research and monitoring efforts on various aspects of violence in the Philippines, as well as the reintegration of former MNLF combatants and other development projects. But as a 2008 review of the impact of USAID's programs in Mindanao on conflict and peace noted, "these good but relatively limited programs have had little impact in changing the dominant patron-client patterns and electoral violence which persist in local politics. Little evidence is found that citizens are being helped to organize to work together through government/civil society mechanisms on shared local interests, or to advocate for Mindanao's policy and other needs as a whole region." In short, the political roots of violence and conflict remain only partially addressed.

The Obama administration should go beyond conditionality sanctions to actually providing resources to the Commission on Human Rights and other agencies that have demonstrated a commitment to combating impunity but lack resources. The targets of such efforts can be the perpetrators of violence against civilians, be they military, political elites, or non-state actors. The Commission on Human Rights, for example, remains an important but understaffed organization. U.S. assistance could be redirected from security assistance to aid in building the capacity to expanding is monitoring and investigations. Strengthening the political impact of the Commission's work will likely only come from changes in Philippine politics, however.

The United States should support such efforts and lead by example in terms of making its own aid more transparent and accountable, especially those aimed at the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and projects in lumad (indigenous) areas. Such programs should strengthen the participatory nature of these programs in ways that creating political space for citizen engagement and action. This would require altering the balance of assistance to the Philippines from the focus on security and military assistance to a focus on increasing the role for civil society organizations and participatory governance mechanisms.

Photos by Paul Tañedo
Prayer Vigil in San Francisco, California
St. Patrick's Cathedral

July 30, 2009