Wednesday, September 7, 2005
By Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center with BosNewsLife New Delhi Bureau Chief Vishal Arora
MANILA/NEW DELHI (BosNewsLife)-- A human rights lawyer was killed and a church pastor died following a previous attack in the Philippines amid concern the military is involved in growing violence against Christian activists, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said Tuesday, September 6.
In a statement obtained by BosNewsLife the AHRC, a leading advocacy group, said "lawyer, Norman Bocar, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen in Borongan," the capital of the Eastern Visayas region, September 1. "It was reported that Bocar was coming out from a meeting when shot in the head by his attackers riding on a motorcycle. He was the regional chairman of Bayan, a human rights group fighting for the poor and oppressed" at the time of his death, the group said.
In addition Rev. Raul Domingo of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, one of the country's largest Protestant denominations and a leader of human rights group Karapatan died Sunday, September 4, at the Philippine Lung Cancer Center in Manila, two weeks after being shot, the AHRC added.
"He was comatose and did not recover after he was shot" August 20 in the area of Puerto Princessa, the capital of Palawan island, about 500 kilometers (about 312 miles) southwest of Manila, the organization said. Domingo is survived by his wife and five children. He "was a dedicated pastor" who "denounced military abuses and large-scale mining in the Southern Tagalog region." He had been the "victim of harassment and under threats in the past several years before he was shot." the group added.
"He was the latest victim of killings against activists and church leaders" earlier this year including Attorney Felidito of Tacloban City, Rev. Edison Lapuz of Visayas, Fr. William Tadena of Luzon, activist Joel Baclao and others, reported the AHRC.
The AHRC said it had learned of the killings from well informed sources within the Promotion of Church People Response group.
"These latest attacks and violence against human rights activist in the Philippines, in particular in the islands of Visayas demonstrate that the killings of activists are continuing unabated...The government [is] failing to arrest those responsible and prevent further attacks and violence from reoccurring."
The AHRC complained about "the impunity" enjoyed by the alleged perpetrators which it said was "mainly a result of an ineffective witness protection program by the government." It stressed that "since these systematic attacks began," most of the attackers "have not been identified, arrested or prosecuted. There are also strong suspicions that they could in fact be military agents."
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) denied previous allegations about human rights abuses, while the government was investigating executions.
However human rights activists say that families and relatives of the dead have also opted not cooperate for "fear of their life and safety." The AHRC said it has urged the Philippine government, "in particular the Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights to seriously take immediate steps to address these cases" and to "consider placing witnesses under a witness protection program." It has also asked authorities to better protect victims families.
The United States State Department has linked reported abuses to the military legacy established by the previous regime of president Ferdinand Marcos. "Some elements of the security forces, including police, soldiers, and local civilian militias, committed human rights abuses. Since the 1986 overthrow of the Marcos regime, some elements of the armed forces have undertaken extra-constitutional actions, including coup attempts," is said in its recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
The new row over human rights came as the Philippine Congress rebuffed a bid to impeach President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo Tuesday, September 6, but the opposition pledged it would continue to work for her removal through popular pressure, which also toppled previous leaders.
Opposition representatives have accused her of fraud and corruption during last year's election, after a tape was released of her talking with an election official during the counting of votes. While she admitted to "a lapse in judgment" and apologized publicly, she denied "any illegal or impeachable act." (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from the Philippines and Washington).
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