An Open Letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Nov. 13, 2012

9 November 2012

On the occasion of the State Visit to the Philippines

Dear Mr. Harper,

As Filipino Canadians with strong ties to our home country, we follow closely and with much interest your visit to the Philippines.  In your visit, we hope that as the Prime Minister of Canada that you will represent the Canada most Canadians want — the Canada that believes in justice, human rights and peacekeeping.

You have declared that “Canada’s relations with the Philippines continue to grow and diversify, aided by an increasingly important Canada-Filipino community.”  The Filipino community in Canada is now the largest source country for migrants to Canada; it is the fourth largest visible immigrant community, and one of the top three sending countries of temporary foreign workers to Canada.  Filipinos made up the largest group of Temporary Foreign Workers (2006 census) at 13.9 percent nationally.  As members and representatives of community groups and alliances, we would like to see relationships between Canada and the Philippines go beyond just the economic interests to include issues of human rights, sustainability, good governance and peace.

We believe that Canada’s relations with the Philippines in terms of trade, investments and foreign aid should not ignore the terrible human rights situation in the Philippines.  The human rights violations against the Filipino people are committed in a climate of impunity, with no perpetrator brought to justice.  The Philippine military officer turned politician Jovito Palparan, known to the public as the “butcher of Samar” and other places he was assigned for the trails of massacres and killings he left in his wake, still remains at large and the Philippine government is either helpless or complacent in hunting him down and arresting him.

From 2001, under the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to September this year under the presidency of Noynoy Aquino, there were a total of 1,320 extrajudicial killings, 218 enforced disappearances, thousands of people internally displaced from military operations in the rural areas and 386 political prisoners in detention centers and jails throughout the country.  Canada is in a position to raise the human rights situation with Philippine President Noynoy Aquino and to encourage the Philippine president and government to resume the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in a timely and equitable manner, to push for the release of the detained consultants as a sign of goodwill, and the arrest and trial of the perpetrators of human rights abuses — especially those still at large.

Canada itself is not without guilt when it comes to the entry and operations of Canadian mining companies in the Philippines.  Canadian mining companies continue to ravage the Philippines resulting in the theft of lands and environmental destruction, especially on indigenous lands.  In mining areas, the number of human rights violations (note that there is no acceptable number ever) continue to rise.  This includes Filipino anti-mining activists and the two foreign workers: Willem Geertman and Fr. Faustino Tentorio.  From March to October this year, a total of 28 indigenous persons, mostly anti-mining activists, were killed — four of whom were women and four others children.  As Prime Minister, you have the power and the influence to make this right.  Approximately 30% of the country’s resources (66% of the Cordillera region) is signed over to mining exploration or operations and these companies are listed in the Toronto Stock Exchange.  Late last year, President Aquino made it legal for mining companies to hire private militias.  This is a disgrace to Canada and to the Canadian people who may not know what Canadian mining businesses are doing in other countries.

Philippine ambassador to Canada Leslie Gatan said that your trip is “mainly to talk about [how to] expand our economic co-operation,” adding that the Philippines is eager to work with Canada on defence and agriculture, among other areas of interest.

The Philippines remains a primarily agricultural, backward country and we are concerned that any expansion of economic cooperation with Canada does not perpetuate this situation that keeps the Philippines backward with no genuine industrialization.  In the area of defence, it is hard to work with the Philippine armed forces when the culture of impunity is very strong from the officials down to the rank and file.  Was it not Canadian aid to run human rights courses to the Philippine armed forces that was exposed by Amnesty International to be not teaching the military to respect human rights but the opposite as seen in this excerpt from the handbook:  “It is imperative that soldiers are conversant with the HR [human rights] standards in order to survive the ordeals of investigation in cases when he becomes involved in a HR violation.”

It will not surprise us to know that your trip will also see the increased rise of temporary foreign workers to Canada.  Most of the Filipinos come in as low-skilled temporary foreign workers, vulnerable to abuse, labor contract violations, illegal recruitment fees, harassment and deportation.  The case of the Filipino temporary foreign workers in the Denny’s restaurants in Vancouver is a good example of how their rights as migrant workers in Canada were violated and is now the landmark case of a $10 million class suit against Denny’s restaurants.

Here in Canada, as members and representatives of organizations committed to the protection and promotion of workers’ rights and of human rights in the Philippines, we bring these issues to your attention and action.

BINNADANG-MIGRANTE (Cordillera People’s organization in Toronto)

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