Aussie Senator Denounces Killings, Satur Arrest

Mar. 22, 2007

Below is the speech of a Australian Senator delivered before the Federal Parliament that criticizes the arrest and detention of Bayan Muna Rep. Satur C. Ocampo. The lawmaker is demanding an explanation from the Australian foreign ministry on the situation in the Philippines, and the case of Ocampo and unresolved political killings.

Speech by Senator Gavin Marshall
Delivered before the Federal Parliament
Canberra, Australia
March 21, 2007

I rise tonight to talk about recent events which give further cause
for concern about the status of democracy in the Philippines. In
particular, I refer to a warrant of arrest which has been issued
against Representative Satur Ocampo, the Deputy Minority Leader of the
Philippine House of Representatives. I have spoken in this place on a
number of occasions about human rights abuses which have occurred in
the Philippines since President Gloria Arroyo came to power in 2001.
It is an issue that, despite international attention and condemnation,
refuses to go away.

In the period of the Arroyo government, there have been more than 820
extrajudicial killings and execution-style assassinations of
Philippine citizens, and it is a number which is increasing almost
daily. In addition to these killings, many more Philippine citizens
have had threats made against them, have had assassination attempts
made on their lives, have disappeared or have been held in detention
without warrant. Those who have been subjected to these crimes include
unionists, lawyers, church workers, municipal councillors, human
rights advocates and journalists. In fact, the Philippines has the
dubious distinction of being the second most dangerous country for
journalists—second only to Iraq. This is a status which was stressed
in the past month when a newspaper editor was murdered in a drive-by
killing in Mindanao province.

As I have said before in this place, the common factor that links the
victims of these crimes is that they have all been outspoken on issues
of justice, poverty, civil liberties, workers’ rights and human
rights. They have advocated on behalf of the poor and oppressed in the
Philippines, and many of them have been directly critical of the
Arroyo government. However, few of these crimes have been
appropriately investigated and those responsible for these atrocities
have not been brought to justice.

Also of grave concern to me are the continued attacks on members of
progressive political parties in the Philippines and the attempts by
the Arroyo government to suppress any form of political dissent or
opposition. Symptomatic of this is the arrest warrant issued earlier
this month against Representative Satur Ocampo, the deputy minority
leader of the Philippine House of Representatives and the President of
the Bayan Muna Party or People First Party. Representative Ocampo was
the subject of an arrest warrant on 6 March for alleged murders
committed 22 years ago in the province of Leyte. These accusations of
murder appear to be baseless.

Satur Ocampo was arrested in January 1976 and held under military
custody by the Marcos regime until 1985 on rebellion charges—charges
which he has subsequently been cleared of. He is now being charged
with a crime that happened between 1984 and 1985 while he was under
military detention, rendering impossible the claim that he was in
Leyte to supervise these purported killings. Despite this
impossibility, the judge refused to dismiss the case against Ocampo.
Representative Ocampo’s counsel also highlights a number of anomalies
with the case against him, including the fact that no probable cause
was found for charging him and no proof of conspiracy was presented,
as required by law and jurisprudence. This measure to impose an arrest
warrant on Representative Ocampo on baseless charges marks a
continuation of the Arroyo government’s attempts to thwart political
opposition in the lead-up to the May elections.

I am concerned that Representative Ocampo may suffer the same fate as
his fellow Congressman Crispin Beltran. On 25 February last year,
Crispin, a well-known member of the Anakpawis party, was brought in
for questioning by the Filipino police. His arrest warrant was based
on a subsequently quashed rebellion charge filed back in 1985 by the
Marcos regime. He continues to be detained on the same unjust
rebellion charges also filed against Ocampo and has been denied the
right to due process.

Since Gloria Arroyo became President, the Bayan Muna Party and other
progressive political parties in the Philippines, such as the Gabriela
Women’s Party, have been subject to these extrajudicial killings and
continual harassment. Under the Arroyo government, 130 members of the
Bayan Muna Party, a party which seeks to be a progressive voice in the
Philippine Congress, have been murdered. Seven Bayan Muna Party
members have already been killed this year, including two who were
killed as recently 11 March. Amongst its members killed this year
include Professor Jose Maria Cui, a university professor, unionist and
human rights activist. Professor Cui was shot and killed last month in
front of his students at the University of Eastern Philippines by two
assassins who later fled on motorbikes. The arrest warrant against
Satur Ocampo, the continued detention of Crispin Beltran and the
murders of the members of opposing parties are clear attacks on the
people’s right to a safe, secure and prosperous life and are attacks
on the democratic process itself.

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