PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


Philippines: The Venture by peaceprobe
December 29, 2006, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Christian Peacemaker Teams, Philippines

DECEMBER 29, 2006:  On December 31 I will depart for the Philippines. Discussions about the possibility of Christian Peacemaker Teams work in that country of 85 million people have been ongoing for several years. This trip has a modest objective of setting up a series of delegations over the coming months or years.

Although the population profile includes families with middle and upper class identity 38% of Filipinos survive on an income of $2.00 per day. The government reports a better than 5.5% growth rate in the last year but those left behind are restless and organizing. The long legacy of Spanish Catholic rule succeeded by the American colonial reach that began in 1898 has created a population that continues to look abroad for jobs, investment and safety. The warm and outgoing national character is complemented by fluency in the English language which has opened doors to international jobs and opportunities to work as servants or migrant labor especially in places like the Middle East. Estimates of the number of Filipinos working abroad range as high as 11 million people. 

A vigorous and engaged movement with and underground violent wing is one source of fear for citizens. Others choose to express their public protest nonviolently. The Philippines is remembered for the Edsa revolution named in honor of the street where citizens turned out by the thousands to stop military action when in 1986 then President Marcos threatened renewed military might to put down popular dissent. I was on Edsa that weekend and talked to nuns, workers, and middle class families who brought picnic lunches as they sat, prayed, and protested at the gates of Manila’s most important military base.

In the 20 years since that historic change the Philippines has written a constitution and gone through several cycles of elections. One president was impeached from office due to corruption. Today the government is again fighting for its life and has proposed sweeping reforms to the constitution that has awakened wide resistance. In recent years there has been a marked increase in summary executions and abuse of activists including church leaders. Some of these actions apparently can be traced to government forces while others are the result of stepped up activities from underground armed groups including the 38 year old Communist Party of the Philippines. I am in touch with persons who have received death threats from underground groups. On this trip I expect to meet persons who live in fear of assassination from one side or another. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International has denounced the killings of activists and warned in August that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s all-out war against the rebels raises the threat of “retaliatory assassinations” by insurgents and the“prospect of a spiral of violence and abuses.”

In the South where a sizable Muslim minority has lived for centuries the situation is explosive. A variety of private and public efforts have focused on achieving a lasting solution. A current initiative to develop a UN sponsored referendum that would define the future status of the region is under study.

Unknown to most people in the international world is the ongoing role that US Forces play in the midst of these conflicts. After the closing of the US bases in late 1980s a permanent base agreement was replaced by a Visiting Forces Agreement which regularly brings the inherent restlessness and corruption that accompanies the arrival of American forces. On the island of Sulu, far to the South a large U. S. staging and training area has been established. In addition US Naval vessels also continue to call at ports elsewhere among the 7000 islands. This past year US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was apprehended, tried and convicted by Philippine authorities for the rape of a Filipino woman. The incident is now a national issue because the US has insisted that the Corporal Smith must be returned to US custody according to their interpretation of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

My month long venture will be joined by two CPT members long time Filipino friend Rey Lopez and Mexican American Elizabeth Garcia of Brownsville TX.

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