28 March 2006
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.25 pm)—In recent months we have seen a number of developments that give cause for concern about the strength of democracy in the Philippines. On 24 February Philippines President Gloria Arroyo declared a state of emergency, which granted expanded powers to the security forces, prohibited political rallies and permitted the arrest of the government’s political opponents without warrants. Extraordinarily, the president’s declaration of a state of emergency came on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the people power movement which brought about the overthrow of the grossly corrupt Marcos regime. President Arroyo used the expansion of her powers to authorise raids on the offices of a pro-opposition newspaper and prohibit and break up planned rallies and protests commemorating the people power anniversary.
I am particularly concerned by reports that a democratically elected member of the Philippines parliament, Mr Crispin Beltran, was arrested and detained under the special powers of arrest granted under the state of emergency, which enable persons to be arrested without a warrant issued by a judicial authority. Mr Beltran has been charged with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the Arroyo government. No-one in this place condones any act of political violence or any act at all which is designed to overthrow a democratically elected government. Such actions are abhorrent and must be condemned. On the other hand, the arrest and detention of one’s political opponents under cover of emergency powers and without a warrant are equally a cause for legitimate concern. Five other elected representatives have been given refuge by the full congress of the House of Representatives from attempts at warrantless arrests being made against them. These are representatives Satur Ocampo from Bayan Muna, Teodoro Casino from Bayan Muna, Joel Virador from Bayan Muna, Liza Masa from Gabriela Women’s Party and Rafael Mariano from Anakpawis.
I am also concerned by reports that in the past month four political activists from the trade union and student movements appear to have been murdered in politically motivated acts of violence. Regrettably, these do not appear to be isolated incidents. The Philippines Commission on Human Rights has reportedly investigated 381 cases of political killings between January and September 2005 and 307 in 2004. These developments are a cause for concern for all advocates of democracy and political freedom in our region.
Freedom of expression and freedom of association are the foundations of a democratic society. The government of the Philippines must do all that it can to ensure that these civil liberties continue to be respected and protected in the Philippines. The suppression of political dissent cannot be allowed to be the legacy of the people power movement that captured the world’s attention some 20 years ago.