Four New Zealanders, part of an International Solidarity Mission to the Philippines, said they could not visit some of the places on their itinerary because of an escalation in violence there.
After the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001 President George W Bush declared the Philippines to be ‘the second front in the war on terror’. Since then terror has been unleashed on the Filipino people, military exercises have escalated, torture and extrajudicial killings have increased alarmingly and many communities have been bulldozed or burnt.
In the past year, this violence has escalated in the south of the country making some towns too dangerous for visitors.
Instead Mary Ellen O’Connor from Nelson, Rod Prosser, Tim Howard and Josephine O’Connor visited communities of people existing in the slums of Manila who had effectively been made refugees in their own land.
Known as the Moro Communities, they live in Culiat, Pyatas or Baseco, formerly Smokey Mountain, a rubbish heap which is home to 100,000 inhabitants.
Mary Ellen says they were there in the rainy season and the stench of rotting garbage was overpowering.
‘Tiny, naked children and dogs clamber over the rubbish their parents scavenge as families cling to the most precarious of existences.’
Health hazards include leptospirosis and a variety of unsightly skin conditions.
Baseco is situated in Manila Bay on the water’s edge which would usually be regarded as prime real estate.
‘As I picked my way across garbage to one woman’s dwelling, cleverly constructed of others’ cast-offs, she asked if I liked her new front path. “How about my house renovations, she said.” She had been living there for 20 years.’
Another woman Mary Ellen met at Baseco was fluent in English and Arabic after working for seven years in Dubai and spending three years at the University of Mindinao but she was now living in the slum because she had nowhere else to go when she returned.
Two of the ISM team, Rod and Josephine, went south to visit indigenous communities dislocated in the 1980s ‘by the greed of mining interests’.
These communities were desperately poor but had set up alternative livelihoods and schooling.
‘However, a new offensive in April and May of this year has meant that these civilians are again being mercilessly harassed by the military.
‘The armed forces of the Philippines abduct civilians, including children, under the false pretext that they are members of the New Peoples’ Army, a communist group active in the area which has opposed the expansion of mining.’
Mary Ellen says there is a direct link between the expansion of transnational mining and logging interests and the escalation of violence against indigenous civilians.
‘Ethnocide is not too far away.’
Tim went to Samar and Leyte in the Eastern Visayas, an area which has been uder the rule of a ‘ruthless individual’, General Jovito Palparan, who has earned the title of ‘butcher of Mindoro (another island to experience his wrath).
‘Here extra-judicial killings, torture, and disappearances are daily affairs. The deafening silence from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo about these atrocities clearly means that this is state-sponsored terrorism,’ Mary Ellen said.
The ISM ended with a People’s Tribunal which put Arroyo and George Bush on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. This is apparently the only way these allegations will ever be heard in a country where established channels of justice have never served ordinary people.
‘The cynical manipulation of the forces within the country by Bush and Arroyo is in stark contrast to the simple faith of the poverty-stricken people who gather at their churches lighting candles and praying before their much revered statues,’ Mary Ellen said.