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Canada urged to cut anti-terror aid to Philippines amid 'epidemic of human rights violations'

Human rights advocates have formally called on the Canadian government to cease giving anti-terrorism aid to the Philippines amid the alleged use of anti-terrorism policies to crack down on dissent and purge human rights workers.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan Alliance Philippines; Catherine Coumans, research coordinator of MiningWatch Canada; Guy-Lin Beaudoin, co-chair of the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines – Quebec; and Filipino journalist Maria Ressa issued this appeal during the Canadian parliament’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development meeting on Wednesday morning (Manila time).

Palabay cited the death of 15 Karapatan members in the last five years, including paralegal Sara Alvarez who was killed by unidentified assailants in August 2020. Alvarez died after her photo appeared in a tarpaulin branding her as a communist personality.

“These deaths [of human rights workers] define the climate of fear and impunity in the country. Perjured testimonies, fabricated evidence, questionable search warrants are used for arbitrary arrests and detention. We eat death, rape and sexual violence threats online and offline. Canadian dollars and taxes should not be used to kill and silence us,” Palabay told the subcommittee.

Palabay then said that the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which allows authorities to detain suspected terrorists for 24 days without a warrant and filing of charges against them, only worsened the "epidemic of human rights violations."

“Community pantries, journalists, lawyers, the opposition, the Commission on Human Rights are consistent targets of red-tagging which reduces democratic and civil spaces — a part of counterinsurgency and murderous campaign which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. We implore the Canadian government to take action on these concerns with urgency as our country further descends to an authoritarian state,” Palabay said.

Couman, for her part, said that Canadian mining companies operating in the Philippines should be made accountable by the Canadian government over the negative impacts of their mining operations in the communities, including the alleged use of para-military forces to force communities to give their consent to mining activities.

“Canada should not be selling military equipment and sending defense cooperation to the Philippines and mandate its consular staff to protect human rights workers by speeding up visa applications of those human rights workers who are seeking temporary relocation to Canada and other safe countries,” Couman said.

Beaudoin agreed, saying that Canadians’ aid should not be used for committing violence.

“We are tracing this aid because the aid should be used to defend human rights and sustainable peace, not violate them,” he said.

Filipino journalist and Rappler news website founder Maria Ressa then urged the international community to keep on calling out the alleged anti-human rights policies of the Philippine government and other countries, saying it is necessary to prevent tyrants from taking over.

“The government wants us to shut up and follow. But we have survived this long because of global action, so having this global support is very important,” said Ressa, who is facing various charges including tax evasion and has been judged guilty for cyberlibel. --KBK, GMA News