On behalf of my party and the Filipino people, I would like to thank the subcommittee for giving us the opportunity to share some insights on the Philippine situation today.
I was informed that the subcommittee has met several Filipino groups since 2007 on various issues concerning human rights and, to a certain extent, the possible involvement of Canadian firms in human rights issues in the Philippines.
I will not dwell anymore on the basic issues raised by the various groups, namely the church leaders, even members of Parliament who were here before, and recently, human rights advocates. I will just go into certain updates on the issues, but I would first like to reiterate that there are requests for the Canadian Parliament to conduct a study mission to the Philippines to look into human rights conditions in the country and, at the very least, look into whether or not Canadian firms are indeed involved in certain human rights violations in the country.
Maybe the most apt story to describe the current conditions in the Philippines today would be that of Merlyn Bermas, who was head of a local government unit, called a barangay, in the Philippines. A few months ago, she condemned members of the 49th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine army for the killing of one of her constituents. Benjamin Mancera was killed, according to Merlyn's charges, by the 49th Infantry Battalion and when he was killed, his sons, 11-year-old Richard and 8-year-old Michael, were also killed. A few months later Merlyn Bermas was riding on a motorcycle, a public commute in the Philippines, when two men riding motorcycles pulled up and shot her dead. Unfortunately also, adding to the woes of the family of the victim, her four-year-old son, Gerald, was also hit in the head. They tried to revive him but one day later, he died in a hospital in Camarines Sur, a southern province in the Philippines.
In essence, the human rights conditions in the Philippines could be described by saying that the killings continue.
Unfortunately, Merlyn Bermas is but one of the 114 victims of extrajudicial killings since President Aquino came to power in July 2010. There are many statistics on the escalation of human rights violations, but I will send the committee the documents rather than discuss the statistics here.
You see, in the Philippines some of our public officials resent dissent. They are not tolerant of protests, especially those that expose corrupt practices in government, especially protests that show dissent on abusive policies, because after all, this corruption and these abusing policies are worth millions of dollars for these public officials. That is why they sometimes resort to repressive measures to stifle dissent.
The military, another corrupt institution in our country, is all too willing to implement these repressive measures. Those who are first hit, of course, are the sectors that bear the brunt of these abusive policies, the farmers, the indigenous people, the various urban poor communities, but in the end repressive measures know no bounds. Extrajudicial killings would target church leaders, church members, women, and in the case of Merlyn Bermas, children.
We come here with a story to tell that human rights violations continue to exist in the Philippines, and we would very much want the international community to express concern on the escalation of these human rights violations.
I would like to add, however, that the human rights violations, unfortunately, involve certain transnational corporations. Unfortunately, in the news today are examples, or charges at the very least of involvement of certain transnational corporations operating in areas where indigenous people reside. Canadian mining firms have been reported to have been involved in this issue.
You see, there are transnational corporations in the Philippines that hire paramilitary groups in the country, ostensibly for security reasons, but the fact is, as everybody knows, that the hiring of paramilitary groups is a recipe for disaster. Unwieldy elements of armed civilians are known to have committed serious human rights violations a long way back during the time of Marcos and the next Philippine presidents. I'm sure there are many reports in many Latin American countries and other Asian countries where paramilitary groups were used and had very disastrous effects on human rights.
There are many Canadian mining firms in the country. Some are in the north, as in Abra, which the committee would probably know about because a Canadian firm called CANEX, I think, applied for 85% of the total land area of the province, applied for and was granted a mining permit by public officials there.
The other Canadian firm that gained public attention recently is Toronto Ventures Incorporated, or TVI. TVI has been charged publicly for being involved in using paramilitary groups. This is not an unreasonable suspicion, especially since the president of the Philippines, in fact, was convinced to issue an executive order allowing paramilitary groups to be used by transnational corporations in their operations.
I'll share two stories on TVI. One is with regard to the report by the media that they were detained or held hostage, as they termed it, by members of the paramilitary group hired by TVI. They were on their way to cover a demolition of houses of indigenous people residing in an area where the mining operation of TVI was about to take place. According to the media, they were detained and prohibited by the paramilitary groups from covering the demolition.
To be fair to TVI, and to give you both sides of the story, TVI did come out the next day to deny the fact that they were hiring paramilitary groups. They also denied that they conducted a demolition of houses of indigenous people in their mining areas. The fact we cannot avoid is that in public perception, TVI is now involved in human rights violations, especially since they used a paramilitary group to suppress a legitimate coverage by the media.
The other story I'd like to share is the case of Timuay Manda, a known anti-mining activist from among the indigenous people in Zamboanga del Sur where TVI is operating. Timuay Manda was shot last September while bringing his son, Jordan, to school. Timuay Manda survived the attack and, unlike Merlyn Bermas, he was not killed. However, his son, Jordan, was hit in the back and died instantly. An eight-year-old child died in the process.
Again to give you both sides of the issue, because the event caused a public uproar in the Philippines, not only was there another attempt on the life of an environmental activist, not only is this another example of repression on indigenous people, but an innocent child was also killed in the process.
TVI, of course, also issued a denial, together with the military and the police, that they were involved in the shooting. They said that their paramilitary groups were not involved in the shooting, and in fact that Timuay Manda is actually not an anti-mining activist but is, rather, an illegal mining activist.
I would not claim to have personal knowledge of who is telling the truth here, but in my view, Mr. Chair and committee members, it doesn't matter anymore. The fact is that another child is dead, and the child was killed in this battle for resources and gold and nickel. I think it is one death too many for resources in the Philippines.
Whether TVI is involved or not is something that must be found out, but probably the recourse should be that there must be a response to find out whether or not Canadian firms are indeed involved in human rights violations in the Philippines. After all, it is not only the security but also the image of Canadian investments in the Philippines that is at stake.
In the end, there are many requests and expressions of concern on human rights conditions and various other requests, but I will reiterate what I said at the beginning and the requests by previous delegations to the subcommittee, that the subcommittee should, if possible, conduct a study mission to the Philippines to look into human rights conditions in the country, or at the very least, to look into whether Canadian firms are involved in these human rights violations. I do not think this is an unreasonable action on the part of a Parliament that is, I know, a Parliament also concerned with the image, and the security, of course, of its investments abroad.
I will conclude with a statement that for the Filipino people, the response of the international community has always been an effective means for us to alleviate the plight of our people. It has always worked, probably not in eliminating human rights violations or extrajudicial killings, but in holding at bay, to a certain extent, the perpetrators of these killings. An expression of concern, a study mission, for example, would go a long way in not only alleviating the conditions of the Filipino people, but also in saving lives.
I do not know whether the conduct of a study mission to the Philippines is easy or difficult for the Canadian Parliament to do, but because it is an opportunity to save lives, I am sure it is an effort worth working for.
Maraming salamat po. Thank you very much.