A call to end impunity in Philippines

International Peoples Tribunal logo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — United Methodist Bishop Solito Toquero (retired), formerly resident bishop of the Manila Episcopal Area in the Philippines, will speak to the International People’s Tribunal here, July 16-18. The bishop is attending the tribunal to speak on behalf of the Filipino people, who contend that their civil rights have been systematically violated with impunity.

Bishop Solito Toquero

Bishop Toquero

The International Peoples’ Tribunal on the Philippines to be held at Catholic University of America will tackle the human-rights situation in the Philippines as well as the impact of U.S. military presence. The U.S. military presence is increasing by way of the newly signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

International human-rights advocates will examine violations to Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity as a result of the escalating U.S. military presence. The tribunal comprises an international network of human-rights defenders, peace-and-justice advocates, lawyers, jurists, academics, church people and political activists.

Besides Bishop Toquero, other witnesses traveling from the Philippines to testify in the public opinion court are Philippine Congress Representative Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna Party List and Suara Bangsamoro spokesperson Amirah Lidasan.

The defendants

Toquero will be among witnesses who will present evidence during the three-day tribunal meeting to put pressure from the international community on the defendants, identified as Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines, and the U.S. government as represented by President Barack Obama.

The evidence to be presented is expected to consist of the following:

The evidence to be presented is expected to consist of … violations of civil and political rights, with focus on extrajudicial killings, disappearances, massacres, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions.

  • Violations of civil and political rights, with focus on extrajudicial killings, disappearances, massacres, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions as well as other vicious, brutal and systematic abuses and attacks on the basic democratic rights of the people through the U.S.-inspired counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.
  • Violations of economic, social and cultural rights of the Filipino people through the imposition of imperialist globalization to exploit the people; transgression of their economic sovereignty and national patrimony; various forms of economic plunder and attacks on the livelihoods of the people and the destruction of the environment.
  • Violation of rights of the people to national self-determination and liberation through the imposition of the U.S. war of terror; U.S. military intervention; as well as the perpetration of crimes against humanity and war crimes; misrepresentations of the people’s right to national liberation and self-determination as “terrorism” and the baseless “terrorist” listing of individuals, organizations and other entities by the U.S. and other governments.

Threatening incident

Toquero is former co-chair of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum of the Philippines and vice-chair of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). He is currently a Bishop-in-Residence at Union Theological Seminary–Philippines.

The bishop is well known in the Philippines as a staunch advocate for human rights and peace. His appearance before the tribunal is to continue his advocacy for human rights and peace.

Two men, who identified themselves as soldiers, harassed the family of Bishop Toquero June 28.

The Rev. Fr. Rex R.B. Reyes, Jr., NCCP general secretary, recently issued an “urgent appeal for solidarity and action” after two men, who identified themselves as soldiers, harassed the family of Bishop Toquero June 28. The bishop’s daughter-in law, Raquel, is national staff of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition & Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), and her husband, Mervin, is the acting program secretary of the NCCP Program Unit on Faith, Witness & Service.

Two men appeared at their kitchen door asking for Raquel. They They refused to show their identification cards or their mission orders. The men said they wanted to talk to Raquel “for they know what she has been doing.” Reyes said what she “has been doing” is fighting for workers to enjoy their rights and receive decent wages.

Reyes said COURAGE union officers and organizers have had to face more than 20 incidents like this one. The incident left the family agitated and threatened, according to Reyes, because it happened inside their family compound where Mervin’s father, Bishop Toquero, also resides.

“Naturally, the Toquero family is concerned about their safety, especially in the current environment of impunity that prevails in the Philippines,” Reyes said. “Indeed, human rights defenders in the Philippines who have had similar experiences to those of the Toquero family earlier often faced continued harassment and became victims of even more serious human rights violations, including arrest on false charges, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

Editor's note: James (Jay) Knudsen is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, working with Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao (In Peace) in the Philippines. He works in the offices of the Genreal Board of Church & Society (GBCS) with its Peace with Justice program. Wayne Rhodes is GBCS Director of Communications. 

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