Obama urged: Press Arroyo on human rights

Posted at 07/29/2009 11:46 AM | Updated as of 07/29/2009 12:11 PM

MANILA - Philippine civic and opposition leaders have issued an open letter to US President Barack Obama urging him to take up the problem of human rights violations in the Philippines in his meeting with visiting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on July 30 [July 31 in Manila].

"In your meeting with Ms. Arroyo, it may serve you well to be mindful of Ms. Arroyo's legacy of corruption, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances torture, bribery, election cheating, among others," the group said in an open letter to Obama published in a major daily broadsheet newspaper on Wednesday.

President Arroyo is set to leave Manila for the US on Wednesday afternoon.

"In your meeting with Ms. Arroyo, we feel confident that you will make clear to her that a Government that does not comply with Principles of Democracy and respect of Human Rights cannot have the approval and support of your administration," the leaders said.

The civic and opposition leaders who signed the open letter are: 

  • former Vice President Teofisto Guingona; 
  • former Senate President Jovito Salonga;
  • former Senate President Franklin Drilon; 
  • former Supreme Court Justice Camilo Quiason;
  • former Senators Wigberto Tañada, Sergio Osmeña III, Vicente Paterno, and Agapito Aquino;
  • former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez; 
  • former Cabinet secretaries Josefina Lachauco, Corazon "Dinky" Soliman, Juan Santos;
  • Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay; 
  • Jesus Is Lord leader Eddie Villanueva; 
  • Sister Mary John Mananzan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines; and,
  • UP College of Law professor Harry Roque.

They added: "We implore you Mr. President to inspire hope and be an instrument of change for the common good of the long suffering Filipino people."

The group also included in the letter Obama's famous line when he was elected US president: "Those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent... are on the wrong side of the history."

In an interview over radio dzMM on Wednesday, Drilon said he does not know if the letter will reach the White House. But if it does, he said he is confident that Obama would consider their request.

The White House announced July 12 that President Obama will "receive President Arroyo at the White House on July 30, where they will have an opportunity to discuss ways to enhance U.S.-Philippine cooperation on critical global issues including counterterrorism and climate change, as well as further the traditionally strong alliance and bond between our nations.  (Read: Arroyo says US trip to focus on terrorism)

"While in Washington, President Arroyo will also meet with key U.S. government officials and members of Congress, private sector partners, and business groups," US Office of the Press Secretary said. "President Arroyo will be the first leader from Southeast Asia to visit the United States under the Obama administration." 
 
Melissa Roxas case

Human rights lawyer Arnedo Valera earlier told ABS-CBN's Balitang America that Mrs. Arroyo's visit will be very different from the one she enjoyed in 2003 after she came to power.

Valera is the US lawyer of Los Angeles-based Fil-Am artist Melissa Roxas, who has accused the Philippine military of abducting and torturing her.

“President Arroyo is coming to Washington with blood on her hands, with a trail of cases of corruption, plunder and election fraud,” he told ABS-CBN’s Balitang America.

He said it’s important to look at President Obama’s agenda for inviting the Philippine president.

“I think the reason of President Obama is not only to discuss the substantive aspects of RP-US relations but also to catch President Arroyo’s attention about what’s happening in the Philippines,” Valera said.

Valera had earlier sent the White House and State Department a complaint on behalf of Roxas, who is an American citizen.

Philippine officials, including top military officials, have cast doubts on Roxas’ allegations.

Notwithstanding their denials, the Roxas case has piqued the attention of some US lawmakers, already wary of the Philippine human rights record following a rare Senate hearing two years ago, that looked into the problem of unsolved extra-judicial killings of over 800 churchmen, union leaders, peasant organizers and journalists.

Valera indicated some US solons are contemplating another congressional hearing to look into the Roxas case.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Willy Gaa stressed the government was already addressing the human rights problem in the country. (Read: Obama-Arroyo agenda still uncertain)

“There’s been an 80-90 percent reduction in extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. President Arroyo is fully prepared to answer if anyone should ask about human rights in the Philippines,” he told ABS-CBN's Washington Bureau reporter Rodney Jaleco last week.

Gaa added there is already a whole host of other concerns in the possible talking points of the two leaders.

He said that could cover lingering threats in the region, including recent bombings in Jakarta and how to approach Myanmar issues.

“First and foremost, she will thank President Obama for signing the veterans benefits contained in the stimulus bill, and she will also lay out her position in the current financial crisis and how our two countries can help each,” Gaa revealed. -- with a report from ABS-CBN Washington Bureau reporter Rodney Jaleco