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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 15, 2006

Arroyo must reassure P.I. rights are intact

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's visit tomorrow should be more than ceremonial. Yes, she's here to commemorate the centennial celebration of the arrival of the sakada and to honor Filipino veterans of World War II. And, her presence will be a source of pride for many members of Hawai'i's growing Filipino community, many of whom are immigrants with relatives in the Philippines.

But the visit is also the perfect opportunity for the Philippine leader to let supporters and critics know what she's doing about allegations her government may be involved in human rights violations that include the deaths of journalists and militant activists in the Philippines.

In a report released in August, Amnesty International concluded that an alarming number of civilian deaths were more than just random acts of violence, but were politically motivated. The organization said the number of these deaths in the Philippines totaled 51 in the first six months of 2006, a dramatic increase from 66 in all of 2005.

The increase comes in a year that has seen Arroyo declare a temporary state of emergency following an attempt to destabilize her government, a situation that has only exacerbated an ongoing leftist counter-insurgency in the Philippine countryside. And in the midst of the tumult, Arroyo overcame two impeachment attempts.

News reports say there are allegations the Philippine military could be responsible for more than 750 civilian deaths since Arroyo came to power in 2001.

After the Amnesty study was released, Arroyo rightly appointed a special commission to investigate the killings. "I want to pursue every lead, down every path," the president said in news reports.

That's an encouraging sign.

On this last stop before returning home to the Philippines, the president should use this opportunity to address these issues, as well as provide reassurance that the fundamentals of democracy— human rights, liberty and the rule of law— remain intact in the Philippines.