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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2253

Mr STEEDMAN(7.53) —I have recently received representations from the Philippine Action Support Group, an organisation supported by the Australian Catholic Relief, the Australian Council of Churches, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Community Aid Abroad and Action for World Development. The information that it sent to me should be of concern to all Australians, especially to those honourable members opposite who recently praised our neighbours in the Association of South East Asian Nations and who have attempted to denigrate this Government for taking an independent line in relation to its foreign policy-a policy that has us as equal partners in treaties and not as sycophants, as we have been under successive governments whose members now sit on the other side of the House.

The Filipino people today live in desperate and growing poverty, while a small elite live lives of dazzling extravagance. Since President Marcos declared martial law in 1972 the living standard of the poorest 80 per cent of the people has been slashed. As the poverty increases so does the dissent. However, this dissent has not been met by much-needed social and economic reforms. Rather, it has been met by increased militarisation and increased repression. Since martial law commenced, the armed forces of the Philippines have increased in number from 60,000 men to over 300,000 regulars. If reserves and paramilitary forces are also included, the number is well over 900,000 men, or almost 2 per cent of the population. During this time, over 72,000 political prisoners have beeen detained. According to the Amnesty International report of 1981 the majority of these prisoners are first taken to safe houses which are non-recognised, unofficial places of detention while they undergo what is euphemistically known as 'tactical interrogation', which we know as torture.

While the number of detainees has declined from approximately 16,000 a year during the early years of martial law to about 1,000 a year today, this has not been a cause of great joy for the people. While the number detained by the military is dropping, the number of extrajudicial killings by the military has grown at an alarming rate. People are no longer imprisoned, they are just taken out to a lonely spot and killed. The Government's use of death squads is also on the increase. These squads usually consist of ex-soldiers discharged for flagrant violations, long term prisoners or religious fanatics. Some of the more infamous death squads are the Lost Command and the Rock Christ. The Lost Command was responsible for more than 80 deaths in the province of Agusan de Sur in 1980 -81, as it cleared the local farmers off the land to make room for a foreign- owned palm oil plantation. It was also responsible for the massacre of a whole village of 45 people in Northern Samar on 15 September 1981. The Rock Christ is active in the mountain regions and, after the lifting of martial law in 1981, was responsible for at least 16 deaths with mutilation and another dozen disappearances in just four months. Australia has major aid projects in these provinces.

Another government policy that ignores the basic rights of the people is that of hamleting, or live-ins. If the military decides that an area is a suspected rebel stronghold it forces the local population to leave their homes and farms and to sleep at night in a central, army-guarded village. For some this entails walks of 10 kilometres or more each morning to return to their farms, and again in the afternoon to return to the live-in site. Besides wasting the most valuable working hours in a tropical day, no one is left to care for their farm animals, or mind their crops or farm animals at night. Despite the Defence Minister ordering the disbanding of all such hamleting on 2 March 1982, the process has not only continued but has been extended. As of January 1983 there were more than 300,000 victims living in more than 225 centres on the island of Mindanao alone.

There have been many other violations of the people's basic rights which, while not as spectacular, are nevertheless, common occurrences in the Philippines. They include such things as limited freedom of the Press, the banning of assembly, the banning of the right to strike in the majority of cases and the average person's total helplessness in the face of injustices because the legal system is only available to the rich. Whether the oppressor is the military, a factory manager, an unjust landlord or a usurious middleman, the poor have no legal recourse; not only because of the expense but also because of the corruption of the legal system. However, perhaps the most serious violation of all is their most basic right, the right to eat. Since martial law began, the number of people who live below the government-recognised poverty line has increased from 43 per cent to 84 per cent of the population. Some 80 per cent of the population sufers from malnutrition. This in a land which exports food.

This is a very brief summary of the human rights abuses taking place in the Philippines today. I believe that Australia's defence and security should not be built on the oppression of others. In the long term, we should be more secure were we to support the majority who seek justice, rather than the minority who rule by force.