Open Letter of Dr. Chandu Claver to Philippine Pres. Benigno Aquino III on his SONA.

Note: July 31st marks the 4th death anniversary of Dr. Chandu’s wife, Alice Omengan-Claver

I am Chandu Claver. My family was the target of an ambush by suspected State agents nearly four years today on July 31, 2006 in the province of Kalinga. My wife Alice was killed, as a result. Because of continuing threats on what remained of my family, I was forced to seek political refuge in Canada. In the Canadian hearing connected with this, I testified that the death of my wife was linked to the present Philippine counter-insurgency Operation Plan Bantay Laya which specifically targets civilians and social activists. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada has found my claim for refuge to be valid and has declared me and my family as Convention Refugees.

Like many hopeful Filipinos hungry for change, I have intently listened to your recent State of the Nation Address. As a victim of the extra-judicial killings perpetuated in the name of Oplan Bantay Laya, and as one of the families actively continuing to seek justice, I found your speech very disappointing.

I had hoped to hear from you bold and definite steps to stem the carnage that has resulted in more than 1000 bloody executions and more than 200 abductions. I had hoped that you would prevent more killings by at least putting Oplan Bantay Laya under review. I had hoped that you would implement the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur Phillip Alston on the matter. The link of Oplan Bantay Laya to the killings and disappearance has been established many times in the recent past by respected institutions, both in the Philippines and abroad. But you never even mentioned Oplan Bantay Laya in your speech.

I had hoped that you would make some positive pronouncements regarding the plight of political prisoners, especially the Morong 43 – health workers like me, who have been languishing in jail since February on obviously trumped up charges. Considering all these, I am hoping that this is not because you are afraid of intimidating the military institution.

In your speech, it was good that you had initiated steps to try to solve the cases of the six new cases under your administration. But your failure to mention any plans to solve the very large number of extrajudicial killings and disappearances during the past administration made me very uneasy.

This fear was increased when you laid down your intention with the Truth Commission.

The only reference to going after human rights violators as part of the Truth Commission was a short vague phrase about “going after killers”. Much of your speech was spent painting a very detailed and graphic picture of the corrupt practices of the past administration. In contrast, you only mentioned a very few vague words on an issue that has taken the precious lives of many and devastated countless family members. I cannot help coming away with a very strong suspicion that you would prefer not to deal with the problem of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. To me, it felt that you were washing your hands of the cases occurring in the past administration, and that your lack of adequate reference to the issue felt like you were sweeping the dirt under the rug. I fervently hope that I am wrong in thinking that.

At the very minimum, I had hoped to hear from you a clear and unequivocal warning that members of the military linked to these killings would face the full force of the law. This was a crucial statement that human rights organizations (both in the Philippines and abroad) have long been recommending to the previous administration. This was a necessary first step that we believe would serve as a strong warning that would start to counter the “culture of impunity” related with these killings and disappearances. This initial statement would start the process of preventing similar tragic events.

But Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was never able to make that simple statement. You have not done that in your SONA speech either, nor in any of your public speeches. I can only think of three possible reasons why you did not make that crucial, simple and logical statement: that you harboured hidden feelings that the killings served a good purpose; that you did not have the will to go against the military establishment; or your speech writer forgot to put it in. Which is it, Mr. President?

We need the killings to stop. Your spokesman had declared that extrajudicial killings are not your administration’s policy. Then prove it, sir – shut down Oplan Bantay Laya, and truly investigate and actively prosecute the military perpetrators and their political coddlers, whether in the past administration or in yours.

For as long as the perpetrators of these extrajudicial killings and disappearances believe that their leaders are tacitly approving their heinous crimes through inaction and mixed signals, the blood will continue to flow. And unless you act more decisively, that exactly is what would happen.

Chandu Claver

31 July 2010

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