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[box type=”default” size=”large”] Rights advocates place blame on President Obama and Aquino [/box]

CHICAGO —  Filipino human rights advocates attending the International Peoples’ Tribunal on the Philippines proceedings on July 16, 2015 in Gowan Hall of the Catholic University of America at 620 Michigan Ave., Washington, D.C. described the reopening of the Subic Naval Base for military use as “gross human rights violations and crimes against the Filipino people as well as violations of the right to self-determination and liberation through the imposition of the US War on Terror and US military intervention.”

The U.S. military bases in the Philippines were dismantled by virtue by an act of the Philippine Senate in 1991 in keeping with the Philippine constitutional ban of the entry of nuclear weapons on Philippine soil and upholding Philippine sovereignty.

In a press advisory issued by IPT’s Berna Ellorin, the rights advocates blamed both Presidents Aquino and Obama for the re-opening of the U.S. base in Subic, saying it is part of Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” foreign policy initiatives. Filipinos who testified at the proceedings included Philippine Party-List Congressman Neri Colmenares and typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) survivor Efleda Bautista.

The convenors included the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) and Ibon International.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark served as lead prosecutor. The jurors included NLG President Azadeh Shashahani and prominent Latin American human rights advocate, author, and attorney Camilo Bustillo-Perez. The verdict of the proceedings is going to be made public later.

The rights groups noted that former Philippine Congresswoman Liza Maza was prevented from boarding her plane to the U.S. last July 9 on orders issued by the U.S. Homeland Security to the airline, Korean Air.

They claimed the “hold departure” for Maza was issued because as an expert witness at the proceedings, she is also an outspoken critic of the U.S. military presence in the Philippines. Maza was invited by U.S. community organizations to testify at the hearings. She holds a valid 10-year multiple-entry visa to the U.S.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S. by the terrorist group al-Qaeda, President George Bush II tagged the Philippines as the “Second Front” in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) that set the stage to expand the U.S. military presence in the Philippines.

But U.S. military personnel were linked to various human rights abuses in the Philippines, including the gang rape of Filipina Suzette “Nicole” Nicolas in 2005 and the murder of Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude in 2014.

When President Obama visited the Philippines in 2014, Obama’s Asia Pivot came into being with the signing of a new military pact – the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), whose legality is being challenged before the Philippine Supreme Court.

Shortly after the signing of EDCA, secret U.S. drone operations in Mindanao came to light with direct U.S. military involvement in the botched Feb. 2015 anti-terrorist operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that led to the death of over 70 people, including 44 members of Special Action Forces of the Philippine National Police.

Last July 15, tribunal witnesses testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bi-partisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, at the instance of the Ecumenical Advocacy Network of the Philippines.

Former Bishop Solito K. Toquero of the United Methodist Church told the Commission, “Since President Aquino took office in 2010, there have been 238 documented cases of extrajudicial killings, among a host of other human rights violations, with a growing trend of filing of trumped-up charges against activists, some 723 illegal arrests and detentions.

“Schools, medical, and religious spaces are used for military purposes, adversely affecting some 169,964 people, with forced evacuations affecting 49,612. I myself have faced harassment by state authorities in the Philippines for my advocacy on behalf of the victims of these crimes.”