Statement
November 29, 2023

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) today called for the dropping of the fake murder charge against the esteemed pastor of the United Methodist Church, Rev Golfie Baluntong, following the collapse of similar cases against three other human rights defenders in the Southern Tagalog Region on November 20, 2023.

“Rev Golfie Baluntong, with 34 years service to her church, has been victimized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) because she stood with the Mangyan indigenous people of Mindoro in their fight to protect the environment and uphold their rights and for offering sanctuary to those fleeing violence,” said Peter Murphy, ICHRP Chairperson. “The attempted murder charge against her is a blatant fabrication and must be withdrawn now by the prosecuting authority. The Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) under which she has been charged is discredited and should be repealed.”

NTF-ELCAC charged Rev. Glofie with attempted murder in an incident at 3pm on March 25, 2021, but at that time she was conducting a funeral at another location.

The fake charge against Rev Golfie is the most prominent case of legal harassment of human rights defenders in the Southern Tagalog region, where 19 people faced charges under the ATL at the start of November this year. NTF-ELCAC has started charging the youngest human rights workers in an effort to demoralise them, but it is back-firing.

On November 20, 2023, charges under the Anti-Terrorism Law and the Crimes against IHL Law of attempted murder and possession of weapons and aiding a terrorist made against human rights worker Ms Hailey Pecayo, Ms Jasmin Rubia and Mr Kenneth Rementilla by soldiers of the 59th Infantry Battalion were thrown out by the prosecutor’s office in Santa Rosa City in Laguna.

Pecayo, aged 20, is a human rights worker and the spokesperson of Tanggol Batanggan, Rubia is secretary general of Mothers and Children for the Protection of Human Rights, and Rementilla is Anakbayan Southern Tagalog coordinator.

The soldiers alleged that they encountered Pecayo in two firefights with the New People’s Army (NPA) on July 18 and 25, 2022, but the prosecutor found the soldiers failed to “correctly identify” the respondents as alleged perpetrators, even though they claimed they were just 10 to 15 metres from them during the encounter. Similar charges against 11 other people over the same incidents were also thrown out. The prosecutor also said that the affidavits of four witnesses alleging that they were former members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army-National Democratic Front and could identify Pecayo as an NPA “hold no water under the circumstances”.

Pecayo proved that she was in San Isidro Sur in Batangas on July 18-19, 2022, and she was photographed at a rally in Quezon City, Metro Manila, on July 25.

Further, the prosecutor’s office rejected the charge that Rubia and Rementilla had aided a terrorist by providing transport for Pecayo to attend the wake for Kyllene Casao. Kyllene was nine years old and tending farm animals when shot by elements of the 59th Infantry Battalion in Batangas on July 18, 2022. Pecayo, Rubia and Rementilla were part of the Quick Reaction Team to the Casao family.

“This latest win is part of a pattern in the last three years of activists winning cases filed against them by the country’s security officials, but overall, the judiciary continues to fail to uphold the law by issuing warrants on trumped up charges and taking years to properly confront the blatant lack of evidence provided,” said Murphy.

“ICHRP emphasises the urgent need for the international community to press the Marcos Jr administration to drop the fake charge against Rev. Golfie Baluntong, end the red-tagging, abolish NTF-ELCAC, and repeal the Anti-Terrorism Law,” Murphy concluded.

Further comment: Peter Murphy, ICHRP Chairperson, +61 418 312 301