Human rights in the Philippines roundup

March-April 2019

The biggest human-rights news in March-April 2019 is the killing of 14 farmers in three towns of Negros Oriental province in the wee hours of March 30. The military and police launched “drug war”-style operations in the area, claiming that they were serving arrest warrants to members of armed group New People’s Army (NPA) and that the latter “fought back (nanlaban).”

Condemning the killings, the families of the victims claim that the victims were sleeping when the police and military knocked on their doors, that they did not know any court case against them, that they are definitely not NPAs, and that most of them are not even peasant activists. Please read the final report of the National Fact-finding and Solidarity Mission in Negros Oriental held on April 4-8.

The killings became a focal point in the struggle against the repressive and outright fascist policies of the government of Rodrigo Duterte. Progressive organizations called for a Global Day of Action on April 10 to condemn the killings, and many individuals and organizations from around the world responded with solidarity for the Filipino people and condemnation of the killings.

The following members and leaders of people’s organizations were victims of extra-judicial killing in the two months:

>> March 12 — James Vinas, 72, former partylist group Bayan Muna’s coordinator in Borongan, Eastern Samar. He was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding men.

>> March 15 — Jerome Pangadas, 15-year old member of Ata-Manobo indigenous peoples and student in a community-run school in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. He was killed when a member of the military’s auxiliary unit opened fire on the house where he was watching television.

>> March 18 — Larry Suganob, 42, member of Pinagbuklod, an affiliate of peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. He was about to take a bath outside his house when he was gunned by two men riding a motorcycle. This happened at a time when the military was actively making rounds in his area.

>> April 26 — Pining Lebico, barangay captain in Las Navas, Northern Samar, was shot dead a few meters away from a military camp. Karapatan’s Eastern Visayas chapter claims that the military has been active in the area days before Lebico’s killing and was responsible for the death of a 10-year old child. Lebico is a relative of the child, and was soliciting support in the town proper for the child’s burial. Before this, he has submitted to the provincial capitol petitions of his constituents calling for the military’s pull-put from their area.

Datu Kaylo Bontulan, a leader of many Lumad organizations and national leader of Sandugo, an alliance of national minorities, died on April 7 during an aerial bombardment in Kitaokitao, Bukidnon. The military claimed that he was killed in a clash with the NPA, but Bontulan was a civilian and was consulting Lumad leaders in the province when he was killed. He is well-known to many students and activists in Metro Manila, having discussed the situation and struggles of the Lumad and acted as the translator of Lumad leader and icon Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay.

On April 22, Bernardino Patigas, 72, a city council member in Escalante City in Negros Occidental who is running for reelection, was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding men. He was riding his motorcycle, was hailed by the men, stopped, and was shot. He is a founder of the regional affiliate of human-rights organization Karapatan. He is a long-time activist, a survivor of the Escalante Massacre in 1986 in which killed between 20 to 30 farmers, and a legendary activist figure in the region. After his assassination, a leader of umbrella organization Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in the province received text messages naming the leaders of progressive organizations there and saying that they are next to be killed.

Meanwhile, Cindy Tirado, 28, a woman combatant of the NPA, was killed in a reported encounter between the armed group and the military in Tagum City, Davao del Norte in April 15. Tirado’s mother, however, claims that her daughter did not engage the military in a firefight, was alive when she was arrested, was tortured under military custody, and was found dead with her vagina “shattered with a bullet.” It bears remembering that Duterte had earlier called on the military to do precisely that — shoot NPA women in the vagina.

Deodicto Minosa, 60, member of partylist group Anakpawis was reported missing by his family on March 24. He was last seen on March 20, after saying he will go to his farm in San Luis, Aurora. His family was told to look for him in the nearest military camp. His family claims that before being disappeared, intelligence agents went to Minosa’s house and looked for him and his son.

A political detainee, Franco “Pangkoy” Romeroso, 38, died because of an illness on April 19. Romeroso is one of the “Morong 43” health workers who were arrested in February 2010 and released in December 2010. He was arrested again on March 27 in Ternate, Cavite on the basis of trumped-up charges. He is the fourth political prisoner to die under the Duterte government.

Meanwhile, on March 31, 28 Lumad families composed of 168 persons, were forced to leave their homes in Lianga, Surigao del Sur because of aerial bombings made by military helicopters, the firing of canon artillery, and strafing by the military in their area.

The Duterte regime’s Synchronized Enhanced Managing of Police Operations (SEMPO) or “Oplan Sauron” is in full effect in the Negros region. This has caused the revival of Negros Oriental province’s ordinance which states that “written permission from the office of the governor is required before conducting medical or fact-finding missions.”

Karapatan called for the scrapping of the said provision which it describes as “repressive and patently unconstitutional. Such ordinances and acts deny much-needed aid for civilians, and it violates basic freedoms including the right to privacy and the right to defend people’s rights.”

Two consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in its peace talks with the government were arrested in this period. Their arrest puts the number of NDFP consultants imprisoned by the Duterte government to six.

First was Renante Gamara, 61, a unionist and trade-union organizer, on the evening of March 20 in Imus City, Cavite. He was arrested with his companion, former priest Arturo Balagat, 72. Both were arrested and imprisoned on the basis of trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives

Second was Franciso “Frank” Fernandez, 71, a well-known priest-turned-rebel in the Negros region, on March 24 in Liliw, Laguna. He was arrested with his wife, Cleofe Lagtapon, 66, while seeking medical treatment. Police claimed the two had pending arrest warrants for cases of murder, robbery, and illegal possession of firearms.

The Duterte government again arrested well-known journalist and editor of online newsmagazine Maria Ressa at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on March 28 using a new set of fabricated charges. She was immediately released after paying a US$ 1,700 bail. Her arrest came in the midst of continued Distributed Denial of Service attacks on websites of organizations and media organizations critical of the government.

Even grassroots activist leaders in Metro Manila and nearby regions are not spared from illegal arrests based on fake charges. On March 20, Eugene Garcia, president of the workers’ union in the Chinese-owned Pioneer Float Glass Manufacturing Inc. was arrested in his home in Pasig City in Metro Manila. The police claimed it was serving an arrest warrant, but witnesses claim that policemen planted a gun that was used as the basis for arresting Garcia.

Reynaldo Remias, Jr. and John Griefen Arlegui, members of urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap in Pandi, Bulacan, went missing on April 14. The following day, they were found in Malolos, Bulacan, imprisoned over illegal possession of firearms.

The Duterte government stepped up its red-tagging campaign in March and April. Various organizations accused by Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade, starting from his press conference on March 13, of being fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines condemned his statements. Karapatan issued strongly-worded statements criticizing Parlade’s tirades.

Karapatan, together with one or some of the organizations accused, filed a case before the Commission on Human Rights, the Joint Monitoring Committee of the NDFP-GRP peace talks and United Nations rapporteurs. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines in the US, relatives of victims of human-rights violations, political detainees, and Karapatan’s chapter in Southern Mindanao Region all released statements condemning the red-tagging.

On March 17, the Duterte governments’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court took effect. The withdrawal is widely seen as an attempt to avoid accountability before the court for the government’s numerous violations of the Filipino people’s human rights. Karapatan takes special care to note that even if the Duterte government has withdrawn from the ICC, it can still be tried by the latter for crimes committed while it was still a member.

Facing mounting criticisms and opposition for his various policies — “glaring failures in his flagship fascist policies, allegations on the complicity of the government in the illegal drug trade, exposed onerous deals with China and embarrassing handling of the West Philippine Sea issue, and escalating human rights violations,” in Karapatan’s words — Duterte threatened to suspend the writ of habeas corpus on April 4. This threat was met with widespread criticism from various political groups in the country.

Karapatan issued its 2018 year-end report on the human-rights situation in the Philippines; please read it here. The Supreme Court on April 2 allowed the release of documents pertinent to the Duterte government’s “drug war,” which has supposedly killed more than 20,000 suspected drug addicts and users, most of whom come from the poorest section of the population. This is seen as a victory in the fight for human rights in the country, which must be utilized and defended.

Global condemnation of the Duterte regime’s human-rights record continues to spread and grow stronger, notably in the US, where organizations are calling on the US government to stop supporting the repressive Duterte regime.

Most of the data presented in this roundup comes from Karapatan, an alliance of individuals, groups and organizations working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. Collated and contributed by ICHRP-Africa

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