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    #DefendCordilleraPh: Release Igorot leader Beatrice Belen!

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    Global organisations and rights advocates condemn the recent arrest of indigenous peoples leader Beatrice Belen of Innabuyog Kalinga, in the Northern Philippines. Groups under the global campaign #DefendCordilleraPH released a statement Tuesday citing the illegal arrest as part of state-terrorism wherein critics of government are first red-tagged as a prelude to graver human rights violations.

    “This illegal arrest comes in a time where more women are speaking up against injustices in our society. Belen is a fierce woman local leader in her community and has been defending ancestral lands of the Igorot indigenous peoples,” says Beverly Longid of the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) and convenor of #DefendCordilleraPH.

    Gabriela Women’s Partylist and celebrities advocating for women’s rights were recently red-tagged by Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr, warning them that they will suffer the same fate as that of those killed activists.

    “Why are men in uniform so afraid of outspoken women? Not only is this male chauvinism but an act of state terrorism. Harassments and red-tagging often come before trumped-up charges, illegal arrests, and worse, killings,” says Asia-Pacific Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (APCHRP) spokesperson Sister Patricia Fox who is also active in the global campaign to defend the Cordillera.

    Days after the controversial death threats and red tagging of the Philippine general against celebrities and women’s group Garbiela, Belen’s house was searched and planted with evidence. Belen is also former regional vice-chairperson of local women’s group Innabuyog-Gabriela, an affiliate of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. She is currently detained at the Tabuk City Jail in Kalinga, where she was first placed in a cell with male detainees. 

    At 4am, Sunday, a team from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the 503rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army served search warrants to Belen and ten other households in Western and Lower Uma, Kalinga. Belen was with her husband and two grandchildren when they were led outside their home and the police started the search, after which three firearms were allegedly seized by the team. Accompanied by her villagemates, she was brought to the Police Station in Tabuk, Kalinga, 463 kilometres north of the country’s capital.

    According to #DefendCordilleraPh, Belen, for decades has been actively fighting for indigenous peoples’ rights, leading campaigns to demand military pull out from their communities, and defending their ancestral land against destructive projects of private companies, such as the energy giant Chevron. 

    Because of this, she has been subjected to red-tagging and threats by the state forces since the time of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay-Laya and under President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 70 or Whole of Nation Approach to End Insurgency, the National Taskforce to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). 

    To note, the task force recently obtained an approved budget of 19 billion pesos (391,637,000 US dollars) from the national government while cases of state-sponsored human rights violations like that of Belen intensify on the ground. 

    “We demand the immediate release of Belen. Red-tagging as seen in her case lead to unlawful arrests and even worse, to state-sanctioned killings.We condemn these kinds of acts from the Philippine government, a clear systemic attack against women especially against indigenous women,” Longid concludes.#

    ICHRP on the adoption of UNHRC Resolution: PH gov’t peddled lies to the UN body

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    The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) once again expressed their demand for an independent international investigation on the non-stop rights violations in the south-east Asian country. The statement was issued after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on technical cooperation and capacity-building for human rights in the Philippines during the 45th Regular Session in Geneva Wednesday. 

    “We have come to a point where the Philippines has gained global notoriety for human rights abuses. However, we are dismayed with how disinformation and empty promises were peddled by the Philippine government before the UN body,” says ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy. 

    According to ICHRP, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte uncooperatively barred the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet from conducting its investigation in the country, and instead launched a disinformation campaign in the UNHRC. “Through state funded public relations they were able to circulate documents that tried to paint a human rights-friendly Philippine government,” ICHRP said.

    The document in question is the The Philippine Human Rights Situationer released May 2020 and distributed in Geneva. It was also cited in the recent UNHRC resolution. 

    “Aside from being a misrepresentation of the human rights crisis, the situationer resorted to red-tagging and a language of vitriol that aims to discredit victims, their families calling for justice, and civil society working on the ground,” says Murphy. 

    Last July, ICHRP raised concerns on the claims of Justice Minister Menardo Guevarra to the 44th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council. “The announcement by Mr. Guevarra of an inter-agency panel to review the drug-related operations by the Philippine government is but an attempt to save face in front of the UN body. There is no evidence that the panel exists to investigate 5,655 deaths in police drug operations,” says Murphy.

    Secretary Guevarra delivered a snowstorm of claims about investigations by diligent authorities to support his total rejection of any claim that impunity reigns in the Philippines. 

    ICHRP responded: “How shameless for him to boast that the long overdue conviction of Retired Major-General Palparan in 2018 for the kidnapping and serious illegal detention in the 2006 disappearance of University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan is proof that there is justice in the Philippines?” 

    The Justice Secretary also took credit for the December 2019 conviction of some of the accused Ampatuan clan and some police for the November 23, 2009, massacre of 57 people including 32 media workers in Maguindanao.

    “These isolated, long-delayed decisions are the exception that proves the rule of impunity,” says Murphy.

    ICHRP underlined that until the government of President Rodrigo Duterte takes seriously the facts-based findings of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) Report and allows an independent international probe, this promise of a judicial review is nothing but empty.

    International investigation: We will make it happen

    The global coalition recognises that the adopted UNHRC resolution has potential to those seeking accountability on the human rights atrocities in the country. “We welcome the request for High Commissioner Bachelet’s Office to work closely with the Philippine state for fulfilment of its international human rights obligations and commitments. Also, we are hopeful that the UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines, noted in the resolution, would work with the human rights defenders in the country,” says ICHRP. 

    A United Nations Resident Coordinator in the Philippines and United Nations offices are present which are, according to the resolution, aim to “intensify the work of the United Nations on the ground and to assist the Government of the Philippines through effective human rights technical assistance and capacity-building measures.” 

    Last May, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Argentinian Gustavo González to the position of United Nations Resident Coordinator in the Philippines and he is also currently serving as Humanitarian Coordinator.

    Despite the UNHRC resolution being mum on a probe, ICHRP is committed to work with international NGOs, churches, trade unions, lawyers, human rights organizations and concerned individuals to initiate a global people’s initiative to undertake an independent international investigation. 

    “Now that the human rights crisis has been brought center stage, the world is watching the Philippines even more closely. The need for an independent international investigation can no longer wait. That is why ICHRP together with the international community seeking accountability will step it up and make it happen,” says the global coalition. As of this writing, working groups for a global independent investigation have already been formed.

    “Democratic spaces are still being eroded. Arrests continue. The killings continue and so will the search for justice. We have yet to see accountability for the thousands killed in the drug war, the crackdown against activists and the attacks against press freedom. The international community demands  an independent, credible investigation on the Philippines and will continue to do so,” Murphy concludes.#

    Duterte now a known dictator with EU Parliament vote

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    EU Parliament

    President Rodrigo Duterte has become a globally infamous dictator with the European Union (EU) Parliament passing a resolution on the country’s human rights crisis according to International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP).

    “With the strong resolution from the EU Parliament, the Duterte government has now gained notoriety as a world-known human rights violator, if not, a dictator following the likes of Ferdinand Marcos,” says ICHRP. 

    The Philippine government of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was marked with repression and brutality. By the end of the Marcos regime, more than 3,000 were killed, 34,000 were tortured, 70,000 were imprisoned and billions of public funds were stolen.

    The legislative branch of the European Union recently voted and passed a resolution on the human rights situation in the Philippines condemning “all threats, harassment, intimidation, rape and violence against those who seek to expose allegations of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations in the country, including human rights and environmental activists, trade unionists and journalists; denounces the misuse of the law and judiciary systems as a means of silencing critical voices.”

    “We welcome this resolution which is a damning indictment of the human rights crisis in the Philippines. The demands for justice for those slain in the drug war, the killings of activists, the attacks on press freedom have all gained international condemnation. It is an attestation that the world no longer tolerates this repressive government. Duterte and his dictator government will be made accountable,” says ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy.

    The same resolution also threatened to revoke the Philippines’ trade privileges with the European Union bloc saying that “in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities, to immediately initiate the procedure which could lead to the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences.”

    “President Duterte with his ‘de facto’ Martial Law in place and the continuing repression in the country has found himself increasingly isolated in the international community. Cut from the same cloth as that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Duterte is now synonymous with killings and human rights atrocity,” says Murphy.

    Today, the Philippines commemorates the Martial Law declaration by dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Akin to Marcos’ reign, Duterte has imposed a ‘de facto’ Martial Law with the country being swept with heightened military and police control, brutal crackdowns against critics, silencing of the press, and further consolidation of power.

    The EU Parliament resolution also urged the Philippine government: to grant leading broadcasting company ABS-CBN a franchise; to drop the charges against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa; to release Senator Leila De Lima; to immediately carry out credible investigations into the murder of Jory Porquia, Randall ‘Randy’ Echanis, Zara Alvarez,  and all extrajudicial killings.#

    ICHRP mourns state murder of Filipina human rights worker

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    Slain paralegal Zara Alvarez helped bring cases of Negros killings to UNHRC

    “We mourn the killing of human rights worker Zara Alvarez, a brave and staunch defender of farmers and Filipino rights,” says the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines. The statement came after the murder of Alvarez by state death squad last August 17 in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Central Philippines.

    “Human rights defenders, farmers, farmworkers and civilians are being slayed one after the other with brazen impunity. The Duterte government’s policy of political killing merits international condemnation. These are our colleagues and fellow human rights advocates who are being killed like cattle,” says ICHRP Chairperson Peter Murphy.

    Zara Alvarez, 39, a local community health worker, paralegal for Karapatan – Negros Island and a single mother. Alvarez is the 13th member of the national human rights alliance, Karapatan, murdered under the Duterte government and the second case of political killing in just a week. It followed the assassination of peasant leader and peace consultant Randall Echanis last August 10.

    Alvarez was one of the paralegals who helped bring the cases of human rights violations in Negros to the UN Human Rights Council. Last December 2019, a high-level delegation of lawmakers, church people, and trade unionists visited Bacolod City with the help of Alvarez who at that time was also a victim of harassment and red-tagging.

    “This is so tragic. Zara was a brave defender of the poor and their rights. We witnessed in our visit in Negros her undeniable dedication to human rights work. We extend our condolences to the bereaved family and colleagues,” says ICHRP vice-chairperson Rev. Jeong Jin Woo who was part of the high-level delegation last December.

    Zara Alvarez (center) together with Rev. Jeong Jin Woo (second from left) in a high-level delegation visit in Negros Island last December.

    Following the visit, the high-level delegation made a submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which released a comprehensive report last June 4 on the human rights atrocities in the country. The Report detailed: “OHCHR requested but did not receive Government figures on killings of human rights defenders, but credible civil society sources have compiled detailed lists documenting hundreds of killings. OHCHR has itself verified the killings of 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, between January 2015 and December 2019.”

    The High Commissioner’s report cited the dangers of public labeling and red-tagging in Negros. Alvarez’s name and photo appeared on public posters tagging her as a terrorist. Now, Alvarez is the fifth person on the poster to be murdered. The other murder cases remain unresolved – activist Haide Flores, lawyer Benjamin Ramos Jr., city councilor Bernardino Patigas and lawyer Anthony Trinidad.

    “We invite everyone to condemn the ongoing crackdown against activists and civilians in the Philippines. Let us honor Zara and the hundreds of slain community leaders by incessantly seeking justice and accountability. We are one with the Filipino people in this battle against tyranny,” says Murphy. A global day of action for Justice for Alvarez and all victims of extrajudicial killings takes place today, Wednesday, August 19. #

    Global rights group condemns state murder of Filipino peace consultant

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    Randall Echanis was a Peace Consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, a member of the 2016-17 Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms in the formal peace talks sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Government.

    Assassination of land reform activist Randall Echanis designed to destroy peace dialogue

    The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines protests in the very strongest terms the murder of Mr Randall Echanis, 71, in the country’s capital region last Monday. In a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, ICHRP reports the crime of state terrorism in the killing of veteran activist and peace consultant Echanis.

    At about 1.20am Manila time, August 10, 2020, five men were seen leaving the rented home of Mr Randall Echanis, in Novaliches, Quezon City, Philippines. Inside the bodies of Mr Echanis and an unnamed neighbour were found, with stab and gunshot wounds. Mr Echanis was at home receiving medical attention.

    “This murder is almost certainly a calibrated operation of the Duterte counter-insurgency program, Oplan Kapanatagan. It is designed to destroy any dialogue that may resolve the five-decade long armed conflict in the Philippines, and instead pursue all out political violence against civilians,” says ICHRP Chairperson Mr Peter Murphy in a letter to the UN High Commissioner.

    Mr Echanis was a Peace Consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, a member of the 2016-17 Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms in the formal peace talks sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Government. He advocated for the mass of poor peasant farmers, for he was the Deputy Secretary-General of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP) and Chairperson of the Anakpawis Party-List, a political party for peasants, fisherfolk and workers.

    On the same day, Ms Erlinda Echanis, wife of the slain peace consultant, reported that police officers forcibly took the body of her husband which is now being guarded by state authorities. “I have positively identified his lifeless body which bore torture marks, multiple stab and gunshot wounds,” says Ms Echanis. 

    ICHRP urged the UN High Commissioner’s office and the United Nations Security Council to lead international condemnation of the murder of Mr Echanis, and to urge the Philippines government to bring the perpetrators to justice. In the same letter, it also appeals to the government to abandon its war on all political opposition, and instead to release all political prisoners and resume the stalled peace talks.

    “We call on all member states of the UN Human Rights Council to be seized of the seriousness of the human rights situation in the Philippines and to adopt all the recommendations in your June 30 report on the human rights situation in the Philippines,” says ICHRP. 

    Lastly, Mr Murphy addresses the international community, calling on it “to unequivocally condemn the state killing of Mr Echanis.” #