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    HUMAN RIGHTS 2021: Red-tagging, systematic state murder are the order of the day in the Philippines -ICHRP

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    On the night of January 2, in Sta. Rita town, Pampanga, Federico Pineda, a construction worker who was celebrating his daughter’s seventh birthday was shot dead by a police officer after being mistaken for a robber. 

    According to the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) the new year 2021 in the Philippines heralds more targeted state political killings, massacres, continuous police killings of the poor, and a threat of mass arrests of leaders and members of red-tagged organisations.

    “Donald Trump, with his blatant assault on the US Congress on January 6, 2021, has demonstrated what happens when impunity is the rule of the day. The international community must act against impunity of state actors in the Philippines to stop a greater tragedy unfolding in this nation which once fired the global imagination with the “people power” removal of the Dictator Marcos in 1986,” said Mr Peter Murphy, Chair of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines today.

    On October 7, 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Council took at face value the Duterte government’s claim that it was defending the human rights of the Filipino people and offered technical cooperation. By this decision, the Human rights Council chose to ignore the recent enactment of a new Anti-Terrorism Act, and the targeted assassinations of Randell Echanis and Zara Alvarez in August 2020 and the continuing murders of poor people for allegedly using or dealing in drugs.

    What followed?

    On December 9, the Duterte government’s new Anti-Terrorism Council – an appointed executive body – designated the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New Peoples Army as “terrorist organizations, associations, and/or groups of persons”.

    Early in the morning of December 10, International Human Rights Day, police raided the homes trade union leaders in Metro Manila to arrest six trade union activists, Dennise Velasco, Romina Astudillo, Mark Ryan Cruz, Jaymie Gregorio Jr., Joel Demate, and Rodrigo Esparago, and one journalist, Lady Ann Salem.

    On December 15, at around 5.30pm, Dr Mary Rose Sancelan, and her husband Edwin were shot dead at Brgy. Poblacion in Guihulngan City. Dr Sancelan was the head of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) in the city, which handles the government response on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. She had been included in the “hit list” of the anti-communist group Kagubak, which made the absurd allegation that she was the spokesperson of the Leonardo Panaligan Command of the New People’s Army in Central Negros.

    On December 17, five farm workers in Barangay San Juan, Baras, Rizal, were gunned down and mutilated by combined police and military forces. They were caretakers and workers at a private mango farm but Local Government and Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano red-tagged them suspected members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and members of the New People’s Army, killed in an encounter.

    On the evening of December 20, Sonya Gregorio, 52, and her son Frank, 25, were shot point blank by Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca in Tarlac. They were neighbours. The shooting was captured on video and went viral on social media. The perpetrator was arrested, since his crime was captured on video, however, two previous administrative charges against him for murder had been dismissed for lack of evidence, and he had been allowed to carry his firearm off-duty.

    On December 30, at 4am, nine leaders of the Tumanduk indigenous people on Panay Island were brutally massacred by Region 6 police and elements of the 12th Infantry Battalion, and 17 others were arrested in separate police raids. Their organisation was opposing two dam projects. The leaders had previously refused to declare that they would “surrender” as NPA members and been warned that they would be arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

    “Impunity and, red-tagging and systematic state murder are the order of the day in the Philippines, and it will only get worse with the terrorism designation of the CPP and NPA,” said Mr Murphy. “This designation will now extend to any organisation or individual calling for urgent economic and social reforms in the poverty-stricken Philippines.

    “The shocking December 10 raids on Metro Manila trade union leaders will be a model for systematic raids on hundreds more organisations unless the international reaction can constrain the government,” Mr Murphy concluded.#

    PH gov’t human rights summit, a deodorizer

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    An international rights group called out the government’s “human rights” summit as another platform to save face after gaining global notoriety for human rights abuses. As the world commemorates the 72nd human rights day, International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) supports the Filipinos’ call for credible independent investigation on what’s happening in the country.

    “We find it ironic that arrests and rights violations continue in the same week that Philippine government launches a human rights summit. It is clear that this platform is nothing but an extravagant deodorizer aimed at exonerating the state-sanctioned perpetrators from their crimes,” says ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy.

    Last December 2, a land rights defender Amanda Echanis was illegally arrested and planted with guns and explosives by Philippine authorities in Cagayan, north of the country’s capital. Amanda is also the daughter of peace activist Randall Echanis who was assassinated in his home last August. In his most recent tirade, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte accused progressive lawmakers as communists while failing to offer any proof to back up his allegations. 

    According to ICHRP, it is alarming that the government is on one hand publicly terror-tagging activists and civilians and on the other speaking of strengthening local and international partnerships on human rights issues. 
    The global coalition was referring to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s keynote address in the taxpayer funded human rights summit. Guevarra claimed that the event is a platform for an “earnest, intelligent discourse so that we may strengthen sectoral engagement and international partnerships in addressing human rights challenges.”

    “Honestly, this duality of the State smacks of hypocrisy and worse, it comes off as an insult to the thousands victimized by the Duterte government,” says Murphy. 

    The summit comes 2 months after the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution providing technical cooperation and capacity-building for promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines, which took wide criticism from the international community for falling short of mandating an independent international investigation into the human rights situation in the country.

    Despite this, ICHRP manifests their support for Filipinos activists and human rights defenders who have been tirelessly advancing people’s rights under the deadly administration.

    “We share your disappointment that the momentum for change built up over many years of effort at the level of the UNHRC was stalled and deflected by the Duterte government this year,” says Murphy.

    ICHRP together with the international community seeking accountability is stepping it up for a credible investigation to happen. Murphy asserts: “Our response is to initiate the task that the UNHRC should have done, to launch a further independent international investigation of the human rights violations in the Philippines.”

    As of this writing, global independent investigations have already been ongoing and will be officially launched this December.#

    Junk MO 32, End Lawless State Violence on Negros Island, Philippines!

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    This November 22, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – Canada calls for the junking of Memorandum Order No. 32 (MO 32) and the end to lawless state violence on Negros Island, Philippines.

    On November 22, 2018, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte declared MO 32 in response to so-called “lawless violence” in the provinces of Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, and Bicol. The memorandum was declared in the wake of several high-profile killings of peasants and activists, including the October 20, 2018 killing of nine members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers in Sagay. MO 32 was supposedly declared in order to “prevent further loss of innocent lives and destruction of property.” In practice, MO 32 allowed for further militarization of these provinces via deployment of additional units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

    Two years later, it has become clear that the claims of “lawless violence” in the region by the Duterte administration have been used to cover up the lawless violence of the administration itself. To date, the number of peasant and activist lives taken in violent ways has steadily risen, with dozens killed in state-sponsored acts of violence through the AFP and PNP. The experience of de facto Martial Law continues to violently affect the lives of those who are most vulnerable.

    On Negros Island alone, at least 50 peasants and activists have been killed under the Duterte administration. Many of these have occurred during the current period of militarization which began with the declaration of MO 32. Oplan Sauron, a supposed counter-insurgency campaign by the AFP and PNP in Negros Oriental, resulted in the killings of 20 peasants within a six-month period in 2019. More recently, the high-profile killings of several individuals on Negros Island drew international condemnation. These include the killings of Zara Alvarez, a healthcare worker and human rights defender; and the brutal beheading of peasant farmer Bernardo Guillen by the AFP.

    As peasants try to survive in the primarily feudal economy of Negros Island, the struggle for land continues to affect their lives. An elite ruling class of landlord families and corporations dominates agricultural production on the island. In contrast, the majority of peasants and farm workers do not own any land at all. Organized peasants and workers struggle for their right to land through actions such as “bungkalan”, the occupation and cultivation of idle farmland. In response, state forces enact lawless state violence in the form of harassment, arrests, and killings. The only real guarantee of peace on Negros Island is genuine land reform, which would ensure that peasants in farming and other sectors are able to take control of their means of livelihood.

    Although MO 32 purports to “prevent further loss of innocent lives and destruction of property”, it has become clear that the protection of landowners, and the protection of land itself, is paramount over the lives of those who actually work the land. We call for an end to militarization on Negros Island and the implementation of real solutions which meet the people’s needs.

    #StopTheAttacks
    #JunkMO32
    #StopMilitarizationNow
    #DefendNegrosIsland

    #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.#