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    Starting 2019 with a bang

    The government of Rodrigo Duterte welcomed 2019 with a bang, continuing its violations of Filipinos’ human rights into its mid-term.

    The killing spree continues both under the so-called “war on drugs” and the counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan.

    The most high-profile victim of extra-judicial killing at the beginning of the year is Randy Felix Malayao, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in the peace talks with the government. Malayao was shot and killed by a still-unknown assailant while sleeping inside a bus at a stopover in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya on January 30.

    The government tried to besmirch his name, but there was an outpouring of tributes from his friends and comrades in the activist and revolutionary movements.

    The following farmers were also victims of extra-judicial killings:

    >> Albert Espenas, 39, in San Francisco, Quezon, on January 8. He was manning his store and was shot by unidentified men who feigned buying from him. His death was used as a pretext to militarize his village.

    >> Remeglo Arquilos, in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental on January 11. He was a habalhabal driver who was flagged down by armed men while transporting passengers. The men immediately shot him four times and then left.

    >> Nicasio Ebo, 37, in Bacon, Sorsogon on January 11. While standing near the barangay hall, he was shot dead by four motorcycle-riding men. He is a member of progressive partylist Anakpawis.

    >> Sergio Atay, 35, in Rizal, Zamboanga del Norte on January 29. He was stopped at a military checkpoint on his way home, went missing and was found dead the following day. He is a member of local farmers group Magbabaul, which is affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or the Peasant Movement of the Philippines.

    >> Emel Tejero, 36, and Randel Gallego, 21, whose bodies were discovered in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on January 30. After hauling abaca, they were fired upon by the military, went missing, and were found dead the following day. They are members of Lumad organization Mapasu.

    The arrest and imprisonment of Maria Ressa, one of the Philippines’ top journalists and editor of news website Rappler.com, on February 13 was international news. It highlights how the Duterte government is using laws and trumped-up charges to imprison, harass and try to intimidate into silence its critics and those accused of supporting them.

    >> Regional Lumad leader Datu Jomorito Goaynon and regional peasant leader Ireneo Udarbe were reported missing on January 28. On the following day, the military announced that it has captured two high-ranking leaders of armed rebel group New People’s Army — who turned out to be Goaynon and Udarbe. They remain imprisoned to date on the basis of planted evidence and trumped-up charges.

    >> On January 30, the office of the Misamis Oriental Farmers’ Association was raided by the military. The following were arrested: MOFA chairperson Gerry Basahon, peasant leader Gerald Basahon and staff members Mylene and Marivic Cometa, along with two minors. They continue to be detained on the basis of planted evidence and trumped-up charges.

    >> Regional peasant leader Norly Bernabe, who was arrested on February 7 in Taytay, Palawan. Before this, Bernabe had survived an assassination attempt and was forced by the military to present himself as an NPA surrenderee but declined. He is in prison on the basis of trumped-up charges over the killing of a policeman.

    >> Jennifer David, 28, a leader of progressive partylist Kabataan’s regional chapter in Central Luzon, was arrested in Sto. Tomas, Pampanga on January 16 and was brought to a police station in Cavite. She was released at the fiscal’s order. It appears that she was mistaken for a namesake who is on the wanted list in a Cavite court.

    >> Racquel Quintano, 42, a spokesperson of an organization of relatives of political prisoners, as her husband is detained in Davao City, was abducted on January 16 in Tagum City, Davao del Norte. On the following day, the military admitted that she is in its custody, having surrendered supposedly as a “tax collector” of the NPA. She remains in prison in Compostela Valley.

    >> In San Mariano, Isabela, six Kalinga farmers were illegally arrested by the military on January 14, after being strafed. The military accused them of hiding grenades in their baskets and nets. After the immediate response of the community, the farmers were released after two days.

    As of December 2018, there were already 225 political prisoners who were arrested under Duterte, bringing the total number of political prisoners in the country to 548.

    Ressa’s arrest came hand-in-hand with the cyber-attacks, or the Distributed Denial-of-Service, against progressive news websites Bulatlat.com, PinoyWeekly.org, Kodao.org and Altermidya.org. Websites of progressive organizations Karapatan and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan were also targeted and became inaccessible for weeks.

    The Duterte government has also continued to threaten, harass and intimidate activists and other groups critical of it.

    >> The military released flyers accusing church workers, lawyers, activists and a journalist in the Northern Mindanao region of being members of the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines. Among those included in the flyer are Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Felixberto Calang, Fr. Rolando Abejo of the Movement Against Tyranny-Northern Mindanao, Karapatan-Northern Mindanao spokesperson Fr. Khen Apus, human-rights lawyers Beverly Musni, Czarina Musni, and Beverly Ann Musni, and journalist Cong Corrales and his family.

    >> The police filed a case of obstruction of justice, grave threats and coercion against Malayao’s sister, progressive lawyer Edu Balgos and activist Rina Balgos for claiming Malayao’s belongings after he was killed. This was announced in a statement on the eve of Malayao’s burial, on February 6.

    >> The following church workers and local church leaders also faced harassment in January-February: Fr. Marco Sulayao of the IFI in Bacolod, Negros Occidental; Rev. Christopher Ablon, Rev. Marciano Carabio, Rev. Jerome Lito, and Rev. Arnold Abuel, all from the IFI, in Metro Manila; Fr. Randy Manicap, Sr. in Pidding, Ilocos Norte.

    >> The members of the following activist organizations in Eastern Visayas have also experienced harassment and intimidation: Bayan, People Surge, Anakbayan, and Sinirangan Bisayas.

    >> Just after classes resumed on the first week of January, a Philippine National Police memorandum was exposed as ordering the profiling of teachers who are members of progressive partylist ACT Teachers Partylist.

    >> Fake news were also circulated on January 7 claiming that an officer of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines has admitted that the group is a Communist front.

    >> Other victims of harassment in this period are: Ralph Justine Baguinon, a student activist and chairperson of the College of Engineering Student Council in University of the Philippines-Diliman, received a death threat. Prof. Phoebe Zoe Maria Sanchez of the UP-Cebu was threatened by the police with the filing of criminal charges. Workers of NutriAsia in Bulacan are being threatened with trumped-up charges in retaliation to their strike.

    >> Suspected military men in plain clothes went to the national office of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap or Kadamay on January 16 and asked about the whereabouts of the militant urban poor group’s leaders and staff.

    >> On February 1, a judge of the Manila Regional Trial Court reduced the names in the Department of Justice’s terrorist list from more than 600 to two. A threat still hangs over the heads of the more than 600 activists because Malayao was included in the list, was included among those removed, and was still assassinated.

    The Duterte government seems intent on intensifying repression and human-rights violations. It is pushing for the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility from 12 to nine. It is using the January bombings in Jolo, Sulu to try to justify the continued imposition of Martial Law in Mindanao. It is proposing more draconian amendments to the country’s anti-terrorism law.

    In February, it undertook a black propaganda drive in Europe in which it demonized progressive organizations and institutions in the Philippines as Communist fronts, in order to attempt to deodorize its stinking human-rights record. It continues to appoint retired police and military generals to positions in the civilian bureaucracy. It continues to revive age-old cases against NDFP peace consultants including Vicente Ladlad, who is now a political detainee. It has asked a UN working group on enforced disappearances to remove 625 cases within the period 1975-2012 in order to whitewash these cases.

    Despite all this, condemnation and protests against the human rights violations are continuing. One of the results of collective and legal action as well as popular outcry was the release of Rafael Baylosis, another NDFP peace consultant, from detention on January 15. The judge on the case clearly said that the evidence used against him were planted.

    Here are some recent articles that provide context to the Duterte government’s wanton violations of human rights.

    ___
    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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