United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders (UNSR-HRD) Michel Forst expressed interest to renew his mandate’s request to the Philippine government for an official visit in the country to investigate reports of rights violations against human rights defenders. Forst is in the country as keynote speaker in a gathering of human rights defenders in the Asia-Pacific region.
In a two-hour meeting with rights defenders led by Karapatan, Forst listened to the testimonies of some members of the Manilakbayan contingent and representatives of Karapatan chapters in Mindanao and Southern Tagalog. The meeting took place on December 3 in Quezon City.
“We enjoin the international community and human rights advocates to press the Philippine government to accede to the request of the UNSR-HRD to look into the numerous reports of attacks against rights defenders in the country. The Aquino administration has repeatedly deceived the international community and evaded scrutiny on the real score on the human rights situation in the Philippines,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan.
Previous UN special rapporteurs on the situation of the rights of HRDs Hina Jilani and Margaret Sekaggya both submitted several requests to conduct an official investigation in the Philippines, but they were not able to obtain official invitations from the Philippine government.
“Human rights defenders in the Philippines have increasingly become a vulnerable target of BS Aquino regime’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan,” she added. Under the Aquino regime, Karapatan documented 226 victims of extrajudicial killings, 105 of them are human rights defenders. The group also monitored 26 enforced disappearances, 104 victims of torture, and more than 900 illegal arrests.
Manilakbayan spokesperson Datu Jomorito Guaynon discussed with Forst the serious impact of combat operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines on the farmers and indigenous peoples in Mindanao, where 55 combat battalions are currently deployed. “Indigenous people’s leaders Genasque Enriquez and Jalandoni Campos are among the 213 individuals slapped with trumped up charges by the military because they continue to defend their ancestral lands. They are both vocal in their opposition against large-scale and destructive mining operations, and the role of the AFP in protecting the interests of these big companies,” Guaynon said.
Rights defenders Sr. Famita Somogod of the Rural Missionaries of Philippines-Northern Mindanao and Hanimay Suazo of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao reported the various threats to their lives and security by state security agents, who have tagged and labeled them as “enemies of the State.”
“Our lives are on the line. In Mindanao, there are 83 victims of extrajudicial killings; most of them are rights defenders. We are very concerned that such trend will continue with the Aquino administration’s disregard for human rights,” Suazo commented.
Eleven-year old Bertoldo Garay, a student in an alternative learning school for Lumad in Surigao del Sur, described to Forst how the AFP turned their school into barracks, at the same time, tagging it as “NPA school.” “Even children like me are called NPAs,” Garay said.
Rights defenders from Karapatan and Gabriela Southern Tagalog highlighted the illegal arrest and detention of women activists Andrea Rosal and Miradel Torres, who were both pregnant when they were arrested.
“We appeal to the international community to support the call to immediately release Rosal, Torres and all political prisoners,” said Leona Entena of Gabriela Southern Tagalog.
Palabay said that on July 2012, Sekaggya and the UN expert on extrajudicial killings Christof Heyns released a statement highlighting the killings and attacks against human rights defenders like Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio. They called on the Government of the Philippines to “adopt urgent measures to protect the life of rights defenders and to ensure they are able to carry out their important work.” They likewise urged the authorities to implement immediately the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in his 2007 report on the killings and rights violations in the Philippines.
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KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign.