CHR: Anti-insurgency drive being used to justify threats, attacks on activists

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
CHR: Anti-insurgency drive being used to justify threats, attacks on activists
Multi-sectoral organizations on Oct. 6, 2019 denounced the recent arrest of ten activists in the span of three days, which they said is evidence of ‘de-facto’ or unofficial martial law in the country.
KJ Rosales / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission of Human Rights in a statement on Sunday morning once again called for the Duterte administration to repeal Executive Order No. 70, which orders the whole-of-nation approach against communist rebels, saying  it has been used to justify continued attacks on human rights defenders and on activists.

A little over a month into 2020, human rights defenders and members of activist organizations have been experiencing attacks that have been linked to the government, the commission said. 

"With the intensified implementation of Executive Order No. 70 to combat counterinsurgency in the country, we petition the government to rescind the policy as it has been consistently used to justify threats and intimidation of individuals and organizations working for the improvement of the human rights and welfare of various marginalised, disadvantaged, and vulnerable sectors of society," the commission said.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 70 on December 4, 2018, which institutionalized a "whole-of-nation approach" and created a task force to end local communist armed conflict.

Since then, rights groups have said that situation in the Philippines is akin to a de facto martial law.

"We cannot further reiterate that the State should develop protection mechanisms that support and safeguard our human rights defenders, particularly those who are facing high risks such as individuals working for indigenous people’s rights, land, and environmental concerns; journalists; and women human rights defenders," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline De Guia said in a statement over the weekend. 

CHR notes attacks on activists, rights defenders

In the statement, the commission again called for an end to what they said was state-sponsored "violations against human rights defenders, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances." De Guia also outlined a number of cases since the start of the year that she said back up the commission's claim, including: 

  • January 19, 2020: Peasant organizers Emerito Pinza and Romy Candor went missing in Brgy. San Antonio, Kalayaan, Laguna. Rights groups reported that suspected elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Mobile Force Battalion 4A were involved in the killing.
  • February 3, 2020: Indigenous people leader-organizer Jay-ar Mercado of Oriental Mindoro was violently killed by alleged members of the 4th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. "His remains were found buried in Bulalacao without the consent and knowledge of his family," the statement said.
  • February 5, 2020: Engineer Jennifer Agohob, Oroquieta resident and member of both the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) and rights group Karapatan was arrested in Western Mindanao with a warrant of arrest for murder issued on July 26, 2019 by Judge Victoriano Lacaya, Jr. of Regional Trial Court Branch in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte. Agohob was supposedly not made aware of any of these complaints at the time.
  • February 7, 2020: Five activists were arrested in simultaneous raids in Tacaloban City including staff of political party Bayan and peasants’ organisation SAGUPA; spokesperson of People’s Surge Network; a member of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines; and the Executive Director of Eastern Vista, in raids by Philippine National Police (PNP) officers led by Lt. Col. Pedere over charges of “illegal possession of firearms." They remain detained at the Palo PNP station.

According to data from rights watchdog Karapatan, itself tagged by the government as a supposed communist front organization, at least 293 political killings have been recorded during the Duterte administration.

Among those killed, 167 were human rights defenders. They also said that at least 204 have been tortured, 429 fell victims to frustrated extrajudicial killings, 11 were forcibly disappeared, and 94,075 were threatened and harassed.

In late October and early November, the offices of known progressive organizations in the country were raided for what they all said were trumped-up charges aimed at stifling dissent. The same groups have also been consistently redtagged by government arms, or accused of being communist elements linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines. 

"The judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest and criminalization of human rights defenders should be a key area of concern of the people and should never be tolerated," De Guia said. 

"Some government officials have tried to connect human rights defenders with communist groups and terrorist organizations among others to pursue a politically motivated defamation campaign against them."

CHR itself has long spoken out about the dangers of red-tagging. De Guia, who is a lawyer, said in a statement in April that accusations of communist involvement must be proven in court. 

“Labelling groups before an objective judgment violates the constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and may have serious implications on the security and movement of individuals and groups involved,” she said.

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