Rights groups urge release of âred-taggedâ Gabriela official detained in Cordillera
Image shows indigenous woman and Gabriella Cordillera council member Beatrice Belen.
Rights groups urge release of ‘red-tagged’ Gabriela official detained in Cordillera
(Philstar.com) - October 27, 2020 - 4:52pm

MANILA, Philippines — Rights groups are calling for the release of a detained indigenous woman human rights defender and Gabriela Cordillera council member who they say has long been red-tagged by the country's security forces. 

Beatrice Belen was arrested in her home in Barangay Uma in Lubuagan, Kalinga, after a series of false red-tagging statements issued by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) against Gabriela, a left-leaning rights group, and its celebrity supporters, Karapatan said. 

"A composite team from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police and the 503rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army (IBPA) searched houses in barangays Western Uma and Lower Uma. Among the homes searched were that of Belen’s. Betty, her husband and two grandchildren were led outside their home when the search was conducted at their residence," the group said, citing the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance and the Cordillera People’s Alliance.

"After the search reportedly resulted in seizure of firearms and explosives, Betty was arrested and brought to the Kalinga Police Provincial Office," it added. Rappler, which obtained a report from the Kalinga Provincial police, said Belen was arrested for possession of three rifle grenades.

"Like other activists who were arrested on questionable legal bases, Belen has asserted that those allegedly seized in her home were not hers nor of any member of her family,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.  

Belen is currently detained at the Tabuk City Jail in Kalinga, where she was first placed in a cell with male detainees, according to the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines. 

"The recent arrest of Beatrice Belen is a very clear example on the dangers of red-tagging, resulting in violations to the right to life, liberty and security of human rights defenders, including indigenous women human rights defenders who are fighting for their communities’ land, resources and rights," Palabay added. 

Karapatan: Arrest shows gov't’s 'contempt for women human rights defenders' 

Karapatan noted that Belen is the latest addition to the growing list of Gabriela regional leaders who have been arrested based on "fabricated charges," identifying three other Gabriela officials who have been arrested since May 2018. 

The group revealed that it has logged 102 women political prisoners, most if not all of whom are women human rights defenders, who are held in various jails and detention centers nationwide. 

"The Duterte administration’s contempt for women human rights defenders, both publicly-known personalities such as journalist Maria Ressa and Sen. Leila de Lima and those who work in communities, is shown through its harmful and sexist rhetoric, including red-tagging, and through judicial harassment by way of trumped-up charges," Palabay said. 

"We call on all women who uphold women’s rights and human rights to resist these attempts to silence women and derail their work for social justice and human rights issues. We call for the release of Belen and all women political prisoners in the country." 

'Belen's arrest came days after Parlade's red-tagging remarks'

ICHRP, which is among the global groups and rights advocates under the #DefendCordilleraPh campaign, similarly noted the timeline of Belen's arrest — occurring mere days after Parlade hurled a slew of accusations against public figures including celebrities Liza Soberano and Catriona Gray and lawmakers under the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives.

The rights group said Belen's arrest forms "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,” Beverly Longid of the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) was quoted as saying in ICHRP's statement. Longid is also the convener of #DefendCordilleraPH.

Belen's activism for the the rights of indigenous people has spanned decades, the group said, and has involved "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 [NTF-ELCAC]," ICHRP added. 

The rights group further noted that the red-tagging task force's proposed P19.1 billion budget for 2021 has been approved even as "cases of state-sponsored human rights violations like that of Belen intensify on the ground." 

"We demand the immediate release of Belen. We condemn these kinds of acts from the Philippine government, a clear systemic attack against women especially against indigenous women,” Longid was quoted as saying by ICHRP. — Bella Perez-Rubio

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