Government revs up efforts to repress dissent
AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - February 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Two international bodies are all set this year to conduct parallel investigations into charges of human rights violations by the Duterte government, including the extrajudicial killings which have drawn worldwide attention.

The two bodies are the International Criminal Court (ICC), created by a treaty (the Rome Statute) in 1991, and the older Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) under the United Nations. Both investigations are led by strong-willed women, a circumstance that seems to specially irritate President Duterte.

The ICC, since 2018, through its chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, has already been conducting a preliminary examination on the numerous information/complaints of rights violations it had received, that may be deemed as crimes against humanity. Angrily rejecting the probe and making racist remarks about Bensouda, President Duterte unilaterally withdrew the country’s accession/membership to the ICC.  However, the chief prosecutor holds that this move (which took effect on May 17, 2019) could no longer stop the process which had already begun. 

On the part of the OHCHR office, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet was officially requested by members of the UN Human Rights Council last year to make a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, and to submit a written report to the UNHRC in its next plenary meeting. 

Like Bensouda, Bachelet also had made an initial study presented to the UNHRC, and is set to step up her personal investigation after receiving all documented complaints sent as of yesterday’s deadline (Jan. 31).  Among the parties that beat the deadline were the human rights alliance Karapatan and the National Union of People’s Lawyers, six indigenous people’s organizations, Sandugo (Moro and IP movement for self-determination), and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers. 

These organizations are calling the attention of the United Nations to the intensified counterinsurgency campaign of the Duterte administration via EO (Executive Order) 70. They attribute  the worsening human rights situation nationwide to this presidential issuance,  and demand that it be rescinded immediately.

(The “whole-of-nation approach” mandated in the order is being applied by a National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict or NTF-ELCAC, through counterpart formations at the regional, provincial, municipal, and barangay levels. It lumps together in one basket all forms of dissent as being manifestations of insurgent activity.) 

The indigenous people’s organizations specifically point out that the designated executive director of NTF-ELCAC is Allen Capuyan, a former AFP intelligence officer, and is the current chairperson of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. They dispute and protest the NTF-ELCAC’s categorization of their organizations as “communist terrorist groups” or CTGs and their leaders as “enemies of the state.”

In fact, the NTF-ELCAC – headed by Duterte and his national security adviser, former AFP chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr., as chair and vice chair – arbitrarily applies this categorization on all progressive organizations and mass leaders, including partylist groups (and their elected representatives in Congress) belonging to the Makabayan Coalition.

The indigenous peoples constitute 16-17 million Filipinos, or 12 to 15 percent of the country’s total population, the report submitted to the OHCHR says.

 In their submission/report, the IP organizations aver that the Duterte government’s violations against their individual and collective rights have “worsened to an ethnocidal scale.” They listed their complaints (described as “emblematic cases”) under these categories:

• Violations of their right to ancestral land and to self-determination. (These include deprivation of the right to free, prior and informed consent regarding government projects adversely affecting their livelihood and communities; militarization and forced displacement of indigenous communities; harassment and destruction of indigenous schools providing culturally appropriate education; and indiscriminate airstrikes and bombings of indigenous communities.)

• Violation of fundamental rights and freedoms (delegitimizing IP rights defenders and their organizations; criminalization of IP human rights defenders; extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and frustrated EJKs – totalling 86 EJKs and 66 frustrated EJKs from June 2016 to September 2019).

Among others, the IP report/submission urge the UN to establish a Commission on Inquiry on the Philippines to probe and evaluate the government’s economic, political and security policies and laws vis-à-vis respect and protection of human rights including the IP’s collective rights.

As the NTF-ELCAC revs up the government’s counterinsurgency campaign, a group of anti-Left organizations billed as League of Parents of the Philippines, Hands-off Our Children, and La Liga Independencia marched to the Commission on Elections in Intramuros on Jan. 29. Their objective: push the Comelec to approve a petition filed, in April 2019, urging the revocation of the registration of partylist groups belonging to Makabayan. The government-run Philippine News Agency reported that, among other allegations, the protesters accuse the partylist representatives of “manipulating the House of Representatives to submit to the CPP-NPA.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, senior deputy minority leader, debunked the accusations as baseless. “If they will file the petition in the proper forum,” Zarate said, “we will face it squarely, as we did in the past, when similar charges were also filed, but were all thrown in the garbage can of history for being political trash.” (He was referring to rebellion charges filed way back in 2006 against the “Batasan 6” partylist reprentatives; those were ordered dropped by the Supreme Court.)

The protest at the Comelec actually started with a rally at Mendiola, and according to Karapatan, it was officially endorsed by DILG Secretary Eduardo Año in a memo clearly stating that the rally was “in support of the implementation of EO 70.”

“Complete with high-quality print standees, placards, streamers, and a DILG memo to boot,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay noted in a statement, “the government is merely making a fool of itself by staging a so-called protest against people’s organizations and solons of the Makabayan bloc. One must wonder how much taxpayers’ money was wasted on it by the DILG amid other pressing and urgent matters.”

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