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Opinion

Fighter for human rightstagged as ‘trouble-maker’

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

“Before I visited the Philippines in February 2007, I was warned that she was a trouble-maker,” admitted a United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, “and that I should not trust any information that she provided to me.”

But, said Philip Alston, who was tasked to carry out an investigation into extrajudicial killings in the country in behalf of the international body: “(T)hose were the days when almost everyone was being accused of being unreliable, and I was well aware that I had to form my own judgment based on the individual’s interactions with me and on the information they were able to provide to back up the allegations that they presented.”

It was then that he met Marie Hilao-Enriquez of the human rights alliance Karapatan: “I soon came to the conclusion that Marie was ‘the real deal’. She didn’t make empty or careless allegations. Instead she provided detailed, carefully put together, dossiers on each of the cases of alleged killings that she presented to me. My task was then to compare such evidence with information that I could gather from all other available sources, including the government, the military, the police and witnesses and relatives of the victims.

“The information that Marie provided to me consistently withstood these tests.”

This straightforward, unambiguous testimony was offered by Alston, who teaches law at New York University, in a written tribute to Marie Hilao-Enriquez, who passed away last April 24 in the United States at age 68. As Karapatan chairperson emeritus, she was well-known in international humanitarian circles.

Alston’s tribute details how courageously and assiduously Marie carried out her life’s work. He described her as “a brave and tireless fighter in defense of human rights,” a mission that she took up after the killing of her sister and her own arrest and detention. It was then, he learned, that “she resolved to do all she could to demand accountability.”

He was referring to the case of Liliosa Hilao, Marie’s sister and also a youth activist, who was killed while under military detention in the early period of the 14-year Marcos martial-law dictatorship (September 1972-February 1986). Physical evidence showed that Liliosa was tortured, muriatic acid forcibly poured into her mouth deformed her face. She was the first documented victim of extrajudicial killing (EJK) under custody by state security forces.

As Karapatan secretary-general and later chairperson, Marie led campaigns against EJKs, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave human rights violations, particularly during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and in the early part of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency.

It was during Arroyo’s time that Alston visited the country and produced a groundbreaking report on EJKs in the country. Following Alston’s submission to the UN, and Karapatan’s national and international campaign, “Stop the Killings,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno convened a summit, in June 2007, dealing with the rising number of such crimes. Subsequently the SC instituted the writs of amparo and of habeas data, which provided additional court protection to persons threatened with physical harm or with political harassment by state security forces.

Alston said he had only one complaint about his dealings with Marie: “She never seemed to sleep and she always thought that I should be doing even more than I was doing, in order to put pressure on the authorities to take accountability seriously. And she continued to urge me to take action, even years after my visit.”

“She was right, of course,” Alston acknowledged. “She stood out as an outstanding example of someone who dedicated her life to human rights. She was indeed a trouble-maker, but in the best sense and in the highest of causes. She loved her people and her country in the best possible way and I mourn her passing.”

Martial law survivors, present-day activists and friends gathered last Wednesday to honor Marie at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City. Among the messages we heard, aside from Alston’s heartfelt tribute, were those sent by the European Union Delegation to the Philippines, Civicus (a global alliance of civil society organizations of which Karapatan is a member) and kindred human rights defenders from the Netherlands, Hawaii, Colombia and Bangladesh.

“The (European Union) family will remember (her) for her passionate advocacy for human rights and cooperation with the EU in strengthening human rights in the country,” said the EU Delegation.

Civicus wrote: “Her legacy of striving for justice, peace and equality lives on through the work of Karapatan and continues to inspire future generations. We salute her work, and stand in solidarity with her vision and ideals.”

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima honored Marie in a letter to the latter’s daughter Andrea: “The human rights community lost one of its most brilliant and bravest advocates. Her legacy, however, will live amongst us who continue to be inspired by her decades of service to the people. Your mother’s then stewardship of Karapatan made my stint as (Commission on Human Rights) chairperson easier and greatly fulfilling.”

Capping the tributes, Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said as she spoke in front of the Bantayog’s granite Wall of Remembrance:

“Today we extol Marie’s life and legacy of service to the people…. She now belongs to the nation’s pantheon of heroes who have dedicated their lives to the fight against the Marcos dictatorship and for the greater causes of social justice and democracy.

“And in the face of the massive human rights crisis as well as the threat of a Marcos restoration and Duterte extension [in power], we turn towards Marie’s life and legacy as our guiding light in the continuing struggle against tyranny and fascism.”

Referring to the May 9 elections, Palabay enjoined “all freedom-loving Filipinos to firmly reject the Marcoses and the Dutertes in this election and beyond.” She urged them to relentlessly pursue justice and hold the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and Rodrigo Duterte regimes “accountable for their crimes against the Filipino people.”

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Email: [email protected]

PHILIP ALSTON

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