Human rights violations in Marcos Jr.’s first year

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

It wasn’t surprising at all.

Human rights violations, highlighted by extrajudicial killings and questionable arrests, detention and filing of nonbailable trumped-up charges following red-tagging, continued during the first year of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s occupation of Malacañang.

The Marcos Jr.-Sara Duterte tandem has ensured that the preceding Rodrigo Duterte regime’s national security issuances, which engendered massive rights violations, stayed firmly in place and carried out.

Three of these are: Executive Order 70, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC); Proclamation 374, declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as a “designated/identified” terrorist organization under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020; and Memorandum Order 32, directing intensified counterinsurgency operations in the Negros Island, Leyte-Samar and Bicol region.

(Marcos Jr. is the NTF-ELCAC chairperson. Recently he designated Vice President Duterte as co-vice chairperson alongside National Security Adviser Eduardo Año.)

As of June 30, human rights alliance Karapatan had documented at least 60 extrajudicial killings in 40 incidents nationwide. Of these cases, 20 occurred in Negros and 16 in Bicol – two of the areas singled out under Memo Order 32, which Marcos Jr. continues to enforce.

Meantime, a “rapid rise” in the number of involuntary/enforced disappearances is one of the “most alarming trends” observed during Marcos Jr’s first year in Malacañang, Karapatan reported.

The eight involuntary disappearances documented in the first 10 months of the current administration, Karapatan pointed out, “already represent 40 percent of the 20 victims documented throughout Duterte’s six-year term.” Apparently, the authorities aren’t interested in implementing the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act (RA 10353), enacted in 2012.

Likewise, the current administration has pursued the Duterte regime’s practice of locking up activists and other dissenters, then filing false charges in order to keep them longer in jail, Karapatan said. Of the 778 persons identified as political prisoners held in various facilities nationwide, 49 were arrested in the last year alone.

Political activists and human rights advocates/defenders continue to be hounded by the probability of being illegally arrested on trumped-up charges, through questionable warrants issued by the courts, as widely happened under the Duterte regime.

The initial cases of such arrests, invoking violations of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020, may be even more worrisome. This law provides for longer imprisonment terms than those imposed in convictions for rebellion. As of now, at least 12 human rights defenders in Southern Tagalog – two Protestant bishops among them – are facing this problem.

Just last Monday, a flurry of protests – local, national and international – was directed at the Anti-Terrorism Council for issuing a resolution branding three activists as terrorists. The ATC, consisting mostly of Cabinet members led by the Executive Secretary, took the unilateral action against key leaders of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), namely its chairperson Windel Bolinget, Sara Alikes and Steve Tauli. The council alleged that they, and three other Cordillera activists named in the resolution, are affiliated with the CPP-NPA.

“While we at CPA continue to ensure our safety, security and human rights in this shrinking democratic space,” the people’s organization declared, “the state weaponizes everything at its disposal to silence us.”

Protests from the human rights communities called out the ATC move as mainly intended to suppress dissent and to discredit and dismantle progressive organizations fighting for the people’s rights, freedoms and welfare.

Last month, Bolinget, Alikes and Tauli led the filing of an appeal with the Supreme Court to provide them protection from state-led harassment. The appeal provided details of surveillance, hate speeches by state security officials and other actions such as declaring Bolinget persona non grata in some Cordillera communities.

Earlier, in 2022, a rebellion case in Abra implicated the three activists, but the court threw out the case last May. Bolinget was also acquitted in a murder charge, filed in 2021 in Davao del Norte (where he avers he has never been). Baguio councilor Jose Molintas has advised the three to file a petition before a court designated to handle antiterror cases, seeking their delisting from the ATC roster.

But there are other actions by the government that constitute continuing violations of human rights.  Among these are the aerial bombings and artillery barrages directed at civilian communities in the areas of armed conflict, causing massive physical and economic displacements of the people.

The “most notorious” case observed under Marcos Jr.’s watch, according to Karapatan, involved a series of “indiscriminate bombings and strafing” by the Philippine Army’s 94th Infantry Battalion in the villages bordering Carabalan and Mahalang villages in Himamaylan City on Oct. 6 and 8, 2022. Over 15,000 residents were forced to evacuate to safety.

Similar aerial attacks were carried out in Kalinga and Cagayan provinces, affecting upland farms and causing more than 100 families to flee their homes.

Human rights workers have also documented “rampant violations of civil liberties and political rights, which they attributed to Marcos Jr.’s “intolerance for dissent and the people’s right to organize,” and the implementation of a “war on terror” approach to popular mass actions.

“Progressive workers’ groups and unions continue to be red-tagged, curtailing their freedom of association,” one report says. Another cites the case of more than 50 farmers invoking their rights under the government’s agrarian reform law in Hacienda Tinang in Tarlac province, who were arbitrarily arrested in 2022.  Months after their release, they continue to be red-tagged, harassed and intimidated.

Specifically, Karapatan called out the NTF-ELCAC for “incessantly” violating the rights to privacy and due process of leaders and members of people’s organizations, practically coercing them to stop participating in the activities of their organizations. “They do these in cahoots with local governments, the military and police units,” it noted.

“Amid these gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, Marcos Jr. remains conspicuously silent… in a devious attempt to distance himself from the sordid mess of his own human rights record,” Karapatan said. “His silence, however, doesn’t save him from accountability.”

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