End the censorship!

On February 5, 2024, leaders of people’s organizations and the editors-in-chief of two alternative news media organizations wrote the National Telecommunications Commission urging it to rescind its order to block access in the Philippines to 27 websites.

The call was made in agreement with and in support of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan’s declaration, based on her initial findings from her country visit, that the website blocking is a “direct form of censorship.”

The Philippine Constitution explicitly states that no law shall be passed abridging freedom of the press and expression. Any restriction, Khan said, should be done in accordance with international standards of legality, necessity and proportionality. To date, there is no law allowing any government agency to block websites.

In their letter, the signatories said that “such standards were not met when the NTC issued its order” and that there is no legal basis for the commission to block access to the websites of organizations that have not even been designated by the Anti-Terrorism Council.

Despite hope, as well as assurances from the government, of wider civic space and of a better appreciation of basic human rights after the Duterte presidency, the letter went unanswered for three months.

The NTC finally responded and, citing advice from the National Security Council that requested the blocking of the websites in the first place, said that it will not reverse its order and will instead wait for the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to decide on the petition questioning the basis and legality of that order.

The letter, which came after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said at a media forum that he prefers a critical press and after the announcement of the creation of a new “super body” on human rights, casts doubt on the sincerity of such gestures and contradicts the government’s claim of a Bagong Pilipinas.

We, the undersigned, urge the NTC to reconsider its decision and call on President Marcos Jr. to rescind this illegal, unfair and unwarranted restriction on press freedom, the freedoms of expression and association, and the right to due process.

Altermidya
Amihan – National Federation of Peasant Women
Anakbayan Maskom
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
Bulatlat
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU)
Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP)
College Editors Guild of the Philippines
Davao Today
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
Kodao Productions
National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA)
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Philippine Press Institute
Pinoy Weekly
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)
Union of Journalists of the Philippines – UP

Anti-mining activists killed in alarming numbers under Duterte

By Genevieve Feliciano / Altermidya

Despite the former president’s supposed anti-mining stance, Altermidya found out that most of the reported killings of environmental defenders during his administration were linked to mining.

MANILA, Philippines — Chad Errol Booc, 27, had a following on X (formerly Twitter). A cum laude graduate in Computer Science from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, he constantly posted about his environmental and human rights advocacies to his followers of more than 18,000 on the social media platform.

But more than that, he walked the talk: Chad was a volunteer teacher in a faraway Lumad (indigenous peoples of Mindanao) school.

Bakwit school teacher Chad Errol Booc. (Photo by Save Our Schools Network)

On February 23, 2022, Chad and four companions – fellow volunteer-teacher Gelejurain “Jurain” Ngujo II, as well as Elegyn Balonga, Tirso Añar, and Robert Aragon – were in Barangay Andap, New Bataan town of Davao de Oro province (formerly Compostela Valley) in Southern Philippines to conduct a community visit for research.

They were traveling to Davao City when the five were accosted by members of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division, according to witnesses. By the morning of February 24, Chad and the others were dead, their lifeless bodies riddled with bullets.

Following the incident, the Army claimed that Chad and his companions, collectively called the “New Bataan 5,” fought it out with government soldiers, before being killed as combatants of the rebel New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. But witnesses and experts insist they were unarmed civilians and were, in fact, environmental defenders.

An autopsy of Chad’s remains by prominent Manila-based forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun revealed multiple gunshot wounds, implying an intent to kill. It was clearly a case of homicide, she said.

“(The) internal injuries are not compatible with life. I doubt even if he had been attended to medically and surgically even, he would have survived. So it must have caused a fast death,” Fortun added.

A six-month investigation by Altermidya has compiled data from disparate sources including  Global Witness and Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan) to understand who is behind the unrelenting violence against the Philippines’ environmental defenders, what issues and what associated business interests have become most dangerous to stand up against and why the justice system is powerless to stop it.

The two sources have different time frames and methodologies which resulted in disparate figures but similar conclusions.

Global Witness “identifies cases of killings by searching and reviewing reliable sources of publicly available online information” and must be supported by “credible, published and current online sources of information.” The organization also gets information on killings from local organizations in different countries like Kalikasan. 

Since Global Witness started documenting attacks against environmental defenders in 2012, they have recorded 281 killings in the Philippines. This made the country the third most dangerous in the world for people who oppose projects and activities detrimental to the environment.

Meanwhile, Kalikasan employs a monitoring network consisting of their 22 member grassroots organizations across the Philippines to keep track of environmental defender killings. Their reports of human rights violations come directly from their members on ground and are cross-referenced from multiple sources such as news reports, official documents, and government sources to enhance the reliability of data.

From 2001 to 2022, Kalikasan said that there have been at least 328 individuals killed in the Philippines, purportedly for their environmental and social advocacies. According to their data, Davao de Oro, the province where Chad and his companions were killed, recorded the most killings with 38.

In denial

The United Nations (UN) defines environmental defenders as “individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment, including water, air, land, flora and fauna.”

Chad and the rest of the New Bataan 5 certainly fit the definition. As volunteer teachers in Lumad schools, they advocated for sustainable agriculture, and campaigned to defend the Lumad ancestral lands from intrusion by big mining companies.

However, the Philippine military insisted they were armed rebels. Then-Col. Ramon Zagala, who was Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson at the time, claimed that Chad was an “NPA armed fighter, and he died with members of the NPA fighting government troops who were just doing their jobs.”

This has also been the case with other environmental defenders killed under the Duterte administration. The AFP insists that they do not target unarmed activists, and that those who were killed were armed rebels fighting the government.

And yet it was President Duterte himself who in July 2017 publicly threatened Lumad communities with aerial bombardment.

“Leave those areas. I say to the Lumad there, leave those areas. I will bomb you. I will destroy your structures. I will use the Air Force,” said President Duterte on July 24, 2017, following his second State of the Nation Address. “You are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against the government,” he continued.

By 2017, military presence heightened in other Lumad communities in Mindanao. Catherine “Katkat” Dalon, a Lumad student, joined other Lumad evacuees from other schools in other Mindanao provinces, in a cross-country caravan to Metro Manila. There, they stayed in several evacuation areas and established makeshift schools called “Bakwit (evacuees) school,” where she met Chad and Jurain.

Katkat said they were kind and patient volunteer teachers who taught them practical knowledge about organic farming, as well as social issues from gender issues to imperialism.

“I admired that because they were not just teachers. They were one with us in defending our ancestral lands against imperialist plunder. Teacher Chad and the others had the opportunity to work in the cities because they had diplomas. But they chose to teach in Lumad schools full-time,” Katkat said.

Lumad student Catherine “Katkat” Dalon speaks during a protest to demand justice for the killing of five individuals in New Bataan, Davao de Oro, including her teacher in Bakwit school Chad Booc, on February 26, 2022

Acceleration of killings

Altermidya’s analysis of data from the local environmental group Kalikasan found that most of the killings, or 205 out of the 328, happened under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte. Eighty-nine out of these 205 killings happened in his homeland in Mindanao.

In 2016, the first year of his presidency, the killings of environmental defenders in the Philippines reached 35, the highest annual record since 2001.

Altermidya’s data analysis further shows an uptick in killings of environmental defenders after Duterte’s speech in 2017. That year was the deadliest for environmental defenders in the Philippines, with 56 killed. By 2018, 29 were killed. But this picked up again in 2019, with 46 environmental defenders killed.

Chad and the rest of the New Bataan 5 were some of the last environmental defenders killed before Duterte stepped down from office on June 30, 2022.

Multiple killings

Altermidya also found that some killings occurred in a single day in the same province. From 2001 to 2022, Kalikasan recorded 41 incidents in 27 provinces.

An example of this were the two incidents of multiple killings in Lianga town of Surigao del Sur province, located in northeastern Mindanao. The first one happened on September 1, 2015, when Lumad tribal leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo, and executive director of Lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. (ALCADEV) Emerito Samarca were killed.

This was the same Lumad school where Chad volunteered to teach after the massacre.

Lumad leader Eufemia Cullamat speaks during a protest in front of the Philippines’
 Department of Environment and Natural Resources in commemoration of the 29th anniversary
of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 on March 4, 2024.

Lumad leader Eufemia Cullamat was one of the witnesses to the Lianga massacre.

Various independent investigations, including one done by local human rights group Karapatan, point to a paramilitary group called Magahat-Bagani as the culprit.

“I saw with my own eyes how they shattered the head of my cousin Dionel,” Eufemia said.

She also heard the paramilitary group ordered them to stop with their advocacies for the ancestral lands, or suffer similar fates as that of Dionel, Juvello and Emerito.

“This was how the military protects the mining companies: Through fear-mongering and violence, so that the community will be forced to accede to the mining company’s entry and all that we could do was accept meager salaries from the company,” she added.

The second multiple killings happened in Lianga on July 15, 2021, during the Duterte administration, when two Lumad farmers and a 12-year old Lumad student were shot and killed by alleged elements of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army.

The death of Chad and the rest of the New Bataan 5 was another case of multiple killings.

In total, 137 environmental defenders in the Philippines were killed in these multiple killings, or what some human rights groups often refer to as “massacres.” Of the 137, 93 were killed during the Duterte administration.

“These kinds of attacks can only really be done, I think, under a regime or state machinery that is oriented towards silencing those who oppose the destructive projects,” said Kalikasan’s former national coordinator Jon Bonifacio, in an interview with Altermidya.

Mining and killings

Often, mining projects and deaths of environmental defenders are closely linked. Altermidya discovered that out of the 66 provinces with mining tenements, as listed by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau as of June 2023, over half have witnessed mining-related deaths of environmental defenders. Davao de Oro had the highest number of killings linked to mining with 26 out of 38. From 2001 to 2022, nearly half of all killings can be traced back to their opposition to large-scale mining, based on Kalikasan’s data. And half of the killings of environmentalists opposing mining operations occurred during the Duterte administration alone.

During the past few decades, ancestral lands of indigenous peoples in the Philippines have been subject to large-scale mining operations. Many of these communities, like that of the Lumad in Mindanao, have organized themselves to protect their lands, including the far-flung areas in Surigao del Sur and Davao de Oro provinces.

According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, there are 137 mining tenements in Mindanao as of June 2023. These are composed of Mineral Production Sharing Agreements, Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements, Exploration Permits, and Mineral Processing Permits.

Chad, who volunteered for Alcadev Lumad School in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, was also involved in the campaign against mining operations in Lianga that would displace the Lumad. He was also active in the campaign against the mining operations of Apex Mining in Maco, Davao de Oro – the province where they were killed.

Ironically, Duterte publicly stated that he opposed large-scale mining during the first year of his presidency. During that time, he appointed environmental advocate and anti-mining activist Gina Lopez to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Lopez, in her one year as environment secretary, ordered the closure of 26 mining operations due to violations in environmental regulations.

But in 2017, Lopez’s appointment was rejected by Duterte’s allies in the Commission on Appointments. The President began walking back on his statements against mining, as the number of killings of environmental defenders increased. By December 2021, Duterte had lifted the ban on open-pit mining.

‘Two years without justice’

Environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights groups light candles on February 24, 2024,
the second anniversary of the ‘New Bataan 5’ killing.

Like the 323 environmental defenders who were killed between 2001 and 2022, Chad and his companions continue to be denied justice. Two years after their brutal killings, their families and loved ones remain mired in prolonged uncertainty and frustration.

Environmental and human rights lawyer Antonio La Viña, legal counsel for Chad’s family, lamented the lack of progress in the investigation, which he said illustrates the state of impunity in the country.

“First of all, the police are not serious about investigating because it should be the police who are investigating. [They] even justify their actions. So right there in the investigation, you already have a problem,” said La Viña.

In the country’s judicial system, La Viña said corruption and inefficiency are “inherent” and manifest in prolonged legal battles.

Environmental, human rights, and media groups protest in front of the Philippines’ Supreme Court
on January 24, 2024, the 13th anniversary of the killing of environmental activist
and journalist Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega.

He cited the case of Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega, an environmental activist and journalist, who was gunned down in 2011 in Palawan, briefly after his radio program.

La Viña said the Ortega case exemplifies the severe repercussions of judicial fraud, where legal proceedings are not just delayed but derailed, leaving families and communities in a perpetual state of uncertainty and injustice.

Key witnesses in Chad’s case either disappeared or succumbed to fear, unable to challenge the dominant narrative imposed by the military – a narrative later contradicted by autopsy findings, according to La Viña.

He said this is one of the significant obstacles to achieving justice for Chad and his companions. This case, he said, illustrates the daunting barriers to justice when powerful entities control the narrative and witnesses are silenced by fear.

Chad’s family and legal counsel also could not access the area where they were killed because it was “too dangerous.”  While forensic science disproved the military’s narrative of Chad’s death, the probe still needs witnesses to corroborate that the deaths were the result of unlawful actions by the military and not a legitimate combat encounter as initially claimed.

La Viña, former Dean of the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, said the country urgently needs to implement robust protection mechanisms for environmental and human rights defenders against state and non-state attacks and attacks from business interests that are often the subject of their advocacy work.

“All development aggression activities, such as mining, reclamation, and land conversion, contribute to the increasing number of environmental defender killings. Why are they being killed? Why are they being attacked? Because they are effective in fighting development aggression,” he said.

Jonila Castro speaks during the press conference for abduction survivor and environmental defender
Francisco “Eco” Dangla III (middle) on April 26, 2024.

Meanwhile, Kalikasan’s advocacy officer Jonila Castro, said that the state of impunity against environmental defenders continues to worsen due to the absence of accountability and continuous denial of the Philippine government that human rights violations occur.

“If there’s no recognition that environmental defenders are being attacked, how can we achieve justice? How can the perpetrators be accountable?” she said.

Continuing attacks

Under the Duterte administration, Bonifacio said that the crackdown against dissent “was apparent,” adding that killings during his strongman rule “were more severe compared” to previous administrations.

Bonifacio warned against the continuation of the Duterte policies under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. He said, “There is no doubt that attacks on environmental defenders will not cease.”

Based on the recent data from Kalikasan, the killing of environmental defenders has continued under the present administration. Since Marcos Jr. assumed office in July 2022, a total of 23 environmental defenders have been killed.

Castro said that aside from killings, environmental defenders in the Philippines are also subject to other forms of attacks, including red-tagging, abduction, and trumped-up charges.

She experienced a similar ordeal. On the night of September 2, 2023, Castro and her fellow environmental activist Jhed Tamano were abducted by armed men in Orion town in the province of Bataan. Before the incident, they worked with the fishing communities in the province that are threatened by reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

The two were later presented by the National Task Force to End Local Communists Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in a press conference as “rebel surrenderees.” During the press briefing, Castro and Tamano revealed that they were held captive by the military and coerced to sign a handwritten affidavit stating they “voluntarily surrendered.”

Weeks after Castro and Tamano revealed their sufferings with their abductors, the Department of National Defense filed perjury charges against the two. Although these charges were eventually dismissed, an oral grave defamation charge was later pressed against them.

“We were abducted under the Marcos Jr administration. That’s why we cannot say that the situation of environmental defenders in the country has improved. Our experience proves that attacks persist under the current administration,” said Castro. Kalikasan pointed out that it was former president Duterte who came out with various executive orders that militarized several parts of the Philippines. He also created the NTF-ELCAC and pushed for the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan shares her initial findings and recommendations
 regarding the situation of free expression in the Philippines during a media briefing
 on February 2, 2024.

In January 2024, Irene Khan, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, urged the Philippine government to repeal the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which she called a “law of concern.” She said it threatens freedom of expression in the country.

She also urged the Philippine government to abolish NTF-ELCAC. She described the agency as “outdated” and one of the “critical drivers of red-tagging.”

Red-tagging is the practice of labeling individuals or groups as members or supporters of communist insurgents without due process or basis. It is with the intent of vilifying or shaming these individuals in public. According to experts, this vilification, in many cases, precedes physical and legal attacks, from trumped-up charges to killings.

The Legal Division of the country’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) did an investigation on the situation of human rights defenders in the country in 2019. The probe observed that the red-tagging of activists indeed often preceded more serious attacks.

“You know, in some cases, when you are red-tagged, you are dead the following day,” said lawyer Jolet de la Cruz of CHR Legal Division, in an interview with Altermidya.

Like Castro, Chad was also a victim of red-tagging. Before being killed, he was repeatedly tagged as a “terrorist” by the NTF-ELCAC.

According to Castro, laws and policies that allow the implementation of projects that bring harm to the environment also contribute to the continuing attacks against environmental defenders. She cited the decades-old mining law in the Philippines called the “Philippine Mining Act of 1995.” The said law eased foreign restrictions on mining operations in the country, which environmental groups like Kalikasan denounced.

Recently, the Philippine government also said that it will release guidelines to expedite the release of mining permits in the country.

“As long as these policies exist, many environmental defenders will speak up. But what usually happens to them when they air their demands? They are being attacked,” Castro said.

Environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights groups amplify calls to junk the Philippine Mining Act of 1995
through a protest action in front of the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources
on March 4, 2024.

Carrying on

What has also continued – despite the killing of environmental defenders like Chad – is the advocacy work of environmental defenders, especially in vulnerable communities like that of the Lumad.

Katkat said that they will continue to resist large-scale mining operations such as those in Mindanao and Lumad ancestral lands.

“Just because they killed Teachers Chad and Jurain does not mean that we cannot reopen our schools and they can already mine our ancestral lands. No. We will persist. We will reopen our schools,” she vowed.

Displaced from her Lumad community, she is now a student in the University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman in Quezon City in the nation’s capital.

Like Chad and Jurain, Katkat wants to be a teacher to her fellow Lumad. “I hope we can return one day to our ancestral lands. I really dream of becoming a teacher in a Lumad school,” she said.

As a tribute to Chad, Jurain, Elegyn, Tirso, and Robert, kamagong (Diospyros blancoi) trees were planted in a parcel of land at UP. As they were planting, Katkat recalled something Chad once said: “If I die, I do not want to be buried. I want to be planted.”

Catherine “Katkat” Dalon visits the Kamagong trees they planted
as a tribute to the ‘New Bataan 5,’ on February 10, 2024,
days before their second death anniversary.

Reporting for this story was supported by the Environmental Data Journalism Academy – a program of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and Thibi.

Methodology

The data of global environmental defender killings was sourced from the London-based non-profit organization, Global Witness. Meanwhile, the data of environmental defender killings in the Philippines was requested from the local environmental group, Kalikasan – People’s Network for the Environment. For verification, the locations and dates of these incidents were cross-referenced with data provided by the Philippine human rights organization, Karapatan.

The raw data provided by Kalikasan was cleaned and analyzed using Google Sheets. Both Kalikasan and Karapatan requested to maintain the confidentiality of the data due to security reasons.

For the mining tenements throughout the Philippines, the data was scraped from the official website of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. Subsequently, this data was cleaned and analyzed using Google Sheets.

Media groups to SOJ Remulla: Act to free Frenchie Mae, 2 other rights defenders

On the fourth anniversary of the Tacloban City raids, which resulted in the arrest of four human rights advocates and community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, collectively dubbed as the ‘Tacloban 5,’ media groups led by Altermidya Network sent a letter to Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla to call for Cumpio’s immediate release from detention, along with human rights advocates Alexander Abinguna and Mariel Domequil.

The letter, signed by Altermidya Network, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines comes nearly a week after the official visit of Ms. Irene Khan, the United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the freedom of expression and opinion. During her ten-day visit, Ms. Khan visited Cumpio, Abinguna, and Domequil in Tacloban City Jail.

“As justice delayed is justice denied, I urge relevant authorities to either review the cases and dismiss the charges, or at a minimum expedite the trials with full due process,” Ms. Khan said during her exit statement last February 3.

In the letter, the media groups emphasized their “profound concern” over the prolonged detention of Cumpio, Abinguna, and Domequil on charges related to illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and terrorism financing, highlighting the need for a “comprehensive review” of their cases with the aim of their prompt dismissal.

The letter to Justice Sec. Remulla also outlined three key requests, including the impartial and thorough investigation of the weaponization of laws against journalists and critics, the promotion of press freedom, and a call on the Department of Justice to advocate for the repeal of “repressive laws,” notably the “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.”

The letter also noted that based on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2023 Prison Census, Frenchie Mae is currently the only journalist imprisoned in the Philippines.

“The prolonged detention of Cumpio, Domequil, and Abinguna, coupled with the broader issues of law weaponization and attacks on press freedom, highlight the need for immediate and decisive action from the DOJ. The DOJ can demonstrate the Philippines’ genuine commitment to upholding human rights and freedom of expression by addressing these concerns,” the groups said in their letter to Sec. Remulla.#

‘Ring for justice’: Media groups troop to DOJ to call for release of detained community journalist

MANILA – Bearing handbells, media groups led by Altermidya Network trooped to the Department of Justice in Manila on Tuesday, January 23, to call for the immediate release of detained community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

The protest was in time for Frenchie Mae’s 25th birthday and the start of the official visit to the Philippines of UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan.

The bells draw inspiration from the radio program that Frenchie Mae used to host titled “Lingganay Han Kamatuoran” (Bells of Truth in Waray).

“These bells signify the unwavering spirit of journalists and their commitment to truth in the face of increasing repression,” said Avon Ang, Altermidya Network national coordinator.

“As we mark four years since Frenchie Mae Cumpio’s arrest this February, we ring these bells not only for her but for every journalist who has been persecuted for reporting the truth,” Ang stressed.

Altermidya expressed optimism that the group as well as other media will be heard by UNSR Khan during her visit to the country, where she will investigate allegations of attacks against the freedom of opinion and expression in the Philippines.

The network is among the various organizations that have submitted reports on the precarious situation of journalists in the Philippines. Altermidya highlighted in its report the continued detention of Frenchie Mae, the incessant red-tagging attacks against community journalists, and the website blocking of alternative media outfits.

“We refuse to be silenced in the face of intimidation and injustice. Today, we ring our bells to call for an end to the weaponization of the law against journalists and for the establishment of a safe environment where the press can operate without fear,” she ended. #

On USec. Paul Gutierrez’s red-tagging of journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio

AlterMidya, January 17, 2024

Altermidya takes strong exception to Undersecretary Paul Gutierrez’s accusation and red-tagging of our member, Ms. Frenchie Mae Cumpio.  

In his January 4 “Paul’s Alarm” column on JournalnewsOnline, the Presidential Task Force On Media Security (PTFOMS) executive director wrote, Nais din niyang (United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan) malaman ang sitwasyon ni Franchie (sic) Mae Cumpio, na kasalukuyang naka-detine sa Palo Provincial Jail sa Leyte dahil sa aktibo nitong papel sa lokal na teroristang grupo ng mga komunista.” 

This is exactly what we mean by red-tagging: a senior government official linking civilians to alleged communist groups without proof. May we remind Mr. Gutierrez that Ms. Cumpio is contesting the charges filed against her in court and has yet to be convicted. There is absolutely no point for anyone, more so a high government official, to forget that “everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.” 

Ironically, Mr. Gutierrez’s column was about the arrival of Ms. Khan who is set to visit the country in an official visit starting next week. Much of the highlight of our submissions to the UNSR office contains precisely this kind of wanton and mindless vilification, harassment and intimidation of journalists. It is exactly this kind of information that we wish Ms. Khan would closely look into in her investigation into the Philippine situation. 

In his column, Mr. Gutierrez declared that he is ready for the challenge of Ms. Khan’s visit. We think not. If he bothered to carefully prepare for the visit, he would have surely found out that Frenchie Mae was an active broadcaster with MBC’s Aksyon Radyo in Leyte at the time of her arrest with several other human rights defenders on February 2020. She is the executive editor of alternative media outfit Eastern Vista and a former editor of the University of the Philippines-Tacloban Vista student publication. She was also manager-in-training of the Radyo Taclobanon, a women-led disaster resiliency community radio station project in Supertyphoon Yolanda-hit Eastern Visayas. Indeed, she is the very Frenchie Mae Cumpio mentioned in laureate Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize speech.  

The statement of USec Guiterrez highlights the urgency of our appeal to Ms Khan to conduct a thorough investigation on the continued vilification of journalists, affecting the exercise of press freedom and the people’s right to know. #

[FIRST PERSON] Sigaw ni Ericson Acosta

ni Kenneth Guda

Magtatatlong dekada na, naririnig ko pa rin ang boses ni Ericson Acosta sa isipan ko. Hinahanap-hanap ng pandinig ko ang boses niya sa mga room-to-room, ang nangingisay na pagkanta niya sa mga cultural night sa Vinzons rooftop, sa malamok na grandstand ng Sunken Garden, sa madilim at mausok na tanghalan ng Tumbang Preso at Risiris. Naririnig ko siya kahit sa mga pahina ng Kule, at ng Literary Folio ng term nila na paulit-ulit kong binasa, lalo na iyung sanaysay niya hinggil sa teatro (inisa-isa ko ang references niya doon hinggil sa Chinese theater – lahat makikita sa Humanities Section ng Main Library).

Naririnig ko pa ang boses niya nang sabi niya, ang tanging alam niyang salitang Bikol ay “Warang lubot!” bilang paglalarawan sa kanya – payat, walang pwet. Naririnig ko pa rin ang bersiyon niya ng Romeo and Juliet ng Indigo Girls/Dire Straits. Minsan, ginagawa niyang Joma and Juliet. Iyun ang naging entry point ko sa Indigo Girls, na paborito pa rin ngayon.

Naalala ko pa kung paano siya magsalita sa isang students’ consultation hinggil sa CPDP. Umaalingawngaw pa ang mapaglaro at malikhaing chants niya noon: No Mall, No Lease, No to Tuition Fee Increase! No Way, VFA! Iyun naman ang entry point ko sa progresibong pulitika, na tangan pa rin ngayon.

Dinig ko pa ang mga lektyur niya hinggil sa sining, panitikan at, siyempre, pulitika. Tumimo at baon ko pa rin ang mga turo niya hinggil sa layout. Siya ang nagturo sa aking mag-layout, gamit ang Photoshop at Pagemaker pa noon, noong training para sa Collegian Editorial Exams.

Naririnig ko pa ang paliwanag niya kung bakit kailangang gumamit ng serif at hindi sans serif sa body text (“May buntot ang serif, ginigiya ang mata mula sa unang letra hanggang huli”). Hawak-hawak niya noon ang kopya ng Manila Times, na minsang naging asssitant entertainment editor siya, bilang epitomya noon ng magandang layout (noon ha, chaka na ngayon). Noong matalo ako sa editorial exams, nilapitan niya ako sa Vinzons at sinabing “ganun, ganun dapat!” Sobra kasing tumaya ako noon sa training. Sabi niya, ganun ka dapat lumaban, ibuhos mo ang buong galing at kaalaman mo. Balewala nang matalo ka, basta binuhos mo.

Naalala ko pang pinagawan ko siya ng study ng masthead ng Pinoy Weekly noong 2001, pero hindi natanggap dahil nauna na palang pinagawa ang masthead kay Neil Doloricon. Sino ba naman siya, aniya, para sapawan pa si Neil Doloricon. Naririnig ko pa ang boses niya sa mga email niya sa akin na kulitin si Gappi na pumasok ng PW.

Malinaw pa ang alaala ng di-inaasahang pagkikita namin sa isang kakaibang lugar: sa kanayunan ng Bikol, mga taong 2004 o 2005 ata yun. May ginagawa akong istorya hinggil sa eleksiyon at rebolusyonaryong hustisya (may isang army captain na disipulo ni Gen. Jovito Palparan ang pinatay ng NPA sa isang sabungan sa Sorsogon). Nasa isang liblib na lugar ako para makapanayam ang yunit ng mga rebelde. Nakita ko si Ericson doon. Hindi siya armado. Bumaba sa motorsiko, kasama ang ka-buddy. Naka-shorts, lantad ang maputing legs. Warang lubot.

Nagkuwentuhan kami sa isang kubo. May mga sinusulat daw siya. Kahit nasa bundok, nagrerekluta siya – ng mga kabanda sa Acosta Universe. Sa ibang baryo, may nakausap akong isang kabataan. Siya daw ang drummer ng Acosta Universe. Di nila alam, Acosta si Ericson. Akala nila, kung ano lang na pa-cool na pangalan ng banda. Hanggang bundok, maloko talaga si Ericson.

Nung mahuli siya, narinig ko sa mga bumisita sa kanya ang bago niyang mga kanta. Inisip kung bakit patok ang mga ito. Simple lang ang chord progression (panay major), pero palaging madamdamin. Sinasabayan pa niya ng wido na guitar solo, kahit hindi siya marunong noon maggitara.

Siyempre, makata si Ericson, kaya swabe at swak ang lyrics. Romantiko siya. Hindi mahirap maantig sa mga kanta niya, mula sa panahon niya sa Alay Sining (mga kantang Paalam, Magkasama Magsasama, Dahil, Haranang Bayan, marami pa) hanggang naging Kosa at nang mapadpad ng Hacienda Luisita. Grabeng optimistiko, nagpapanatag, tumatanaw sa magandang hinaharap. Iyung ilang kanta niya, nagpapaalam, nagpaparangal – materyal para sa pagpaparangal din natin sa kanya ngayon.

Medyo garalgal na boses niya nitong huli, parang matandang kumakanta. Pero nandun pa rin ang pag-aasam ng kabataan niya. Malungkot pakinggan, pero kapag pinakinggan mo ang sinasabi, nakakagaan ng loob. Parang sinasabi na mahirap man ang dinaraanan natin ngayon, makakatanaw tayo ng mas maaliwalas na bukas. Hindi man natin abutan iyun, tiyak, yung mga anak natin ang makakaabot.

Pumunta ako sa indigation rally sa Commission on Human Rights noong Miyerkules. Habang naghahanda ang mga bata sa programa, pinatutugtog ang mga kanta ni Ericson, narinig ko muli ang kanyang boses. Ilang beses akong napalunok ng hikbi.

Sabi sa mga ulat, ilang beses silang sinaksak ng kasamahan niya sa isang bahay ng magsasaka sa Kabankalan, Negros madaling araw noong Nobyembre 30. Kinailangan talagang maraming beses siyang saksakin, tadyakan, sikmurahan, sipain, bago mamatay. Naiisip ko na ang nakabibinging sigaw niya habang pinapatay siya. Hanggang sa huling sandali, tiyak, sumisigaw siya. At kahit naubos na ang dugo sa payat at warang lubot niyang katawan, naririnig pa rin natin ang boses ni Ericson Acosta.

Peasant leader’s death sparks outrage, calls for justice

AlterMidya

Longtime peasant leader Joseph Canlas, who had been detained over trumped-up charges, has passed away today, May 11, after he was rushed to a hospital three days ago, according to peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

“We condemn in strongest terms the jail authorities’ neglect and the Duterte government’s unjust incarceration of Ka Joseph which led to his untimely death this morning,” Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women national chairperson Zenaida Soriano said. “We express our deepest condolences to his family.”

Canlas, chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon, was arrested March 30 by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police in Mexico, Pampanga. He was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives — a criminal case that human rights groups called the “standard” charges fabricated against activists under the Duterte administration.

The peasant leader was rushed to an Angeles City hospital due to low oxygen level and possible stroke. The following morning, he was transferred to an intensive care unit due to acute respiratory failure and COVID-19.

On May 10, Canlas had lapsed into a coma despite being intubated and connected to a mechanical ventilator.

Human rights groups earlier decried “unjust treatment” of Canlas under custody of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. They said the land reform advocate was subjected to severe conditions that made him vulnerable to ailments like COVID-19. Hospital records showed his cause of death as pneumonia.

Peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), where Canlas served as vice-chairperson, noted that he was in stable condition prior to detention. His health would soon deteriorate under jail custody as proven by his complaints of difficulty in breathing and stuttering speech.

“If jail authorities thoroughly checked Canlas’s health condition, they would have known that he has hypertension and diabetes which makes him more vulnerable to COVID infection,” KMP said.

“If he received proper medical attention while in detention, then the risks could have been lessened,” the group added.

A day after his arrest, Canlas was transferred and put under quarantine at the CIDG Region 3. He was not allowed to receive visitors, including family members and counsel.

According to KMP, Canlas was transferred after two weeks to the BJMP Detention Center in Angeles City after an X-ray examination. Since the BJMP’s facility was full, he was listed to be placed under quarantine.

The peasant advocate was put in BJMP’s quarantine facility along with 100 or more detainees as of April 22. He was transferred to a regular jail after two more weeks.

Who is Joseph Canlas?

Canlas was known in Central Luzon for his decades-long struggle against land grabbing and displacement of farmers in Hacienda Luisita, Hacienda Dolores, Pantabangan Dam, Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija, Camp Gregg in Pangasinan, New Clark City, and expressways CLEX, TPLEX and SCTEX among others.

He finished BS Forestry at Pampanga Agricultural College and became an employee at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He soon became exposed to corruption in the government agency, especially in the implementation of environmental projects.

Canlas eventually resigned from government work and formed the group Anak Gubat to continue his advocacy of protecting the environment. He became a member of the peasant group Aguman dareng Maglalautang Capampangan (AMC) in 1997. During this time, he was also elected as an officer of  Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Pampanga.

In 2003, he became the chairperson of the AMGL and led a membership reaching up to 10,000 farmer-members. According to a Bayan-Gitnang Luson, Canlas led successful people’s campaigns in Central Luzon such as the agricultural workers’ strike in Hacienda Luisita, and against infrastructure projects like the New Clark City, Balog-Balog Dam, Aboitiz Geothermal Powerplant, massive land use conversion and the displacement of farmers and Aetas.

In the middle of the pandemic while he was being constantly red-tagged and harassed by state security forces, Canlas was still at the forefront of relief efforts and calls for sufficient health services and economic assistance to peasants and Aetas in Central Luzon.

His organizations KMP, AMGL, Bayan, as well as other progressive groups have denounced the injustice against the peasant leader. In a statement, the KMP said “we could only blame the Duterte administration for his untimely death. His unjust detention led to the swift deterioration of his health condition.”

“We point our fingers to the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) that subjected Canlas to constant red-tagging, Angeles City RTC Executive Judge Ma. Angelica T. Paras-Quiambao who issued the search warrant against Canlas, the PNP-CIDG that executed the defective warrant and carried out the illegal arrest last March 30, and the BJMP for consciously neglecting Canlas’ health condition,” the peasant group said.

According to KMP, peasant organizations and land reform advocates will hold a series of protests, starting with an indignation rally at the Commission of Human Rights complex in Quezon City this afternoon, May 11.

With reports from Ratziel San Juan and Pokus Gitnang Luson 

‘TANIM PILA’: Memo instructs police to use ‘planted’ beneficiaries at community pantries

AlterMidya

A memorandum and attached project brief from Philippine National Police (PNP) Cagayan de Oro are instructing cops to employ pre-designated beneficiaries in the rollout of their Barangayanihan initiative, which is inspired by the Maginhawa Community Pantry.

Under the said project, police precincts will serve ‘breakfast lugaw’ to select constituents in respective barangays. They are required to cite the Maginhawa Community Pantry as inspiration and make it clear that the effort is a partnership between the precinct and barangay donors and stakeholders.

“Respective beneficiaries will take pictures of the activity and post in their respective FB accounts. These netizens can be planted beneficiary civilians so as to manifest community’s appreciation,” read the project brief.

Although the project brief is attached to the said PNP Regional Office 10 memo, it mentions implementation by almost all precincts in Manila Police District and “possibly the whole NCR and other regions” in the rollout phase from April 21 to 25. Moreover, the next phase from April 26 to May 2 instructs nationwide Barangayanihan.

During this phase, the police are likewise instructed to “ask or plant civilian beneficiaries to take pics/selfies and posting in respective [Facebooks] with appreciation captions and standard MANDATORY hashtags.”

The objectives of Barangayanihan, according to its project brief, include forging stronger ties with the grassroots through the “basic unit of society”, the barangay.

The police directive also explicitly states that “The more we manifest collaborations with the barangay citizenry, the more we gain grounds in the fight against insurgency”, confirming the suspicion of several critics that state forces are planning to use the community pantry against the progressive movement.

Hijacking community pantries?

A portion of the project brief reads “Respective beneficiaries will take pictures and post in their respective FB..”

The said memorandum listed among its references the PNP’s guidance and compliance under Executive Order 70, which institutionalized the whole-of-nation approach against insurgency and established the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Just last week, NTF-ELCAC executive director Allen Capuyan in a leaked Viber message encouraged the task force’s different clusters to partner with the public and private sectors to initiate community pantry-related activities.

Capuyan’s message read that the task force is encouraging its clusters, including the Peace, Law Enforcement and Development Support (PLEDS), the Poverty Reduction Livelihood and Empowerment Cluster (PRLEC), etc. to start their own community pantry activities.

The PNP memo to organize precinct-run community pantries seems to come from this directive from NTF-ELCAC. Former Bayan Muna party-list representative Teddy Casiño said that the task force’s latest approach follows the controversial red-tagging of community pantries by NTF-ELCAC officials Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy and Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr., which drew huge flak from the public.

“Ok sana kung gustong magtayo ng community pantry ng mga pulis. Pero naman, pati ba ito tataniman nila?” Casiño tweeted.

“Clearly, after failing to discredit and intimidate the community pantry movement, the NTF-ELCAC, police and military establishment are poised to hijack it due to their paranoia that it’s all a communist plot,” he said. “They simply can’t leave a good thing alone.”

In a statement, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said that the huge budget of the PNP should instead be rechannelled to cash aid for the poor. The Barangayanihan, it said, is a “publicity stunt” that hijacks pantries and attempts to conceal the government’s failure in addressing the pandemic.

“Desperadong hakbang ito gamit ang buwis ng mamamayan,” KMU leader Jerome Adonis said.”Ideretso nyo na ang pera sa mamamayan sa pamamagitan ng P100 daily wage subsidy at P10k ayuda.”

With reports from Ratziel San Juan

On the incredulous red-tagging of Altermidya Network at the Dec. 1 Senate hearing

ONCE AGAIN, state forces led the hostile red-baiting of independent media at the December 1 Senate hearing after they presented the Altermidya Network and its members nationwide as so-called communist fronts.

The red-tagging of Altermidya journalists, online and on-ground, has intensified even more in the past months. These incidents, just like the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) presentation at the Senate hearing earlier, were done without evidence and incredulously linked the member outfits of Altermidya to an underground Communist organization.

In fact, the task force, despite its billion-peso-budget, merely copied the publicly-available Altermidya list of members and placed it under an incredible organizational heading.

We are appalled at this irresponsible practice, which is a stark contrast to our ethical commitment of truthful and careful reporting as journalists. The Altermidya Network is the broadest alliance of community journalists, independent media outfits, community radio broadcasters, and grassroots film collectives in the country. Its member outfits have a consistent record of covering underreported issues in communities – some for more than two decades, while other community-based media outfits in provinces join and continually expand the network.

Journalists from the alternative media relentlessly report on the situation in various communities across the country: on environment issues, corruption, human rights abuses, on the situation of farmers and workers, among others. Reporting on these stories have resulted in the non-stop attacks in various forms against our members – from death threats, cyberattacks, harassment, physical assault, detention, and even attempted murder.

Now, these attacks against the independent media are being mounted in a prominent arena at the Senate. But we can clearly see through these tactics of smearing and intimidating truth-tellers and critics into silence, especially in the middle of a growing discontent among the public.

We in the Altermidya are not new to attacks on media freedom. We will pursue legal action against this malicious smear campaign on our members. While we exhaust all means to fight back, we shall continue our journalistic responsibility of truth-telling– and with fellow journalists and freedom-loving Filipinos, persist in upholding press freedom and freedom of expression at all costs. #

‘Laban, Kampamilya’: Altermidya’s statement of support for the People’s Initiative for ABS-CBN franchise

STATEMENT

We, independent media outfits and journalists under the Altermidya Network, express our support to the People’s Initiative to Grant ABS-CBN a People’s Franchise or Pirma Kapamilya, a movement that seek to gather 7 million signatures for ABS-CBN.

After 70 legislators voted a death sentence for the network and its 11,000 employees, many Filipinos and press freedom advocates remain hopeful of possible avenues to grant ABS-CBN a franchise.

‘People’s Initiative’ under the 1987 Constitution grants Filipinos the power to amend the Constitution or enact laws. This procedure is governed by Republic Act 6735 or “The Initiative and Referendum Act,” along with Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Resolution No. 10650.

Under the said rules, a proposed legislation needs the signature of at least 10% of all registered voters or about 6.1 million signatures based on the total registered voters in the 2019 National Elections Record. To ensure that enough signatures are secured after the verification process, a target of 7 million registered voters has been set.

The sheer number of signatures needed is not lost on us: indeed this road is painstaking and difficult, an arduous task only aggravated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Yet at a time when those in power are relentless in eroding our rights – press freedom, our civil liberties, our right to know –we take every instance we have to defend and reclaim these rights with every risk and effort.

The campaign has only just begun, and yet paid hacks and naysayers already accuse it of being an elaborate scheme funded by so-called oligarchs. This claim conveniently ignores how it was precisely those in power who conspired to steal from the Filipino people one of their main sources of information at the height of the public health crisis.

We have underscored from the beginning that this campaign is not a move to protect mere corporate interests. It is an assertion by the Filipino people who cannot tolerate abuses to our constitutionally-guaranteed right to press freedom and free expression.

The road may be difficult but the initiative is a form of taking back the power of the phrase “we, the sovereign Filipino people” enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. As we have always said and done in the past, we will fight back, together for press freedom, for the people’s to know, and for democracy.

Laban, Kapamilya!