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DOJ lied to UN expert on red-tagging—Karapatan, NUJP

A human rights organization and a media group called claims by the Department of Justice (DOJ)  that red-tagging is not official government policy is, simply, lying.

“Simply doublespeak,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in reaction to DOJ’s reply to United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan’s question if red-tagging is a policy of the Philippine government.

“We are aghast when the DOJ said that it has sufficient mechanisms to address red-tagging. What are they talking about? Either these are nowhere to be found, or if these mechanisms indeed exist, are rendered useless for victims of rights violations,” Palabay said.

Palabay pointed out that the Office of the Ombudsman found former National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTFELCAC) spokespersons retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and former undersecretary Lorraine Badoy guilty of red-tagging activists and organizations.

In a decision signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires last August 9, Parlade and Badoy were reprimanded after finding merit in the complaint filed by the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

Other complaints filed as early as 2020 by Karapatan, alternative media organizations, youth leaders, health workers, community pantry organizers, journalists, and civil libertarians remain pending at the Ombudsman, proof that red-tagging is practiced widely by government agencies, Palabay said.

Palabay also recalled that Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told the UN Human Rights Committee in November 2022 that “red-tagging is a part of democracy.”

“The DOJ secretary himself attempted to justify red-tagging before the UN HR Committee. Using his warped logic, Remulla also said in interviews that red-tagging is truth-telling, and that it is their right to ‘criticize’ those who criticize them,” Palabay added.

DOJ’s barefaced denial

In a press release following its meeting with Khan last Wednesday, the DOJ said it told the UN expert red-tagging is not an official policy of the government.

“We were also explaining the many cases that show that we have sufficient mechanisms to address this matter of red-tagging. There is an ongoing effort, proactive effort on the part of the DOJ where we have been engaging civil society organizations,” Justice Undersecretary Jessie Andres also told Khan.

Already criticized in 2007 by UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Phillip Alston, red-tagging is described as the malicious act of branding individuals or organizations as supporters or members of terrorist or communist groups simply for being critical of government policies.

Rights groups said victims of red-tagging are being set up for arrests, trumped-up charges or assassination.

While the UN is here

In a separate statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said government’s denial of a red-tagging policy is meaningless as it is being done even while a UN expert is in the country conducting her investigations on the allegations.

“We condemn the red-tagging on Facebook of NUJP director Reynard Magtoto and Gabriela local leader Jen Nagrampa, who have been accused by anonymously-run page Green Spark of being “kampon” or underlings of the CPP-NPA-NDF,” NUJP said.

Green Spark alleged on Thursday that along with Magtoto and Nagrampa, alternative news outfits Bulatlat and Baretang Bikolnon as well as women’s group Gabriela are front organizations of underground Communist organizations.

“We believe this latest post is an attempt at retaliation for Magtoto’s December 2023 report on fake New People’s Army surrenderees and on how some — activists and citizens — were made to sign declarations of surrender under false pretenses of government aid distribution or under duress,” NUJP said.

Magtoto was subjected to surveillance while working on a report on fake surrenderees in Bicol and was also called to a meeting with the military on his activities with NUJP, which they called a “sectoral front organization, the group reported.

Under the Marcos Jr. administration, NUJP said it recorded 20 incidents of red-tagging against journalists and media outlets and organizations.

“Like Magtoto, the majority of those red-tagged published stories critical of the government, or that veered away from the official narratives,” NUJP said.

Karapatan and the NUJP were among dozens of civil society organizations that met with Khan on her first day of investigations last Tuesday.

“Malicious labeling by government agencies, officials and their affiliates intrudes on our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of association, of the press, and of expression. The continuous red-tagging puts the security of journalists at risk, and should not be taken lightly, the NUJP said.

“We challenge the Marcos Jr. administration to disband the NTFELCAC to prove that red-tagging is not a policy, the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

New AFP spox contradicts Marcos, amuses CPP

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is only amused at inconsistencies in pronouncements made by government officials about the strength of the New People’s Army (NPA), its chief information officer said.

In a statement Wednesday, CPP officer Marco Valbuena said it was quite amusing to observe how new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla contradicted her commander in chief President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. a few days into her new job.

In repeating the annual AFP announcement it will eliminate the NPA by the end of the year, the new spokesperson “already sounded like a broken record,” Valbuena said.

In a press briefing last Monday, Padilla said the AFP vows to defeat the NPA by the end of 2024, a promise made anew in the military’s first command conference of the New Year.

“We were given specific deadlines to do such.  So within a span of a year, we are looking at eliminating the threat of the internal insurgency situation,” Padilla said.

Valbuena however pointed out that Marcos himself declared only last January 13 that there are no more NPA fronts, which Brawner in turn rebuffed

“What was interesting, however, is the fact that she issued her statement just days after Marcos, their commander-in-chief, declared that ‘there are no more NPA fronts,’” Valbuena said.

AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner himself rebuffed Marcos two days later by saying the NPA has “eleven weakened fronts,” instead of zero.

“To say the least, these disconnected statements reveal inconsistencies in the Marcos government’s public assessment of the state of the revolutionary armed movement, arising from contradictions in its self-serving objectives,” Valbuena said.

Neither declaration of having strategically defeated the NPA after 55 years or eliminating it can cover up the AFP’s ongoing military offensives and large-scale military operations across the country, Valbuena said.

The CPP officer added that the AFP continues to squander hundreds of billions of public funds in a strategy bound to fail in ending the civil war, he added.

Valbuena explained that the AFP’s annual declaration of crushing the NPA always fails because its strategy results in worsening forms of human rights and international humanitarian law violations.

He added that civilians remain the main targets of AFP’s operation through brutal suppression extrajudicial killings, rounding up people and parading them as “surrenderees,” looting, encampment amid civilian communities, curfews and other arbitrary restrictions on people’s movements and economic activity, food blockades, checkpoints, aerial bombing, artillery shelling and other bloody and dirty tactics.

“The vain objective is to break the people’s spirit and make them cower to submission. The result is the opposite,” he said.

Valbuena cited the recent killings of peasant activists Boy Baloy and Ernesto Torres in Negros Occidental by the 62nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army who claimed the victims were NPA fighters killed in an armed encounter.

Such crimes help make the NPA numbers grow amid the CPP’s new rectification campaign launched last December, Valbuena said.

“All in all, we anticipate steady growth during the rest of the year and succeeding period…the Filipino people have no other recourse but to intensify their revolutionary mass movement and armed resistance,” the CPP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gerry Ortega’s family, supporters question trial transfer to QC

13-year case vs accused ex-governor Joel Reyes ‘taking too long’

The 13-year struggle for justice for slain broadcaster and environmental champion Dr. Gerry Ortega faces more delay as the trial against accused mastermind and former Palawan governor Joel Reyes has been transferred from Puerto Princesa to Quezon City (QC).

In a statement Wednesday, January 24, Ortega’s family said they find themselves on the brink of renewed grief as further delay confronts their quest for justice.

“Haven’t we already waited too long? Isn’t 13 years enough?” the family asked.

The Supreme Court (SC) granted the petition by Reyes in a decision penned last December 4 but was only recently made known to the complainants.

Reyes, patriarch of a political dynasty in Palawan, is accused as mastermind of the first media killing under the Benigno Aquino government in January 24, 2011.

Condemnations

The Justice for Doctor Gerry Ortega campaign and environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment led a protest rally at the SC Wednesday, saying the High Court’s decision is “questionable.”

“It just goes to show how the camp of Joel Reyes is able to stall the case, and why we must continue to demand swift justice for our slain environmental defenders,” Kalikasan national coordinator Jon Bonifacio said.

“We urge UN (United Nations) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan to pay close attention surrounding the Doc Gerry Ortega’s case, so she can see the reality of persistent threats to freedom of expression in the country,” Bonifacio continued.

Khan is in the Philippines for an official investigation of cases of press freedom violations, including Ortega’s murder.

The UN expert met with a representative of the Ortega family last Tuesday.

In a statement, human rights group Karapatan blamed government’s lack of political will to deliver justice for Ortega.

“The lack of political will and the extreme delay in bringing to justice the killers of slain broadcaster Gerry Ortega, and in other victims of extrajudicial killings, are now on the (Ferdinand) Marcos Jr. administration,” the group said.

The National Union of Journalists of Philippines (NUJP) joined the protest, saying it is surprised by the transfer when the accused remains in hiding, refusing to submit to the jurisdiction of the court where he was being tried.

“We strongly believe that there is no justifiable reason to transfer the case, and doing so will only prolong the trial that is already proceeding in earnest at the Palawan Regional Trial Court,” the media group said.

Enduring hope

The Ortega family said they remain hopeful that they will ultimate find justice.

“The past 13 years have been difficult, marked by challenges. Yet, the outpouring of support from the media, environmental defenders, human rights advocates, friends, and our community sustains our determination to see this through. Today, we express immense gratitude for your unwavering solidarity and support,” it said.

“Our family remains resolute, and we continue to hope for a fair, timely, and just resolution to the case. Thank you for standing with us on this challenging journey,” it added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Ka Daning Ramos hounded by surveillance, harassment—KMP

Veteran peasant leader Danilo Ramos and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) that he leads is worried.

In a statement, the KMP revealed Ramos had been the subject of surveillance and harassment by men suspected to be government intelligence agents in at least two occasions this month.

Motorcyle-riding men had been asking for the whereabouts of Ramos and his residence in Malolos City, Bulacan on January 3 and 15, KMP reported.

“In one incident, one of the men reportedly asked bystanders: ‘Taga-saan ba si Danilo Ramos? Matagal na namin siyang hinahanap kasi terorista siya.’”  (Where does Danilo Ramos reside? We have long been looking for him because he is a terrorist.)

“This dangerous and brazen case of terror tagging poses a direct threat to the life of Ka Daning, his family, and other peasant leaders and members of the KMP and the progressive peasant movement,” the group said.

KMP and Tanggol Magsasaka (Defend Farmers) noted that the surveillance and harassment against Ramos have escalated since last year.

The last case of documented surveillance against the KMP chairperson happened in August 2023, the group added.

The victim and Tanggol Magsasaka immediately submitted reports to and held dialogues with the Commission on Human Rights on last year’s incident, KMP said.

Ramos was a survivor of the Mendiola Massacre of January 22, 1987 and went on to become a long-time KMP secretary general.

He succeeded Rafael Mariano as KMP chairperson when the latter briefly served as Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary in 2016 to 2017.

KMP said despite non-stop harassment against Ramos, the farmer leader remains critical and outspoken on the policies and programs of the Department of Agriculture, DAR and Malacanang that affect farmers and fisherfolk.

The government meanwhile has weaponized laws against the agriculture sector , instead of heeding the plight of farmers and strengthening domestic agriculture, it added.

“We demand a stop to the harassment against Ka Daning (Ramos). We demand a stop to the attacks against farmers and the peasant masses who feed the nation,” KMP in its statement said.

“We call on all democracy-loving individuals and institutions, especially workers, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples’ rights advocates, Church people, environment defenders, and all sectors here and abroad to support Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos and all farmers fighting against landlessness, injustice, and impunity in the Philippines,” the group concluded. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Retrenched OFWs in New Zealand sleep in cars, resort to fishing to survive

It’s been nearly a month since hundreds of Filipino construction workers lost their jobs throughout New Zealand and some are forced into desperate measures to survive.

Migrante Aotearoa said many laid off workers have resorted to fly fishing for something to eat after about 720 fellow Filipinos suddenly lost their jobs when their recruitment company ELE Group collapsed last December 20.

“Yes, many are already doing that,” Migrante Aotearoa confirmed to Kodao.

First Union Network of Migrants general secretary Dennis Maga said that one month after ELE entered receivership, the distressed Filipino workers are already in dire financial hardship.

“[M]any are relying on community food support and waiting for financial assistance from the Philippine Embassy. Two weeks ago, the union reported that some workers were sleeping in their cars due to financial difficulties,” Maga said.

Bills and debts both in NZ and Philippines, mental and emotional stresses are mounting for the ELE workers, Maga added.

READ: 720 New Zealand OFWs lose jobs over Christmas

Distressed OFWs picketing Deloitte headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand (Migrante photo)

Distress call to NZ and PH governments

Along with Migrante Aotearoa and First Union, several of the workers held a picket at the Philippine Embassy as well as outside ELE Group caretaker Deloitte Corporation in Wellington today.

The groups also held meet ups with other laid off workers in Auckland and Christchurch on Friday.

In a statement, the groups said they are asking Deloitte to give the laid-off workers’ final pay and benefits before month’s end.

They demanded as well that the workers are given work immediately and given new work visas by the New Zealand government.

They also asked the Philippine government to expedite its promised financial aid to the workers while they remain jobless.  

“For the NZ government, we reiterate that it’s high time to investigate the practices of labor hire operators that disadvantage and exploit migrant workers,” Migrante Aotearoa said.

The group added that even before ELE’s collapse, they have been receiving reports of employment redundancy, exploitation of migrant workers, visa scams and fake job offers.

“We reiterate calls for the Philippine government through the Philippine Embassy in Wellington and the Department of Migrant Workers in Manila to fast-track the release of financial aid for all ELE workers and give high priority for ELE workers currently in the Philippines to avail OWWA assistance and waive the required application for new Overseas Employment Certificateto be able to return to NZ without further costs and delay,” they said.

In a separate statement, Migrante-International called on the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government to speed up and increase support for the laid-off workers.

The group is set to hold a dialogue with the Department of Migrant Workers on Monday, January 22 about the plight of the Filipino workers in New Zealand.

“The sudden retrenchment of our kababayans in New Zealand again exposes the folly of the Philippine government’s labor export program. The Philippine government has the responsibility to create decent jobs at home, which is possible only through land reform and national industrialization,” Migrante International said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Distressed OFWs and supporters picketing the Philippine Embassy in Wellington. (Migrante photo)

Filipina mom, who fled Gaza with 7 children, reunites with Palestinian husband in UAE

She asks help from Good Samaritans who may have extra laptops to spare for her daughters’ school requirements

by Angel Tesorero / Khaleej Times

The Filipina mother and her seven children who escaped war-torn Gaza recently are now back in the UAE.

They took a circuitous route – evacuating first in Manila with help from the Philippine government back in November last year – before arriving in Dubai last week. The family has settled in a temporary one-bedroom apartment in Ajman, the present accommodation of the 44-year-old Palestinian father who works in Dubai.

Three girls – aged 13, 11 and 9 years old – have been enrolled at an Arabic-curriculum school in Ajman. But since the family is practically starting from scratch – after everything they had were turned into rubble in Gaza – the mother, Marlene, 45, has reached out to ask help from Good Samaritans who may have extra laptops to spare for her daughters who are now in Grades 8, 6 and 4.

“Sorry for asking,” the mother apologetically wrote in a WhatsApp message sent on Wednesday. “The kids are doing fine and they are back in school. But they need a laptop for their school requirements. I hope there is someone who has an extra laptop or smart tablet to spare for my daughters,” she added.

Bright kids

Marlene’s children are very studious. In fact, her eldest daughter, who is 15, won full scholarship from Aiglon College, an international boarding school in Switzerland, before the war escalated in Gaza in October last year.

“She is now waiting for her student visa and she will finish senior high school in Switzerland,” Marlene proudly said.

Two of his younger sons – aged 7 and 6, who are supposed to be in Grades 2 and 1 – however, have yet to find a school. “All nearby schools are already full,” Marlene said.

“The kids now have a routine. My daughters are picked up by the school bus at 6am and they are home by 3pm,” Marlene shared, adding: “Even my youngest, who is 3, has started reading alphabets and counting numbers.”

Finding peace

Marlene continued: “Yes, my children are now all safe but the horrors of war still haunt them. They are still struggling to find peace.”

“Because we live near the Sharjah Airport, there were many times my seven-year old would anxiously run to me after hearing the sound of airplanes. ‘Are we being followed by Israeli fighter planes?’ – my son would ask me,” added Marlene, who earlier said: “Even the sound of the metallic electric fan brought my young son to tears as it sounded like attack drones.”

Marlene and her seven children left their home in Deir Al Balah in Gaza that was bombed twice, with nothing but a single emergency bag containing all their passports. Miraculously, no one died in the attacks and no one was seriously injured, except for a shrapnel that hit Marlene near her abdomen.

Marlene’s in-laws, aged 75 and 73, decided to remain in Deir Al Balah because they couldn’t endure the 20-km journey to the Rafah border in Egypt. “They have surrendered their fate to God. When our house was bombed for the third time, my 73-year-old mother-in-law just lay down on the floor and prayed,” she said.

Although a big challenge, Marlene has maintained communication with her in-laws and relatives in Gaza. “But the situation in Deir Al Balah is getting worse by the day. My sisters-in-law are trying to move to Rafah to find a way to cross the border. They heard Deir Al Balah will be next after the intensive military operations in Khan Younis and Nuseirat,” she added.

Still grateful

On the bright side, Marlene is thankful that she has reunited with her husband. She also thanked the individuals and institutions that helped her family, including the Philippine-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA) which took care of them when they were in Manila.

Marlene is now looking for work – her last job was as a secretary at a printing company in Sharjah before her family moved to Gaza in 2020. She said: “All my kids, except the eldest, were born in the UAE. That’s why they are not strangers here.”

Home is always Gaza

For Marlene’s children, however, home is always Gaza. She had earlier said: “Moving to Gaza turned out really good for my children. It was there that they truly found a home. They always felt they belonged. They were happy living with their cousins, they went to school and made new friends. They were happy… until the war happened.”

“My children maintained contact with their cousins,” Marlene continued, adding: “Just two days ago, they had a video chat and children will always be children. Despite the raging war, you can feel the innocence and simple joy in them.

“I heard their conversation and they were all laughing. My children’s cousins also had a simple request: ‘Please send some chocolates and chips, even small candies or any sweets.” #

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This report is original to The Khaleej Times where the author is a senior deputy editor.

Groups slam media security chief for red-tagging ahead of UN expert’s visit

Media groups and rights defenders condemned government’s top media security official, calling his allegation that a jailed journalist is active in terrorist groups a classic example of red-tagging.

Altermidya and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) executive director Paulino Gutierrez’s attack against journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio also proves the absurdity of his agency’s continued existence.

In his January 4 “Paul’s Alarm” column on JournalnewsOnline, Gutierrez 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.” (She also wants to know about Franchie (sic) Mae Cumpio’s situation, who is currently detained at the Palo Provincial Jail in Leyte because of her active role in the local terrorist group of communists.)

Altermidya said the official’s allegation is exactly what they mean about red-tagging: government officials 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,’” Altermidya said in a statement.

In a separate statement, the NUJP said Gutierrez’s accusation highlights precisely how red-tagging has become institutionalized in the Philippines and has become undeclared policy.

“It also shows the absurdity of having a body created for media security in a government task force that actively puts journalists’ security at risk by accusing them of being enemies of the state,” NUJP said.

The group added that Gutierrez’s allegation violates not just the constitutional presumption of innocence but also the Journalist’s Code of Ethics.

Human rights group Karapatan also slammed Gutierrez, saying the official’s red-tagging of Cumpio is hypocritical.

“Here is a big example of the government’s so-called ‘promotion of human rights,’ and yet, the Philippine government is already vilifying human rights defenders and press freedom defenders because they have tagged them as enemies of the state,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Braggadocio gone wrong

Ironically, Gutierrez wrote about Khan’s official 10-day visit to the Philippines starting next week in his column, disclosing he is ready to meet with the UN expert on press freedom and freedom of expression.

Gutierrez added it is a significant personal honor for him to lead the country’s preparations for Khan’s visit as chief of the only government agency in the world dedicated to media worker’s rights.

Altermidya however said Gutierrez’s attack against Cumpio is emblematic of their complaints to the UN expert.

“It is exactly this kind of information that we wish Ms. Khan would closely look into in her investigation into the Philippine situation,” Altermidya said.

“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,” Altermidya said.

Karapatan said that government agencies involved in the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur are the same agencies engaged in red-tagging, terrorist-labelling, filing of trumped up charges, and other forms of violations.

Special jail visit to Frenchie Mae

In his column, Gutierrez revealed that Khan wishes to visit Cumpio in jail.

The youngest journalist in prison in the world today, Cumpio was arrested in February 2020 when she was 20 years old.

A former editor of the student publication University of the Philippines Vista in Tacloban, Cumpio was a broadcaster with Manila Broadcasting Company’s Aksiyon Radyo station in Leyte at the time of her arrest.

She was also the executive director of alternative media outfit Eastern Vista and manager-in-training of 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,” Altermidya said. # (Raymund B. tVillanueva)

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DISCLOSURE: Altermidya’s statement was issued with the author as reference, being the group’s chairperson. He is also a former NUJP officer. Kodao and the author were Cumpio’s trainers for the Radyo Taclobanon project.

Groups slam ‘EDSA-pwera’ video as deceitful, misleading

Survivors of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s martial law dubbed as deceitful and misleading the advertisement alleging the 1987 Philippine Constitution is to blame for the country’s poverty and the government’s corruption.

The group Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA) in a statement said the “EDSA-pwera” (left-out) campaign that seeks amendments to the Constitution said personalities behind it are also “grossly anti-people.”

“What they think of as witty wordplay is not only misleading but deceitful,” CARMMA in a statement said, adding that the ad also falsely claims that Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship was an era of economic prosperity in the Philippines.

Released as signature-buying sprees for a so-called people’s initiative for charter change have been reported, the ad said it is time to discuss amendments to the 1987 charter—also called the EDSA Constitution after the 1986 People Power uprising that ousted the Marcos Sr. dictatorship.

The ad, placed by the firm Gana Atienza Avizado Law, claims the Constitution encouraged neglect of social services, corruption and gross profiteering while prohibiting foreign ownership of lands and businesses, thus preventing economic progress.

But CARMMA said that while the 1987 Constitution does not fully represent the interest and demands of the people, the claims made in the video are a misrepresentation of the real problems of the people.

“In fact, this provision in the 1987 constitution was included to remedy the Marcos dictatorship’s unhampered exposure of the Philippine economy to foreign plunder, to the detriment of local production, especially manufacturing. This, coupled with the Marcos clique’s own rapacity, bled our country dry,” the group added.

Former Senate President Vicente Sotto III, a supporter of the People Power uprising, also called the video “untruthful and inaccurate,” adding the charter is not the problem but the people who implement it.

Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, whose activist brother Atty. Harmon Lagman was disappeared under the Marcos dictatorship, also criticized the video, saying “”The ad is crudely crafted and there is nothing substantial conveyed in the message.”

“The ‘EDSA-pwera’ Charter Change ad campaign is part of the Marcos family’s continuing demonization of the EDSA People’s Power Revolution which ousted the Marcos dictatorship and helped install the ‘Cory Constitution’ or the present 1987 Philippine Constitution,” Lagman said. 

Meanwhile, the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives said they are considering asking Congress to conduct investigations if public funds have been used in the production and broadcast of the video and signature-buying activities in Albay and Sorsogon provinces.

Gana Atienza Avizado Law said the ad is a private initiative by their “small law firm,” assisted by an advertising agency.

Website abogado.com.ph said the law firm counts among its clients political big-wigs such as the Romualdezes who are cousins with president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UN report urges PH: Stop ‘misusing’ anti-terror measures vs. clergy, activists

A United Nations (UN) special mandates report raised serious concerns over repeated allegations of the Philippine government’s misuse of counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws against members of the clergy and other activists.   

Six UN Special Rapportuers said it received reports of arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, killing, and filing of fabricated charges against civil society activists from 2019 to 2023, spanning the second half of the Rodrigo Duterte government and the first year of the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration.

“We express our serious concern over the allegations of judicial harassment, office raids, targeted financial sanctions, asset freezing and other administrative sanctions against religious groups, Indigenous Peoples and organizations,” the experts also said.

In a report dated October 10, 2023 but only made public this week, the experts also expressed concern over the Philippine government’s over-broad definition of terrorism in its law, Republic Act 11479.

 “We note with concern that there appears to be an observable trend in the Philippines, whereby individuals and groups associated with churches, who are living out their faith through development and humanitarian work, have been linked by the government to CPP-NPA-NDFP (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines),” the report reads.

“We also express serious concern about the seemingly broad and unchecked executive powers implicated by the allegations—particularly the discretion of the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate individuals and organizations as “terrorist” and the Anti-Money Laundering Council to adopt targeted financial sanctions thereafter,” it added.

The experts said the Philippine government has also employed its counter-terrorism financing oversight powers in a broad and arbitrary manner against non-profit organisations and individuals, including the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

The UN experts said it looked into reports on of 24 victims who included two bishops and other clergy, a journalist, indigenous rights advocates, lawyers, non-profit organizations and other human rights defenders.

The report said the Duterte government filed a reply to UN in 2020, assuring the international community of its compliance to international human rights standard but still urged Manila to provide those it charges with crimes “all appropriate legal safeguards.”

The experts’ findings were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.

Aolain was joined in the report by Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; José Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

“We are concerned that such measures risk obstructing the delivery of vital and well-protected humanitarian, human rights and development services,” they said, adding such moves violate the Philippines’ human rights obligations under international law. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Filipina mom flees Gaza with 7 children, hopes to reunite with Palestinian husband

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Timesby Angel Tesorero

Marlene and her seven children successfully evacuated war-torn Gaza last November and are back in her home country. Like other evacuees, they were given $1,400 in cash aid by the Philippine government and were housed in a hotel for a couple of days upon arrival in her home country.

While safe from the rockets and bullets of the zionists, Marlene finds its hard to take care of her children aged  15, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5 and 3 years old alone. Her Palestinian husband Amjad is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an expat who wishes to bring the entire family to join him soonest.

Money running out

When the Philippine government’s temporary shelter to Gaza evacuees ended, Marlene was assisted by the Philippine-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA) to look for accommodations elsewhere. They are renting a room in Cavite Province and the aid money they received is already running out.

“Worse, the children are still traumatized by the war,” added Marlene, noting, “Even the sound of the metallic electric fan brought my young sons to tears at night because it sounded like drones. My second child also wakes up in the middle of the night and cries. They are afraid of fireworks and the sound of airplanes.”

The children and their mom were living with Marlene’s in-laws in Deir Al Balah (a city in central Gaza Strip) when Israel escalated its attacks. Escaping heavy bombardment, they hurriedly left the house with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, mismatched slippers, and a bag containing their passports.

Emergency kit

“The bag was our emergency kit – I had prepared it a long time ago because, in the past two years, I have experienced four intermittent conflicts and airstrikes, and I was told by neighbors to put all our passports in one bag and run whenever we hear a warning siren,” she added.

No one died in the shelling, but Marlene was hit by a shrapnel near her abdomen. Marlene and the kids sought refuge in Rafah, southern Gaza, on October 15. The in-laws, aged 75 and 73, decided to stay behind.

The situation in Rafah was no different and after two weeks, they moved back to Deir Al Balah, only to experience another airstrike. Marlene and the kids were again lucky and escaped alive. They then moved back to Rafah until the border with Egypt was opened and the first batch of refugees were evacuated.

Marlene and her seven children arrived in the Philippines on November 10 last year. Her in-laws decided to remain in Deir Al Balah because even the 20-km journey to Rafah was too much for them.

Marlene shared: “My in-laws said they were ready to face any fate that befell them. When our house was bombed for the third time, my 73-year-old mother-in-law just lay down on the floor in fear. She could not run, her body was trembling. She laid down and prayed. Thankfully, my father-in-law arrived and dragged her safely out of the house. The five-floor building was leveled to the ground with only one room remaining, where the two of them are now staying.”

Schooling disrupted

The schooling of the six younger children was entirely disrupted by the punitive war, that has so far claimed more than 22,000 lives and displaced 90 per cent of the Palestinian population.

Marlene and Amjad’s children, except the eldest, were born in the UAE, and have studied in Ajman’s Al Hikmah School (except for the 5-year-old and 3-year-old, who have yet to enter school). The family lived in Sharjah until 2020, when they visited Gaza and got stranded there because of the pandemic. Their UAE residence visas lapsed and only Amjad was able to return after finding work in the country in 2021. Since the kids can only speak Arabic and English, they cannot attend a Philippine school.

However, it was not all bad news for Marlene. Her eldest daughter, who is a very bright student, bagged a scholarship at a university in Switzerland, where she will continue her senior high school education until college.

Return to homeland

“But living in Gaza turned out good for my family, because it was there that my children truly found a home,” Marlene said poignantly, adding: “They felt they belonged, they were happy living with their cousins, they went to school and made new friends. They were happy. Until the war happened.”

Amjad is now working on bringing his entire family to the UAE. He said he sought assistance from charity organizations and school authorities to help send his children to school.

He is also praying that one day the family will be able to return to their homeland. #

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This report was original to the Khaleej Times where the author is a senior deputy editor.