Anti-terror law being used for trumped-up charges in PH, Bishop tells world

A Protestant denomination urged the United Nations (UN) to ask the Philippine government to repeal its anti-terrorism law it says is being used to randomly arrest members of the clergy and other human rights defenders.

United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) secretary general Bishop Melzar Labuntog told the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland last Thursday the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government is increasingly using the law to file trumped-up cases against rights defenders and church people.

Labuntog said that in Southern Tagalog region alone, Rev.  Edwin Egar of the UCCP and Rev. Glofie Baluntong of the United Methodist Church as well as 13 others had been falsely charged under the said law.

Throughout the Philippines, there are 776 political prisoners are detained on false charges, Labuntog, citing Karaparan data, reported.

The UCCP prelate said two of their own Pastors, Rev. Nathaniel Vallente and Rev. Jimmy Teves, are unjustly detained.

“Our prison congestion rates are among the highest in the world, and yet people continue to be arrested for simply speaking up against the government,” Baluntong said.

“Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not taken measures to address the continuing pattern of rights violations and repeated denial of due process,” the Bishop added.

Baluntong is a member of the Philippine Universal Periodic Review Watch delegation to the ongoing 54th session of the UN HRC.

Respect health workers

A week earlier, the Council for Health and Development (CHD) also delivered an oral intervention in the debates asking the UN HRC to encourage member states such as the Philippines to ratify the proposed Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Katharina Berza of the CHD said countries must address the root causes of poverty and disease for a faster recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Berza added that civic spaces must also be respected and protected in the respective government’s responses to COVID.

For demanding just compensation during the worst years of the pandemic, health groups in the Philippines had been criticized by former government COVID task force adviser and now health secretary Teodoro Herbosa.

“[A]ll citizens, including health workers, must be able to express criticism of State policies detrimental to human rights,” Berza told the UN. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUPL asks Teodoro to uphold duties of lawyers

‘Anti-terror charges vs rights defenders alarming’

Human rights lawyers asked national defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro, himself an attorney, to uphold their duties as counsels to their clients.

In a hand-delivered letter in front of Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City Friday, July 7, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) urged Teodoro to respect the United Nations Basic Principles of on the Role of Lawyers in the context of protecting the human rights of their clients as well as promoting justice.

The five-page letter is accompanied by a separate letter by Nieves Lizada, mother of human rights defender Mary Joyce who is detained at the Philippine Army’s (PA) Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.

The letters were handed out to a representative of the Office of the National Defense Secretary.

The event was accompanied by a protest action by human rights workers from Southern Tagalog and Metro Manila.

Southern Tagalog human rights defenders demand the freedom of two of their colleagues. (NUPL photo)

‘No rule of law’

The NUPL cited the case of Mary Joyce and Arnuldo Aumentado who are being denied access to their lawyers; the case of sugar farm workers Alfred Manalo, Lloyd Descalar and Angelito Balitostos who were abducted by government soldiers; and Southern Tagalog (ST) youth rights defenders Kenneth Rementilla, Jasmin Yvette Rubia, and Halley Pecayo who were harassed and red-tagged by the PA.

Called the Mansalay 2, Mary Joyce and Aumentado were investigating the shelling of a Mangyan community in Oriental Mindoro province when arrested by the PA last April 25.

Despite two previous consultations with their lawyers on June 3 and June 28 in Camp Capinpin, the two have since been denied time with their counsels and have yet to be taken to a civilian jail even after indictment from a regional trial court.

In their letter, the NUPL also complained of the harassment of their members from the Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA) who responded to requests for assistance for sugar farm workers Manalo, Descalar and Balitostos, also called the Balayan 3.

A certain Lt.Col. Ernesto Teneza filed a complaint against the SENTRA lawyers at the Commission on Human Rights IV-A office despite being responsible for blocking the lawyers’ access to the farm workers.

The NUPL also said the ST youth rights defenders were harassed on two special occasions in the PA’s efforts to prevent them from investigating the killing of 9-year old Kyllene Casao by soldiers of the PA’s 59th Infantry Battalion.

‘As alter ego of the Commander in chief’

In their letter, the NUPL called on Teodoro to exercise his supervision over the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as well as the following demands:

  1. Those arrested, detained and imprisoned are provided opportunities to consult with a lawyer without delay, interception or censorship and in full confidentiality;
  2. Lawyers are allowed to travel and consult with their clients freely and without threats and prosecution;
  3. The military should refrain from filing trumped-up charges of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses against human rights defenders; and
  4. Officers and commanders of the 2nd Infantry Division and the 4th and 59th IBs be investigated for possible liabilities in the incidents mentioned.

“We hope that you will take these calls as a challenged to balance your tasks of guarding the country against security threats with the imperative of fulfilling the Philippine government’s obligations to respect human rights and international humanitarian law,” the NUPL wrote.

The lawyers’ group said 13 Anti-Terrorism Law charges have been filed against rights defenders and other civilians throughout the region.

In her own letter, Lizada asked Teodoro to immediately free Mary Joyce or be transferred without delay to a civilian jail.

There was no immediate response to the letters from Teodoro’s office. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Despite persecution, seasoned missioners serve rural poor in Philippines

By Sr. Edita C. Eslopor, OSB/RMP

I have belonged to the Congregation of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing for 40 years, and since I am assigned to the remotest of the rural areas — serving those on the margins of society (the lost, the least and the last living) — I also work with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

I have found my niche interacting with the sisters and lay mission partners from different congregations in the Philippines, and with parishes whose visions and missions share our common commitment to helping people in poverty. It is here that I genuinely appreciated the charism of our congregation. I am indeed grateful for God’s grace to persevere in my call to be a missionary in the Philippines.

From my experience, I could compare the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, as an organization, to a nutshell.

A nutshell is a hard covering in which the edible kernel of a nut is enclosed; it is sturdy and impenetrable and cannot be broken easily. If you strike it incorrectly, it will bounce back and be unchanged. The term in a nutshell is also used in writing or speaking to say something briefly, using a few words.

Missionary Benedictine Sr. Edita Eslopor climbs to visit an Indigenous Lumad village in the Philippines after an hourlong motorcycle ride. (Courtesy of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines)

I was reflecting on this when the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines commemorated its 54th anniversary last August 2022. It had struggled through the pandemic; relentless “red-tagging” as terrorist or communist under the Anti-Terrorism Law; ongoing vilifications; killings; and freezing the group’s funds through the government’s Anti-Money Laundering Council. These funds should have been spent to help the rural people in poverty, especially peasants, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, and their people’s organizations.

Founded on Aug. 15, 1969, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is the oldest mission partner of the Conference of the Major Superiors in the Philippines. In a nutshell — Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is resilient and can weather storm after storm, for it is well-designed to serve the poorest of the poor in the rural areas in the Philippines.

Seasoned religious women, men and lay partners who espouse the vision, mission and goals of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines are at the helm of the organization. They have accomplished much and made a name here and abroad for more than five decades now.

They are a paragon of service to the rural poor. Hence, the group is closely watched and vilified by the powers that be, and red-tagged by the military because the missionaries are so down-to-earth. They remind me of what Pope Francis said when he instructed priests: “Be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.”

And how relevant is what Bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said: “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

As the military unjustly attacked the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines by red-tagging them and freezing the funds intended for the peasants’ organizations, the missioners bounced back and continued to perform their missionary undertakings according to the saying: The mission is not ours; the mission is God’s.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is home to different sisters, priests and lay mission partners from different congregations. They took to heart their mission and seriously looked at the signs of the times — not as an ordinary event but as a call and a challenge that needed a response.

What made these followers of Christ read the signs of the times with the eyes and ears of their hearts? The sisters who have led the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines through the years are visionary and extraordinary women at the forefront of contextualizing their faith. Their feat is amazing and worth emulating.

To celebrate how the group has enfleshed its God-given mission, I tried to itemize it:

  • Five decades — of grateful and consistent journeying with the rural poor, partner organizations and funding agencies, to give birth to an organization of missionary doctors and health professionals (the Council for Health and Development);
  • 600 months — of meeting, assessing, planning to research, and attending rallies in solidarity with the people and other cause-oriented groups;
  • 2,607 weeks — of breathing in the “smell of their sheep,” working with farmers, fisherfolk and Indigenous people, stressing the need to ally with the people’s organizations;
  • 18,263 days — of talking the talk, facilitating fact-finding missions, medical missions, scholarship, and the like; of walking the walk with back-breaking responsibilities to help the people help themselves through their projects, thus empowering them;
  • 18,438,312 hours — of home visiting, contact building, providing/facilitating task reflections/assemblies/exposure, sharing and praying the Bible in the context of the lived experiences of the poor people they serve;
  • 26,298,720 minutes — of parrying the impact of the red-tagging and vilifying attacks from the military, of defending their God-given mission and congregational mandates, and of praying most earnestly for God’s guidance and protection.

As I lived my missionary life and when I looked to the lifelong members with their lean figures and malformed bodies, and dearly beloved departed missionaries, they always energized me beyond words. They mirrored the long years of great service and unwavering belief in the God of the poor and the giftedness of the people they served; their sacrifices for a cause they believed in; and their efforts without counting the cost that made their lives relevant and meaningful.

Missionary Benedictine Sr. Edita Eslopor and an African fellow sister distribute school supplies in a village in the rural Philippines. (Courtesy of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines)

Francis reminded those who serve, “We must not forget that true power, at whatever level, is service.” Their whole worthwhile life is their humble offering back to God for the grace and care that God has bestowed on them through the years.

These people are awash with good memories of their experiences with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Such a treasure — more precious than gold — is cherished in their hearts through the years.

Quo vadis, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, in the next 50 years? This is a question often asked, given the worsening situation in the country and a lackluster Philippine president. But the missioners have the hope and a cast-iron certainty that God is always on the side of the poor, as he loved them and made so many of them!

As for those who served the people living in poverty, God will always bless them with peace and grace. The missionaries endured and will continue to persevere, for in the words of an African proverb, they stand tall on the shoulders of many ancestors.

The rural missionaries will move on with grit and determination. God’s grace transformed them into extraordinary missioners. And they take heart from St. Oscar Romero’s testimonial: “Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down.” #

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Editor’s note: Sr. Edita Eslopor was red-tagged herself and her community has missioned her to another location.

This article was originally published by the

‘Ang magiging biktima lamang lagi ay ang pinakabulnerableng grupo’

“Kitang-kita sa kasong ito kung paano ginagamit ng estado ang Terror Law sa paglabag sa karapatan ng mga katutubo, at kung papaano sila mabilisang pinaratangang terorista. Patunay ito na mapanganib ang Anti-Terror Law, sapagkat ang magiging biktima lamang lagi ay ang pinakabulnerableng grupo na mga katutubo, lalo na yaong mga lumalaban para sa lupaing ninuno at karapatan para sa sariling pagpapasya.”Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, Bayan Muna

KODAO ASKS: Ano ang iyong pagtingin sa Anti-Terror Law?

Sinalubong ng nagkakaisang mamamayan ang ika-5 State of the Nation Address o SONA ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte sa pamamagitan ng isang protestang may temang “SONAgkaisa.” Ginanap ito noong Lunes, Hulyo 27, sa kahabaan ng University Avenue sa UP Diliman, Quezon City. Dinaluhan ito ng 8,000 katao mula sa iba’t ibang sektor at mga progresibong grupo.

Bitbit ng mga sektor ang kani-kanilang mga panawagan at hinaing sa apat na taon na panunungkulan ng pangulo. Pinakatampok sa mga ito ang panawagang ibasura ang kontrobersyal na Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 o Anti-Terrorism Law.

Hiningan ng Kodao Productions ang ilan sa mga dumalo ng kanilang pagtingin hinggil sa pagkakapasa ng nasabing batas. (Bidyo nina Jo Maline Mamangun, Jola Mamangun, Joseph Cuevas, at Arrem Alcaraz)