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Military ‘sorry’ for false list of dead or captured NPA

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (UP) apologized for its false list of University of the Philippines (UP) students who died or were captured as New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

In a statement, the AFP said it sincerely apologizes to those “inadvertently affected by inconsistencies” in the list published on its Facebook account.

The AFP said its Civil-Military Operations Office is already conducting an internal investigation, adding it will hold to account those responsible.

The AFP apology,

The list had gone viral despite being deleted shortly after publication.

Among those listed as dead or captured NPA rebels are prominent UP alumni, including former government officials.

Former Congressman and Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Roan Libarios, former Government of the Republic of the Philippines Negotiating Panel chairperson and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation president Atty. Alexander Padilla, former Deparment of Environment and Natural Resources executive Elmer Mercado, and stage and film director Behn Cervantes who died of natural causes in August 2013 were among those listed.

False list

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the inclusion of at least two journalists in the list.

The NUJP said the listing of Agence France Presse bureau chief for Singapore and Malaysia Roberto “Bobby” Coloma and business and economic journalist Roel Landingin was “malicious red-tagging” by the military.

“It is appalling how the military office tasked with communicating with the citizenry has shamelessly resorted to such blatant falsehood to push the narrative of UP as the supposed ‘breeding ground’ of enemies of the state,” the NUJP said.

“We would normally dismiss this canard as laughably stupid. However, putting the people it names in mortal danger is no laughing matter at all. Especially since AFP units are known to spread disinformation such as this through their own social media accounts,” the media group added.

Schools reject Parlade’s allegation

In a related development, the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), De La Salle University (DLSU), University of Santo Tomas (UST), and the Far Eastern University (FEU) protested their inclusion in another list as recruitment havens for the NPA.

In a repeat of his allegations in 2018, National Task Force to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade said the NPA recruits new members from 18 Philippine colleges and universities.

ADMU President Roberto Yap, DLSU President Raymundo Suplido, FEU President Michael Alba and UST Vice Rector Isaias Tiongco jointly rejected Paralde’s statement against their schools.

The officials said their universities “seek to direct our students to engage in acts that contribute to the strengthening of social cohesion, defend the country’s democratic institutions, and promote nation-building.”

Parlade’s claims are “really getting old” and that the accusations were irresponsibly “cast without proof,” the school officials said.

Parlade’s statement and the AFP list followed defense secretary’s Delfin Lorenzana’s unilateral abrogation last week of the UP-Department of National Defense Agreement of 1989 requiring the AFP to seek permission before conducting operations in campus.

The move earned widespread condemnation from UP alumni and civil society groups. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bolinget seeks NBI protection vs PNP shoot-to-kill order

Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) chairperson Windel Bolinget has sought the protection of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) against a shoot-to-kill order against him by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the region, his group announced.

“Bolinget has voluntarily submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) earlier today, Jan. 21, for security while proving his innocence from the fabricated case he is charged with,” the CPA said Thursday.

A shoot-to-kill order had been issued against the prominent Igorot activist by PNP Cordillera commander R’win Pagkalinawan last Wednesday.

“Shoot to kill if nanlaban (he fights back),” Pagkalinawan said in a text message to reporters.

The PNP in Kalinga also announced a PhP100,000 bounty for information on the activist’s whereabouts.

The CPA said Bolinget’s decision to submit himself to the NBI was made as it was clear the police and Pagkalinawan “didn’t have any intention to observe due process.”

The CPA said Bolinget is not admitting guilt for the “fabricated charge” but to have full access to all legal services in challenging the charge while under NBI’s protective custody.

“We challenge the state security forces to show the same integrity and adhere to the rule of law,” the CPA said.

Bolinget and 10 others had been charged with murder by the Office of the Provincial prosecutor of Davao del Norte, at the southern part of the country, for their alleged involvement in the killing of Garito Malibato, a member of a local indigenous peoples’ organization called Karadyawan, in March 2018.

The CPA and human rights group Front Line Defenders earlier said the murder charge appears to be fabricated as Bolinget has never been to Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte where Malibato was murdered.

The group added that local indigenous organizations pointed to the paramilitary group Alamara as the real perpetrators of the murder.

“Further, a relative of the victim also expressed that Malibato had received several death threats from the same paramilitary group before he was killed,” FLD said.

Other groups also denounced Pagkalinawan’s order against Bolinget.

“Again the militarists are operating with trigger happy fingers with this kind of order.  They are now trying to condition the minds of the people that Windel will most likely resist arrest or ‘manlaban.’ Thus, such an order is justified,” the Bayan Muna Party said in a statement.

The National Council of Churches of the Philippines for its part called for the withdrawal of the charges against Bolinget as well as an end to the harassment and red tagging of indigenous activists.

“This most recent manufactured case against Mr Bolinget is part of a long history of harassment and intimidation including red-tagging, that is being conducted by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP against Mr Bolinget and other indigenous activists and human rights defenders,” NCCP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP reminds the military: “We are not subjects to GRP’s authority”

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel said it considers it absurd that a “mere government agency,” the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), has filed complaints against its allied organizations before another government agency.

NDFP Negotiating Panel interim chairperson Julieta de Lima said it is absurd and preposterous the AFP filed complaints against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as if the revolutionary organizations have become “subject to the authority of the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and its agencies.”

De Lima said both the CPP and the NPA belong to the NDFP and the revolutionary movement’s “People’s Democratic Government,” and not to the GRP.

“It is completely stupid and unacceptable for the AFP as mere agency of the GRP to consider the CPP and NPA as mere subjects to the authority of the GRP,” she said.

De Lima pointed out that the CPP and the NPA, as well as 16 other NDFP allied organizations, are at war with the GRP.

“The fact is that there is a civil war between the co-belligerents: the GRP and its agencies on one side; and the People’s Democratic Government, the NDFP, CPP, NPA, other revolutionary forces and the entire Filipino people on the other side,” de Lima said.

Conduct of war

The CHR meanwhile urged both the government and the rebels to respect international humanitarian law (IHL) in the conduct of war as it acknowledged receipt of the cases filed by the AFP on the alleged attacks against civilian properties by the CPP and the NPA since 2010.

“In looking into these cases, the CHR asserts its independent, impartial position in investigating human rights violations, including those committed in the context of armed conflicts. We equally assert our jurisdiction over these cases. International humanitarian law (IHL) covers both State and non-State actors alike,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

The CHR said civilians must be protected from atrocities under the IHL

“While CHR stands firm for the liberty of people to believe in specific ideologies, ones freedom to act on these beliefs should be guided by what is lawful and respectful of the rights of others,” de Guia said.

The CHR spokesperson noted that the CPP in a statement has admitted that civilian properties were destroyed or damaged by NPA in the course of several operations.

“[T]he CPP claims that those who have suffered damages were compensated,” de Guia said.

‘The proper venue’

De Lima however said the CHR is not the venue for the filing of such complaints against the NPA as an agreement has been signed between the GRP and the NDFP for exactly such a mechanism.

The GRP and the NDFP signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) on March 16, 1998 in The Hague, The Netherlands establishing a Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) to receive and investigate reports of human rights and IHL violations by either party.

De Lima reminded the AFP that if it wants to file complaints against the CPP and NPA, the most appropriate thing it can do is to ask GRP President Rodrigo Duterte as GRP principal to file through his representative complaints against the underground groups to the NDFP Section of the JMC.

“Unlike the GRP under the Duterte regime which engages in fascist crimes of state terrorism, the NDFP strictly adheres directly to the international law on human rights and humanitarian conduct in war as well as through the provisions of CARHRIHL,” de Lima said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

6 farmers arrested in Bulacan

Six of the 14 Norzagaray, Bulacan farmers charged with theft for harvesting their own crops have been arrested by the police Monday night, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said.

In an alert, the farmers’ group said Salvacion Abonilla, John Jason Abonilla, Jenny Capa, Marilyn Olpos, Catherine Magdato, and Eden Gualberto were taken to the police station in Norzagaray at past seven o’clock in the evening last January 18.

All are members of the Samahang Magsasaka ng San Mateo (SAMA-SAMA) and are residents of Sitio Compra, Barangay San Mateo.

The farmers were charged with theft after Royal Mollucan Realty Holdings Inc. (RMRHI) guards alleged they chanced on the six and eight others harvesting coconuts and bananas inside a 75.5-hectare disputed property.

The farmers said it could not have been theft if they were harvesting the crops they themselves planted on a property that their elders have tilled when the area was still wilderness.

The KMP denounced the arrests as harassment of the farmers who have a more legitimate claim to the land than the realty company.

It also denounced the Philippine National Police for “abetting a landgrabber” and for violating a court of Appeals decision ordering the Office of the President to award the land to agrarian reform program beneficiaries.

The disputed property had been placed in a Notice of Coverage as well as Compulsory Acquisition under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

“Since the 1950s, peasant families lived and tilled the agricultural lands located in Sitio Compra, Brgy. San Mateo, Norzagaray Bulacan. Around 50 families cultivate the 75-hectare land planted with rice, corn, varieties of vegetables, and other crops,” the KMP said.

The farmers’ ancestors were tenants who paid land rent to the family of former landowner Roman Aquino, the group added.

The KMP revealed that the arrested women farmers were forced to leave their young children unattended at their homes as their husbands are all away for work.

The group also recalled that in February and October 2019, Royal Mollucan demolished a total of 38 houses within the farmers’ community, forcing farmers to leave their farms and look for livelihood outside the fenced agricultural land.

The KMP said the arrested farmers have no money to pay for bail. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UP-DND accord Lorenzana wants ended stems from abduction of Donat Continente

The University of the Philippines-Department of National Defense (UP-DND) agreement that secretary Delfin Lorenzana wants ended stemmed from an abduction of an employee inside the campus in 1989, alumni recalled.

UP College of Mass Communications professor Danilo Arao said their Philippine Collegian employee Donato Continente was abducted on the night of June 16, 1989 in front of the university’s Vinzon’s Hall by covert operatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“As a news writer of the Philippine Collegian (at the time), I remember the abduction of our staff Donato Continente on the night of June 16 at Vinzons Hall. He was tortured and forced to confess to the killing of Col. James Rowe. This is why the UP-DND accord was signed 14 days later,” Arao said.

Rowe was a United States military advisor to the then Corazon Aquino government under the Joint US Military Advisory Group who was killed by the New People’s Army’s (NPA) Alex Boncayao Brigade.

Arao recalled that the so-called arresting officers “acted like goons who just simply forced Donat (Continente’s nickname) inside a vehicle.

“[H]e was brought to (Camp) Crame but he was surfaced the day after (or two days after) the abduction, the now journalism professor recalled of the covert operations.

“Donat’s abduction was frightening then. He was simply snatched in front of Vinzon’s Hall. Extrajudicial killing was rampant then and we were very worried for him,” he added in Filipino.

After being convicted with fellow Kabataan para sa Demokrasya at Nasyonalismo member Juanito Itaas, Continente was released in 2005.

BACKREAD: Who was Col. James Rowe and his alleged assassins

Unilateral abrogation

In a letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion, Lorenzana said the agreement is “terminated or abrogated effective this date (January 15).”

The agreement prevents state forces from entering UP campuses without coordinating with the university administration.

It was signed between then UP President Jose Abueva and national defense secretary Fidel Ramos on June 30, 1989 disallowing military and police presence on campus.

It was an update of the so-called Sotto-Enrile Accord of 1982 between then League of Filipino Students chairperson Sonia Sotto and national defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile as the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship formally ended its Martial Law.

In his letter, Lorenzana cited alleged Communist Party of the Philippines and NPA recruitment in UP and to prevent further alienation between UP students and the State’s armed forces as reasons for his decision.

“We want them (the students) to see their Armed Forces and Police as protectors worthy of trust, not fear,” Lorenzana claimed.

UP’s strong stance on human rights have always been a source of irritation to the State’s defense establishment. (Photo by Maricon Montajes/Kodao)

What the Agreement says

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general and former UP student Renato Reyes, Jr. said it is crucial to remember what happened to Continente in understanding why the agreement came into being.

“[It] triggered discussions on the conduct of military operations on campus…[as it] laid down guidelines in the conduct of police and military operations so that what happened to Donat in UP would not be repeated,” Reyes said.

Among the accord’s important provisions is one that requires the AFP and PNP to notify the UP administration of military and police operations including the serving of search and arrest warrants inside UP.

“The military cannot just enter UP campus grounds at any time, unless there is an emergency or there is hot pursuit of suspects, or unless there is a request for police assistance by the administration,” Reyes explained.

The UP-DND accord also prohibits the AFP and PNP from interfering in peaceful protest actions inside UP premises. Such protests are the responsibility of the UP administration.

UP campuses nationwide had been the venues of protest actions since the start of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and the Rodrigo Duterte’s prohibitions of rallies last year.

Under the accord, the AFP and PNP must also notify the UP administration at the soonest possible time of any arrest of a UP student, faculty or personnel.

The agreement also states that no UP student, faculty or personnel should be subjected to custodial investigation without first informing the UP President or Chancellor and without the presence of a lawyer, Reyes said.

“The UP-DND accord provides safeguards for the rights of the members of the UP community against historically proven rights abuses, such as the case of Donato Continente. That the DND wants the accord terminated tells us it wants a repeat of those abuses,” he warned.

“What happens now? Everything that the accord prohibits, the DND now wants allowed. Yung dating bawal, pwede na. Yung dating safeguards, wala na. That is the implication of the accord’s termination,” Reyes said.

Continente still has to reply to Kodao’s request for comment while UP has yet to issue an official statement on Lorenzana’s letter. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)           

Groups condemn harassment, surveillance vs Cordilleran activist

Human rights organizations branded as harassment and political persecution the ongoing intense police surveillance against a prominent Cordilleran activist.

Front Line Defenders (FLD) and the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) said the family and friends of activist Windel Bolinget have been constantly harassed for information on his whereabouts since he had been informed of a warrant of arrest against him last December.

Bolinget and 10 others had been charged with murder by the Office of the Provincial prosecutor of Davao del Norte, at the southern part of the country, for their alleged involvement in the killing of Garito Malibato, a member of a local indigenous peoples’ organization called Karadyawan, in March 2018.

FLD said the murder charge appears to be fabricated as Bolinget has never been to Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte where Malibato was murdered.

The group added that local indigenous organizations pointed to the paramilitary group Alamara as the real perpetrators of the murder.

“Further, a relative of the victim also expressed that Malibato had received several death threats from the same paramilitary group before he was killed,” FLD said.

The group reported that since December, there has been intense physical surveillance on Bolinget at his house and at the CPA office in Baguio City.

“Windel Bolinget’s family and colleagues fear that, if the defender is arrested, he may be subjected to the tokhang-style execution (extrajudicial killing under the pretext of ‘resisting arrest’), which is a common occurrence in the country,” FLD said.

Victim of vilification

It is not the first time that Bolinget had been under threat by State forces, the group revealed, noting that the activist was included in a military hit list, along with other CPA leaders in 2006.

In February 2018, the Department of Justice’s terrorist proscription list also included him but was eventually dropped from the record due to lack of proof.

Bolinget is also a victim of an intense social media vilification campaign since last year branding him as well as his family and colleagues as terrorists.

Last December 10, International Human Rights Day, flyers with Bolinget’s photo alleging he is a recruiter of the New People’s Army were scattered in Baguio City and La Trinidad, Benguet province.

‘Will not be silenced’

In a statement last Thursday, January 14, Bolinget denied the allegations.

“I am not a member of the New Peoples’ Army nor am I a terrorist. I am an unarmed civilian and I believe that continuing the activist tradition of indigenous peoples for human dignity, social justice, land and environment is crucial in our society,” Bolinget said.

“In due time, I will engage the services of lawyers and challenge my case. I will not be silenced by a fabricated charge,” he added.

Earlier, the CPA launched an online appeal to have charges against its leader dropped, saying Bolinget did not commit any murder or physical harm against any individual.

“The trumped-up case is obviously meant to silence him and the CPA from asserting indigenous peoples’ rights and human rights against development aggression (destructive mining and dam projects) and rights violations. It is the latest of a series of attacks against Bolinget,” the group said.

The CPA said the charge against its leader is part of systematic attacks of the Rodrigo Duterte government against political dissenters and human rights activists through the implementation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

A member of the Kankanaey and Bontok indigenous peoples in Mountain Province, Bolinget is a veteran environment defender and human rights activist who had been part of the CPA for 23 years as Education Commission Officer, Secretary General and now Chairperson.

He has long been known as an indigenous activist strongly committed to his work, the CPA said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

KMP reports more attacks against farmers in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog

Farmers’ homes  were demolished in Orion, Bataan by a combined forced of about 200 police officers and a 100-member demolition team in Sitio Bangad, Orion, Bataan last Thursday, January 14, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) reported.

The KMP said former Government Service Insurance Corporation president Federico Pascual ordered the demolition of houses owned by 42 families to give way to a lucrative residential project with Sta. Lucia Realty.

Police officers in full battle gear assist Federico Pascual’s demolition team. (KMP photo)

Police officers in full battle gear assisted the demolition team, KMP-supplied photos show.

“The ongoing demolition is the latest in a series of displacement of farmers and residents in the area. In February 2020, the collective resistance of farmers has succeeded in preventing the attempts of Pascual’s men to demolish and displace the farmers and their families,” the KMP said.

Last March 23, 2020, at the height of the coronavirus lockdown and quarantine in Luzon, Pascual ordered the fencing of the disputed land and displaced the farmers from the 33-hectare landholding, KMP said.

The farmer-families said they have been tilling the land with palay, vegetables, and fruit-bearing trees for over two decades as part of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Zaldy Montemayor, leader of local farmers group Samahan ng mga Magbubukid sa Sitio Bangad, said Pascual had been manoeuvring to have the farmers exempted from CARP but the businessperson could not present proper documents issued by the Land Registration Authority.

A farmers’ house completely destroyed by Federico Pascual’s demolition team. (KMP photo)

Aside from being a former GSIS president, Pascual is also the President of the Bataan Peninsula State University, a member of the Bureau of Customs Governing Council, chairperson of the San Antonio Resources Inc, and a shareholder Sinagtala Farm Resort and Retreat Park located in Bataan.

Pascual also owns shares in several other companies, and formerly held corporate leadership posts at the Philippine National Bank, Allied Banking Corp., and Alabang Country Club as well as a director of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

The KMP said Pascual is using his wealth and influence in his actions against the farmers of Sitio Bangad.

The group said the Bataan incident followed the destruction of houses and attacks on farmers at Hacienda Yulo in Calamba City.

Terror at Hacienda Yulo

In Laguna, armed guns and goons of the Yulo-owned San Cristobal Realty demolished two houses while they trained high-powered guns on terrified residents, the KMP reported

Last January 9, the group said goons also attacked a certain Jojo De Leon while ransacking and destroying several houses.

The perpetrators also fired their guns that injured four farmers, the group added.  

The Hacienda Yulo incidents were the latest in an ongoing harassment campaign against the farmers that started in July 2020, the KMP said.

“These include the fencing off of farm lots, destruction of crops and burning of houses of the farmers,” KMP said.

WATCH: Terror at Hacienda Yulo

As in Bataan, the Yulo family is trying to drive away farmers to pave the way for a deal between San Cristobal Realty and Ayala Land, Inc., the group said.

“The farmers had been tilling the land since 1911. It was them who developed the land and they have all the right to continue farming and living in it,” KMP added.

Yesterday, KMP also reported that farmers in Norzagaray, Bulacan were charged with theft for harvesting their own coconut and banana crops by another private company, Royal Mollucan Realty Holding Inc.

READ: Farmers charged with theft for harvesting their own crops

“Just how heartless the land grabbing families of Villar, Yulo, Ayala, Pascuals, can be? A pandemic, widespread joblessness and bankruptcy, and successive typhoons have already ravaged the lives of poor farmers, and yet these landed haciendero-oligarchs continue to violently eject our food security frontliners,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Landgrabber’ harasses 14 Bulacan farmers with theft charges–KMP

Fourteen farmers harvesting coconut and banana crops were charged with theft by a private company in Norzagaray, Bulacan, a farmers’ group reported.

In an urgent alert, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the “landgrabbing” Royal Mollucan Realty Holding Inc. (RMHI) continues its harassment of members of the Samahang Magsasaka sa San Mateo (SAMA-SAMA) and charged the farmers with theft for harvesting their own crops.

RMHI alleged its guards chanced upon the farmers taking coconuts and bananas inside the 75.5-hectare disputed property at Sitio Comra, Barangay San Mateo.

The Office of the Bulacan Provincial Prosecutor recommended a PhP6,000 bail for each of the farmers.

The KMP however said the property the company claims it owns had been placed under a Notice of Coverage under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

RMHI has failed in its legal manoeuvres to have the property exempted from CARP, the KMP added.

The group added that the Court of Appeals has ruled with finality that the land should already be awarded to the members of SAMA-SAMA in accordance with an order from the Office of the President.

“But the Norzagaray Municipal Agrarian Reform Office and the Bulacan Provincial Agrarian Reform Office have been foot-dragging,” KMP said.

Armed personnel of Royal Mollucan Realty Holdings Inc.. (KMP photo)

In its desperation, RMHI had been violent to the farmer-beneficiaries, demolishing their houses, destroying their crops, burned farming equipment, fenced-off agricultural plots and drove away farmers, KMP revealed.

The farmer-beneficiaries have been tilling the property for three decades already, the KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Sr. Pat Fox condemns Duterte admin’s year-end rights abuses

The Australian nun deported by the Rodrigo Duterte government condemned the string of assassinations and massacres of indigenous peoples, farmers, and critics during the holiday season.

Sr. Patricia Fox, NDS, deported in April 2018 on allegations she attended a protest rally in Davao City, said the Duterte government rushed to commit more human rights abuses before the year 2020 ended.

Speaking as spokesperson of the Asia-Pacific Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (APCHRP), Sr. Fox said President Duterte took advantage of the Covid-19 lockdowns to orchestrate a crackdown on activists, with many being arrested on dubious charges while several others were killed.

“Two days before the year ended, the Duterte regime’s armed operatives launched simultaneous police and military operations in the islands of Panay and Bohol that resulted in the death of 10 people and the arrest of 17 others,” Sr. Fox said.

The nun cited the massacre of nine Tumandok tribespeople and the arrest of 17 others in Panay Island and the assassination of activist farmer Lorenzo “Dodoy” Paña in Bohol province last December 30.

Sr. Fox echoed reports by local human rights organizations that the simultaneous raids in Tapaz, Capiz province and Calinog, Iloilo province were cold-blooded execution of the victims.

“Family members of Eliseo Gayas, one of the men killed, narrated how they were ordered to go out of their house. When armed operatives entered, they killed Eliseo outright with four gunshots. Two other victims – Mario Aguirre and Roy Giganto – had their houses forcibly entered as operatives shot them dead inside while they were asleep, in the presence of their respective families,” Sr. Fox said.

Paña, like those massacred and arrested in Panay, was a red-tagging victim and no stranger to harassment by State forces, the nun pointed out.

“These senseless murders are a continuation of the string of human rights attacks we have witnessed this year against activists, lawyers, farmers, trade unionists, and even health workers,” Sr. Fox said.

In the same statement, the APCHRP said it strongly condemns the killing of nine Tumandok in Panay Island and the assassination of Dodoy Paña in Bohol.

“We also call for the immediate release of the 17 indigenous activists arrested in the same operation in Panay,” the APCHRP said.

The year 2020 will be forever remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recessions it caused. However, it should also be noted as the apex of the Duterte regime’s barbarity and utter disregard for human rights, the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gov’t snubs CHR in review of anti-drug war list of victims

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) revealed it is being kept out of the review of the first partial report of the deaths resulting from the conduct of the Rodrigo Duterte government’s anti-illegal drug operations.

The CHR said the snub is contrary to the commitments and assurances of the government during the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last year.

“This is an unfulfilled promise to Filipinos and the entire community of nations,” CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said in a statement Monday.

In his speech delivered online during the UNHRC’s 44th general session last June 30, Guevarra said the Duterte government established an inter-agency panel, chaired by his office, “that is quietly conducting a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred.”

The members of the interagency panel are the Department of Justice, the Presidential Communications Operations Office, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, the Presidential Management Staff, the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Philippine National Police, and the National Bureau of Investigation, Guevarra later revealed.

The government assured the international community that the CHR would play a role in the panel.

“As with all human rights-related mechanisms in the country, the Commission on Human Rights would be involved in its capacity as an independent monitoring body,” it said.

But Dumpit said the CHR has not been involved despite “respectfully, diligently, consistently, and repeatedly asked the Department of Justice” concerning its role in the said panel, to no avail.

Nonetheless, Dumpit said the CHR strongly urges the Government to publicize the findings “as transparency is key to ensure the credibility of the said report.”

“This will allow victims and their families to access crucial information in the process of obtaining justice. We reiterate our openness and willingness to engage with the government in this process,” Dumpit said.

What the UNHRC said

In a 26-page report last June 4, the UNHRC said the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.

The report also noted that the anti-drug killings range from “at least 8,663” to possibly triple the number.

In examining key policy documents of the Duterte government relating to its campaign against illegal drugs, the UNHRC found a troubling lack of due process, protections, and the use of language calling for “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects.

“Such ill-defined and ominous language, coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by the highest level of State officials to use lethal force, may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill,” the UNHRC report stated.

In a separate statement issued last June 26, various UN special rapporteurs said the UNHRC report confirmed their findings and warnings issued over the last four years: widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, killings and abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, the silencing of independent media, critics and the opposition.

“The reports also finds, as we had, stark and persistent impunity,” the UN experts said. 

The experts highlighted “the staggering cost of the relentless and systematic assault on the most basic rights of Filipinos at the hands of the Government”:

  • Based on the most conservative assessment, since July 2016, 8,663 people have been killed in the war on drugs and 223,780 “drug personalities” arrested, with estimates of triple that number.
  • At least 73 children were killed during that period in the context of a campaign against illegal drugs. Concerns have also been raised about grave violations against children committed by State and non-State actors in the context of military operations, including the recruitment and use of children in combat or support.
  • The lasting economic harm and increased poverty among the children and other family members of those killed is likely to lead to further human rights violations.
  • At least 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, plus at least 40 legal professionals had been killed since 2015, many of whom were working on politically sensitive cases or advocating for land and environmental rights of farmers and indigenous peoples and housing rights of the urban poor.
  • The Securities and Exchanges Commission in 2018 revoked the license of a prominent news website Rappler and its CEO, Maria Ressa, has been arrested multiple times on various charges and found guilty of cyber libel.
  • On 5 May 2020, President Duterte’s government ordered the shut-down of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV and radio network, after years of explicit threats from the President in part because of its critical reporting on the “war on drugs”.
  • There has been no accountability whatsoever for the multiple human rights and humanitarian law violations, limited follow-up on transitional justice and reconciliation in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; independent investigations by local institutions have been thwarted; many in the opposition silenced, including Senator Leila Norma Eulalia de Lima imprisoned since 24 February 2017.
  • President Duterte ordered the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court after the tribunal launched a preliminary examination of crimes against humanity committed in the context of the “war on drugs” in 2018.

The special rapporteurs also called on the UNHRC member-states “to initiate governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution against individual Philippine officials who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)