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Canada conducts hearing on the human rights crisis in the Philippines; urged to take action

The Canadian House of Commons (HOC) conducted a hearing on the human rights situation in the Philippines on Tuesday (May 4 Canadian time and early Wednesday, May 5, PH time) amid growing calls to the North American government to end its policy of “quiet diplomacy” with the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay and Rappler’s Maria Ressa testified at the hearing, along with Quebec lawyer and International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines – Quebec co-chairperson Guy-Lin Beaudoin and MiningWatch Canada’s Catherine Coumans.

Palabay told the HOC Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development that the Duterte government’s “murderous” counter-insurgency campaign violates the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants.

The killing of 394 civilians, including 15 Karapatan human rights workers, is an “epidemic of rights violations,” Palabay said.

“We implore the Canadian government to take action on these concerns with urgency, as our country further descends into an authoritarian state,” Palabay added.

Ressa echoed Palabay, adding the Philippine government has “weaponized” laws to go after human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists like her.

Rappler’s co-founder and executive editor said women are more vulnerable from attacks, citing as examples her 10 arrest warrants and two arrests as well as the imprisonment of fellow journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and Senator Leila de Lima.

Canadians against rights violations in the PH

Canadian human rights defenders also testified at the briefing to urge their government to fulfill its human rights obligations to the international community.

Beaudoin challenged the Canadian Foreign Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publicly condemn the reported atrocities committed by the Philippine government and its security forces on the Filipino people and called for the suspension of all Canadian support to the Philippine government’s anti-terrorism and counterinsurgency programs.

Beaudoin also called on their foreign minister to urge the Canadian Embassy in Manila to apply vigorously the tools in Canada’s guidelines on supporting human rights defenders to protect those who face immediate danger of being killed or arrested.

Enumerating human rights violations associated with Canadian mining companies operating in the Philippines, Coumans for her part called on Canada “to fulfill its obligation to protect human rights in the context of the deteriorated human rights situation in the Philippines.”

“[I]n particular, to protect those who are criminalized and whose lives are threatened for speaking out in defense of human rights and the environment,” Coumans said.

She said the Canadian Embassy in Manila has not been doing enough in protecting people who seek its assistance and support. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Group appeals for release of detainee who recently gave birth

Another political prisoner gave birth and a support group appealed for her freedom to take care of her newborn.

Elizabeth Estilon was taken from the Sorsogon City District Jail to a hospital last March 27 and gave birth to a baby boy, political detainee support group Kapatid said.

Kapatid appealed for Estilon’s release to allow her to take care of her newborn.

“We appeal for compassion for Elizabeth Estilon and her newborn as our country observes Holy Week which is about compassion, fairness and mercy. Drop the false charges against her. Let her take care of her infant outside the confines of the country’s densely crowded prisons to give her child a better chance of survival,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

“But time is of the essence to keep Elizabeth and her baby together during a health crisis that brings the worst threats to one’s life,” she added.

Right after childbirth, mothers need to breastfeed their infants as breast milk provides unsurpassed natural immunity and nutrition unavailable in artificial milk supplements, which can in fact be harmful to infant health, Lim’s group explained.

Kapatid recalled the recent deaths of babies of political prisoners Reina Mae Nasino and Nona Espinosa as dire reminders.

Nasino gave birth to an underweight River on July 1, 2020 but the baby got sick in September and died on October 9 at the Philippine General Hospital from acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Last February 14, Carlen died of an infection in the lungs and blood, around three days after being separated from her mother, political prisoner Nona Espinosa who is held at the Guihulngan City Jail in Negros Oriental.

Elizabeth Estilon at her arrest. (Photo from Karapatan)

Lim reminded authorities of Republic Act 11148 or the Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act, which stresses the critical window of opportunity to prevent malnutrition and its lifelong consequences.

 “We ask prison and government authorities to respect domestic and international laws, which provide that prisoners who gave birth have the right to take care of their child,” Lim said.

Estilon was arrested with 62-year-old Enriqueta Guelas in Barangay Lalod, Bulusan, Sorsogon last December 24, 2020 after being red-tagged by the military as New People’s Army rebels.

Karapatan-Sorsogon reported that a day prior to their arrest, members of the 31st and 22nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army searched the house where Estilon and Guelas were staying but saw nothing except for household things.

The following day, the residents were shocked after the military placed a bag on a table containing firearms, wires and explosives, which the military claimed they found inside the house, Karapatan said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Restless night for rights defenders, activists

It had been a restless night for human rights defenders and activists who had been on alert against more police raids after the arrests of activists on Holy Tuesday, March 30.

“We are on alert tonight and expecting more raids in the offices of OLALIA-Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan(Bayan)-Timog Katagaluganand Gabriela Southern Tagalog, all in Cabuyao, Laguna,” KMU’s regional chapter Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (Pamantik) yesterday said.

 “Residents near the offices have seen police elements in full battle gear roving the areas near the offices,” the group added.

Pamantik’s alert status was announced after operatives of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group raided the abandoned office of its affiliate, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawa sa Engklabo (AMEN) in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna also on Tuesday.

As in almost all raids against activists throughout the country, the police alleged it found firearms and explosives in the property.

“Nagtanim ang mga ito (PNP-CIDG) ng tila isang ‘armory’ ng mga baril, granada, bala at bomba,” KMU said after the Laguna raid. (The police again planted a seeming armory of guns, grenades, ammunitions and bombs.)

The raid came after the Bloody Sunday killings in four Southern Tagalog provinces last March 6, and just two days after the death of Dandy Miguel, Pamantik vice-chairperson.

It also followed the raid and arrests of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon chairperson and concurrent Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas vice chairperson Jose Canlas in Pampanga and Bayan-Gitnang Luzon chairperson and KMU vice chairperson for Central Luzon Florentino “Pol” Viuya in Tarlac on Tuesday.

Karapatan paralegal May Arcilla was arrested along with Viuya after vigorously protesting so-called irregularities in the operation.

As in the Sta. Rosa raid, the police alleged it found guns and explosives in the houses it raided in Central Luzon.

The “huli” (arrest, capture) week actually started in Bulacan province last Friday with the arrest of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap-Pandi chapter chairperson Connie Opalla by the police.

The police have yet to announce Opalla’s whereabouts despite announcing her arrest on its Facebook page.

“Huli Week” had been a moniker invented by Karapatan human rights workers since the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to describe the spike in the number of arrests of activists during Holy Week.

The PNP is known to favor the filing of so-called trumped up charges such as illegal possession of firearms and explosives, an unbailable criminal offense, to frustrate human rights lawyers from securing the victims’ early release. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Human rights lawyer survives murder attempt

A lawyer, counsel to human rights violations victims and petitioners against the Rodrigo Duterte government’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, had been stabbed in Iloilo City Wednesday night, March 3.

Atty. Angelo Karlo Guillen was stabbed with a screw driver on his lower left temple and back by two unidentified assailants at about 9:15 PM along Gen. Antonio Luna Street in the said city.

He was taken to the St. Paul Hospital and is reportedly in stable condition.

An assistant vice president for Visayas of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and secretary general of its local chapter, Guillen serves as counsel in various public interest and human rights cases in both Panay and Negros islands.

The lawyer represents red-tagged activists and human rights defenders, including those arrested in the simultaneous raids in Bacolod City in October 2019 and the Tumandok arrested in Panay last December that also saw the killing of nine tribes people in two villages.

On May 1, 2020, Guillen was arrested when he tried to intervene in the mass arrest of 42 activists protesting the murder of Bayan Muna Iloilo coordinator Jory Porquia.

The assailants wore masks and caps, reports said.

Not a robbery

Groups and individuals said the assailants took pains to make it appear the attack was a common crime, a scenario the local police reportedly quickly supported.

“The attack against (the victim) was conveniently dismissed by the local PNP as robbery-hold up. Four hours after the incident there is still no hot-pursuit operation. There were no check points. Not even police visibility in the crime scene,” Lean Porquia, son of murdered Bayan Muna Iloilo City coordinator Jory, said.

Atty. Jose Edmund Guillen, Public Attorney’s Office Region VI chief and uncle to the victim also dismissed the police’s robbery theory.  

“You want to make it appear as a robbery? The CCTV footage says otherwise. It was a kill operation. Right on the dot, after the stabbing, two motorcycles arrived to pick up the masked killers and they disappear[ed] in the dark,” he said.

 “[W]e cannot be fooled by this, because we know for a fact that the state and its security forces have been targeting Atty. Guillen as well as other lawyers handling cases of activists not only in Panay island but in Negros island as well,” human rights group Karapatan Negros Oriental said in a statement.

State terror in Panay

Porquia said the lawyer’s laptop was taken that contained all the files of the cases he is handling, including his father’s murder, the Tumandok massacre, the anti terror law petition, the mass arrest of 42 activists, the Sagay 9 massacre, and several writ of Amparo cases.

“The attack on Atty. Guillen should be seen in the context of systematic, continuing, and increasing attacks on human rights and human rights defenders. Atty. Guillen has been redtagged for several times just like other peoples’ lawyers and human rights defenders who were tagged as ‘terrorists’ or ‘communists’ and were subsequently attacked and harassed,” the NUPL Panay Law Students group said.

Last February 28, a possible witness to the victim’s Tumandok 9 case was also killed .

Village chief Julie Catamin of Brgy. Roosevelt, Tapaz, Capiz was shot dead by motorcycle-riding assassin in Brgy. Malitbog, Calinog, Iloilo .

Catarmin went on record belying the Philippine National Police’s allegation that those massacred and arrested by police and military operatives in the December 30, 2020 bloodbath were communist guerillas.

Swift condemnation

Various groups and individuals condemned the attack against Guillen and called for an immediate investigation.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said Guillen’s attackers are evil.

“It is very clear that those who have motives to silence Atty. Guillen, even to the point of violence, could only be the Duterte regime and its tentacles in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” the labor federation said in Filipino.

The NUPL also condemned the slay attempt against its officer.

The group said it has recorded at least 54 killings of lawyers and judges that appear to be related their human rights work.

In December 2020, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, NUPL, and various legal groups raised concerns over the increasing and alarming incidents of attacks on lawyers before the Supreme Court. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gov’t ignores appeal for Ladlad’s hospitalization; Alcantara’s son arrested to force father to surrender

The wife of jailed National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Vicente Ladlad appealed to authorities to bring him to the hospital due to “repeated chest tightness.”

Fides Lim, Kapatid spokesperson said Ladlad had been suffering the recurring condition since the morning of Wednesday, December 30, even as he underwent a medical check-up at the Makati Medical Center (MMC) last Monday, December 28.

“I am appealing to Manila RTC (Regional Trial Court) Branch 32 Judge Thelma Bunyi Medina for prompt action now on our motion to bring my husband, political prisoner Vicente Ladlad, to MMC for immediate treatment for repeated chest tightness since 11 AM today,” Lim said on a Facebook post yesterday.

Lim reported that Ladlad’s doctors said the elderly peace consultant may be suffering from “unstable angina” and needs to be hospitalized before a heart attack or stroke occurs.

Ladlad had been a chronic asthmatic since childhood that has degenerated into emphysema in his later years.

Lim said human rights lawyers handling Ladlad’s current illegal possession of firearms case already included a motion for hospitalization but which the court ignored.

“Please. To the government prosecutors in particular. Act on our appeal now and allow Vic to be brought to the MMC hospital before his condition gets worse,” Lim implored.

Pinapayagan niyo yang mga corrupt na politiko, bakit political prisoners tulad ni Vic di pwede? Gawa-gawa lang ang kaso niya!” she added.

(You allow corrupt politicians [to be hospitalized], why not political prisoners like Vic? The charges against him are trumped-up!)

Ladlad was re-arrested midnight of November 8, 2018, a year after the Rodrigo Duterte government walked away from its peace negotiations with the NDFP.

The NDFP maintains its peace consultants should be immune from arrest and persecution as the NDFP-Government of the Republic of the Philippines’ Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees remains in effect even in the absence of formal negotiations between the parties.

Phillip Alcantara (Image by Karapatan-Central Luzon)

Tirso Alcantara’s son arrested

Meanwhile, the son of another NDFP peace consultant was arrested by Malolos police in Guiguinto, Bulacan province Wednesday morning, December 30.

Philip Alcantara, son of Tirso “Ka Bart” Alcantara, was driving his van at around 8:30 AM when three men in civilian clothes flagged him down along a national road in Guiguinto town.

The men then introduced themselves as Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) operatives and told Philip he was being arrested for charges of multiple murder.

According to human rights group Karapatan-Central Luzon, the police officers forcibly boarded Philip’s van and placed a bag beside him containing a gun, grenade, and a PhilHealth ID.

He was brought to the CIDG headquarters in Malolos.

Karapatan-CL said Philip was only shown a photocopy of the first page of the warrant issued by a a court in faraway Infanta, Quezon.

The police said Philip is the “Ka Joshua” named in the warrant.

The human rights group however said Philip is a glass and aluminum works entrepreneur and not a combatant.

Karapatan-CL said Philip was arrested to force his father to surrender to the military.

The elder Alcantara had gone into hiding after his fellow peace consultants had either been assassinated by suspected government agents or were arrested on similar charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Karapatan-CL noted that Philip’s sister was imprisoned for eight years over trumped-up charges while Ka Bart’s two brothers were killed by state security forces. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

AFP, PNP troops kill 5 mango orchard workers in Rizal

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) killed five mango orchard workers in Baras, Rizal last Thursday, December 17, human rights and peasant groups reported.

Troops belonging to the 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) of the AFP and the Region IV-A Command of the PNP killed Carlito Zonio, Vilma Salabao, Wesley Obmerga, Jonathan Alberga, and Niño Alberga, workers of a mango farm in Sitio Malalim, Barangay San Juan of the said town, human rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog said.

The AFP said the 2:30 AM incident was a shootout with members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The AFP added they conducted the pre-dawn raid to serve a warrant of arrest to a certain Antonio Cule that resulted in an encounter and the death of the victims.

Brigadier General Alex Rillera, 202nd Infantry Brigade commander, said two of the victims were “Ka Sandra” and “Ka Onli” of the NPA.

Philippine Army social media accounts also alleged the victims were NPA members, one of them was even a “top spy” for the group.

But Karapatan-ST, quoting eyewitnesses and the victims’ neighbors, said Zonio,  Salabao, and Obmerga were farm caretakers and mango tree sprayers while the Albergas were guards.

The victims had been workers at the farm in the last three years.

Marco Valbuena, Communist Party of the Philippines public information officer, denied the victims were NPA members.

“We denounce the AFP’s peddling of fake news to cover up their criminal responsibility in the Baras 5 Massacre,” Valbuena said in a tweet.

PNP refuses to release cadavers

The police took the remains of the victims to the Antipolo Memorial Homes but refused to release the cadavers of three of the victims to their families.

The remains of the guards were handed over to their relatives.

The Karapatan-ST fact-finding team also complained of harassment by PNP teams when they assisted families of the three in retrieving their cadavers from the funeral home Monday night, December 21.

Police officers demanded that members of the fact-finding team alight from their vehicles and present their identification cards.

The human rights workers refused.

The harassment continued last December 22 at the Antipolo police station where a Karapatan paralegal was isolated and forced to erase photos from his camera.

In a statement, Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) joined Karapatan and the peasant organizations affiliated with Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in condemning “yet another state-sponsored massacre.”

SAKA said, “Instead of counting presents this holiday season, the Filipino people are counting corpses.”

The murder of the so-called Baras 5 raises the peasant death toll under President Rodrigo Duterte to 295, SAKA added.  # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Paglaban sa terorismo ng estado, sigaw sa protesta sa Mendiola

Nagmartsa papuntang Mendiola sa Maynila ang libu-libong kasapi ng mga progresibong grupo bilang pagdiriwang sa ika-72 taong pandaigidigang araw para sa karapatang pantao.

Pangunahin nilang sigaw ang paglaban sa terorismo ng estado. Ayon sa Karapatan, sa ika-limang taong panunugkulan ni Pangulong Duterte ay lalong tumindi ang paglabag sa karapatang pantao at pinalala pa ito kamakailan ng red-tagging sa mga aktibista at human rights defenders.

(Bidyo nila Maricon Montajes, Jek Alcaraz at Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

‘Ating isinasakdal si Duterte sa pagpatay sa mahihirap’

“Sa ika-limang paggunita ng International Human Rights Day sa ilalim ng rehimeng Duterte, atin siyang isinasakdal sa pagpatay sa mahihirap, sa pagpapabaya sa kasalukuyang pandemya.”Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general

Mendiola, December 10, 2020

NUJP’s ABS-CBN campaign, Karapatan’s ‘resilient website’ win human rights awards

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and Karapatan won the two top prizes of the 10th Human Rights Pinduteros Choice Awards for their online campaign and presence in the past year.

The NUJP’s Black Friday Online Protest #NoToABSCBNShutdown garnered nearly 39% of votes among 10 finalists in an online poll held by HR Online PH.

The media group held several online rallies after government-imposed coronavirus lockdowns prevented its burgeoning Black Friday protests on the closure of ABS-CBN from being regularly held since the month of March.

Government attacks of the country’s biggest broadcasting corporation and eventual denial of petitions for a new franchise to operate had been the biggest press freedom and labor rights issue in the country this year.

The NUJP started and led national and global Black Friday protests that gathered participation and support from many sectors, organizations and individuals.

NUJP secretary general Dabet Castaneda-Panelo and this reporter, NUJP deputy secretary general, received the glass trophy at the awarding ceremony in Quezon City Monday, November 30.

Castaneda said in an emotional acceptance speech that the recognition is personal as she is an ABS-CBN employee who witnessed how the majority of the 11 thousand employees of the network lost their jobs.

“But the struggle for ABS-CBN is bigger than its 11 thousand employees and the network itself. This is for the people’s right of choice and right to information,” she said.

NUJP secretary general Dabet Castaneda-Panelo with the Pinduteros’ Choice trophy. (Photo by R. Villanueva)

Karapatan for its part dedicated its #HumanRights Pinduteros Choice for Website award to human rights defenders killed under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“This award is dedicated to Ryan Hubilla, Sara Alvarez and all the human rights defenders killed under this government,” Karapatan’s Dindo Roxas said.

Karapatan gathered a whopping 74% of the total votes cast among 10 finalists in the online poll.

“Karapatan’s website had been taken down by hackers, is under constant attack, but it just simply refuses to be denied,” HR Online PH said.

Karapatan’s Dindo Roxas dedicated the honor to fallen human rights defenders.
(Photo by R. Villanueva)

The organizers said nominees were chosen from most-clicked items per category posted on the HRonlinePH.com site while the winners are those with the most number of hits based on WordPress.com statistics from November 2019 to November 2020.

The 10th Human Rights Pinduteros Choice Awards was themed #ShoutOut sa mga hindi natakot magpahayag ng makatotohanan, makabuluhan at may pagmamalasakit sa kapwa. (#ShoutOut to those who did not fear voicing out truth, meaningfulness and concern for others.)

The awarding ceremony was part of the Freedom Of Expression Conference (Freexp.Con4) organized by several human rights organizations and advocates such as the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity (iDEFEND), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Alyansa Tigil Mina, among others.

It was supported by the British Embassy Manila.

This year’s winners include:

  • Off-the-Shelf Category: SOLIDAGRO – Anto sa yugto ng pandemiko,  Collected by Rene Boy Abiva
  • Video Category: iDEFEND – Lumabas Tayo! Lumaban Tayo!
  • Featured Site Category: Ateneo de Manila University Human Rights Center – Online Legal Counseling
  • Event Category: PAHRA and iDEFEND – “Human rights groups, grassroots activists and civil society organizations launch protest marking the anniversary of the declaration of martial law”
  • Network Post Category: Teachers Dignity Coalition – [Statement] “CHR Spokesperson, Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the arrest of Cebu film writer Maria Victoria Beltran”
  • Blogsite Category: Norman Novio – nanovio.blogspot.com (Minding Mindoro and Beyond)
  • Right Up Category: Prof. Jose Mario De Vega – “The coronavirus is the monstrous product of the present nefarious global system”

A special award was given to the Mulat Short Film Project of Far Eastern University’s Department of Communication that encourages the production of films on human rights.

HR Online PH said its Human Rights Pinduteros Choice Awards started a decade ago to encourage organizations and advocates to engage others on human rights through the social media.

“This is our contribution for the defense and promotion of a human rights culture among Filipinos,” the group said.

The awarding ceremony serves as build up event for the annual International Human Rights Day on December 10. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Red-tagging is anathema to a democracy’

“We emphasize – red-tagging is anathema to a democracy. The promotion and conduct of such acts attempt to invalidate, muffle and silence the views and work of human rights defenders, activists, and advocates of social causes, and the peoples’ exercise of basic rights and fundamental freedoms.”Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, Karapatan