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A full-blown dictatorship is made more palpable

“With the conviction of Ressa and Santos, the shutdown of ABS-CBN, the killings and threats against journalists, the numerous violations faced by Filipinos on a daily basis and the passage of the terror bill, a full-blown dictatorship is made more palpable.”–Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general

‘Magpalaya na ng mga nakakulong’

“Nanawagan na ang United Nations na upang maiwasan ang higit pang delubyo na maaring idulot ng COVID-19, magpalaya na ng mga nakakulong. Palayain na yung matatanda, may sakit, low-risk offenders, kabilang dito ang mga bilanggong politikal sa bansa. Ayon sa BJMP, noong October 2019, umabot na ng 450% yung congestion rate o 380 out of 467 jails ay congested o siksikan. Sa kasalukuyan, merong 609 na bilanggong pulitikal sa bansa. 63 dyan may sakit, 47 mga matatanda na, 100 ay mga kababaihan. Huwag na nating hintayin pa na madagdagan ang bilang nila.”

Roneo “Jigs” Clamor
Deputy Secretary General, KARAPATAN

Carlo Francisco

‘Our basic rights are not on lockdown amid this pandemic’

On the killing of retired Corporal Winston Ragos:

“Our basic rights are not on lockdown amid this pandemic — and to effectively combat this pandemic, the government needs to implement the needed public health measures, to address the people’s legitimate demands especially the poor and marginalized, and to uphold people’s rights, welfare, and dignity. We demand justice, and we will hold the government accountable.”

Cristina Palabay
Secretary-General, KARAPATAN

Jo Maline Mamangun

Military kills peasant leader in Iloilo

By Panay Today

ILOILO City – A peasant leader in Miag-ao, Iloilo was killed by the 61st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army last Saturday, April 18.

The local peasant alliance Pamanggas identified the victim as John Farochilin, 50 years old.

The group said Farochilin served as chairman of the Alyansa sang mga Mangunguma sa Miag-ao (Alliance of Farmers in Miag-ao) and council member of Pamanggas.

“He was instrumental in availing food relief and seed subsidy for Miag-aoanon farmers during the campaign against hunger brought by El Niño in 2019. He also facilitated dialogues with the Miagao LGU on several occasion,” said the farmer’s group.

The 61st IBPA in their statement on Saturday that their troops clashed with about 40 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sitio Anoy, Cabalaunan, Miag-ao, Iloilo.

A fire fight took place for about 35 minutes which resulted in the death of an NPA member, the arrest of seven personalities including a minor, and recovered a rifle, ammunition, sub-machine gun, backpacks, flags, documents, and medical paraphernalia, the military said.

The NPA Southern Front Mt. Napulak Command, however, denied the military’s accusations.

“Our unit was prepared even before they were attacked by the military troops. No one was arrested, wounded or dead. None of the NPA unit’s personal belongings nor rifles were left in the incident area,” said Ka Ilaya Kanaway, the command’s spokesperson.

Local human rights group Panay Alliance Karapatan condemned the killing as well as the arrests of the civilians.

“Justice should be given to the civilian victims and their families after proper investigation by the Commission on Human Rights and other concerned agencies. The soldiers responsible for the killing, arrest, and detention of these civilians should also be prosecuted and made accountable,” said Karapatan./www.panaytoday.net

Political prisoners draw support from online campaign

By Joseph Cuevas

PROGRESSIVE GROUPS and individuals joined an online campaign Monday night, March 31, demanding the freedom of all political prisoners amidst the threat of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

Photo from Karapatan

According to human rights group Karapatan that initiated the campaign, #FreePoliticalPrisonersPh and #SetThemFree became trending for two hours and ranked numbers 29 and 30 respectively in the country.

The online campaign followed the appeal of relatives of political prisoners and the call of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for governments to take urgent action to protect the health and safety of people in detention since, in many countries, “detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so.”

“People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said.

Photo from COURAGE

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology reported a 450% jail congestion rate nationwide last October with 380 out of 467 detention facilities in the country filled beyond capacity while a 310% congestion rate were recorded by the Bureau of Corrections this January, Karapatan said.

Karapatan emphasized that the inhumane conditions in prisons imperil the life and health of detainees, particularly the sick, the elderly, as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers.

They also added that the “State policy on public health measures must be implemented, not militarist and punitive measures like mass arrests that only criminalize and punish the poor and the marginalized while failing to address their legitimate needs and demands.”

As of March 28, there are 609 political prisoners in the country, 100 of whom are women.

Photo from Mrs. Gloria Almonte, wife of Dionisio Almonte

The group added that 47 political prisoners in its list are elderly while 63 suffer from serious ailments.

Earlier, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza made similar appeals for the release of political prisoners, as well as other sick and elderly prisoners, including those about to be paroled or pardoned, to decongest the country’s jails and prevent a further outbreak of the virus. #

BAYAN demands freedom of all political prisoners

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) joined UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call for the freedom of all political prisoners in the time of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic to save them from possibly contracting the virus in the often crowded and inhumane conditions of jails worldwide, especially in the Philippines. The action was also in response to the online campaign of human rights group Karapatan this 7-8 pm ofTuesday, March 31.

Amid the intensifying dangers presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Karapatan and other human rights groups as well as religious leaders called on the Rodrigo Duterte the government to free the more than 500 political prisoners in the Philippines. They also called for the release of other prisoners, especially the elderly, pregnant, women and nursing mothers and those who are due for parole or pardon. # (Jek Alcaraz)

Groups urge Covid-19 testing in prisons, release of political detainees

Families of political detainees urged the government to follow World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and start mass testing in prisons after receiving reports that some prisoners are showing symptoms of the corona virus disease (Covid-19).

The group KAPATID said that mass testing should start immediately as it has received reports that more inmates are getting sick despite denials by prison agencies and the Department of Interior and Local Government of confirmed cases.

Marami nagkakasakit, inuubo at nilalagnat,” KAPATID said, citing a report from relatives of political prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the national penitentiary at Muntinlupa City. (Many are getting sick, coughing and getting fevers.)

The group said three political prisoners are now reportedly ill with fever at the political prisoners’ wing at the Metro Manila District Jail-Annex 4 (MMDJ-4) at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.

KAPATID said the three unnamed political detainees are showing common Covid-19 symptoms like fever, headaches, cold, cough and body weakness—the same symptoms for the respiratory disease which has already killed 45 people in the country as of March 25, including nine doctors.

“KAPATID cannot emphasize enough why mass testing is imperative and why it must include the whole prison population comprising both inmates and prison personnel. Reports by other countries such as China and the US indicate that prison guards brought the sickness into prison facilities even with lockdowns in place and stricter health measures, including a forehead thermal scan of persons entering jail premises,” KAPATID spokesperson Fides Lim said in a statement

Lim cited scientific researches that early action through widespread testing has proven effective in controlling the rapid spread of the disease in South Korea and Germany which have managed to keep the Covid-19 death rate relatively low through extensive testing.

“Mass testing of both symptomatic individuals and all those who came into contact with them was crucial in catching the disease, isolating the carriers before they could pass it on, and providing more accurate figures of how many are really affected and how and where to limit contamination,” Lim said.

Free political detainees

Earlier, KAPATID called for the release of political detainees in line with reports that backchannel meetings between Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) representatives and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in The Netherlands have been discussing the matter.

The NDFP urged the GRP to release all political prisoners and a general amnesty be issued “as a matter of justice and necessity.”

The NDFP made the appeal when the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a unilateral ceasefire last Tuesday, March 24, in response to the United Nations appeal for all warring parties to temporarily lay down arms to concentrate on responding to the pandemic.

Kapatid cited the move made by Iran and Egypt to release tens of thousands of prisoners, including political detainees, in a bid to decongest their prisons and prevent Covid-19’s spread through overpopulated jail facilities.

“KAPATID continues to press the humanitarian release of prisoners in line with the new UN (United Nations) call as the most expedient solution to protect and save lives. Tao rin sila,” Lim said. (They are also humans.)

The National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), the largest group of mainline Protestant churches in the country, also urged the government to release all political detainees following the appeal by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on March 26.

“Let’s take it from the UN. There is an urgent need to address the catastrophic risks in prisons by releasing prisoners, especially now that the country is confronting numerous challenges due to this pandemic,” Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, NCCP General Secretary, said.

“As the number of positive COVID-19 cases spike up, the most Christian thing to do is to leave no one behind. Don’t forget those in prison, especially human rights defenders facing trumped charges, who have staunchly worked for social justice and human rights. They need compassion, they need justice and they need protection. They should be released under humanitarian grounds,” Marigza said in a statement.

“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said in her appeal for political detainees’ release.

Karapatan poster.

Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan announced it will lead an online campaign on Facebook and Twitter  to urge the freedom of prisoners with light sentences as well as political detainees on March 31, Tuesday, at seven to eight o’clock in the evening.

Citing the congestion of Philippine jails at 450%, Karapatan said the government must free the elderly, sick, pregnant and nursing women, those who are due for parole or pardon, at least one spouse each of political prisoner-couples, and “accidental victims” of political arrests. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Rights defenders tell UN of many rights violations in PH

GENEVA, Switzerland—A team of Filipino rights defenders here are preparing for another busy week calling for investigations by the United Nations (UN) on the state of human rights in the Philippines.

With three oral interventions one after the other last Friday, March 6, and another last Monday, March 2, the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) strongly urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to pass another resolution in June to look into various reports of many rights violations by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

But contrary to the confrontational stance employed by the government Mission in the ongoing 43rd UNHRC session here, the four speakers from EcuVoice unanimously supported the reports presented by UN special rapporteurs.

EcuVoice delegation co-leader and Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said last Friday that she welcomes the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders that noted “wide-ranging and cumulative violation of the rights of defenders.”

“This rings true in my particular case and that of human rights defenders of Karapatan. Twelve of my colleagues were killed by suspected State forces under the current administration, three have been arrested the past four months, and many more are facing trumped up charges. Women defenders face misogynist attacks, driven by discriminatory pronouncements of government officials,” Palabay said.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay addressing UNHRC’s 43rd Regular Session.

Johanna dela Cruz of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines said they are also grateful for the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and support his conclusions and recommendations.

Dela Cruz said church people’s rights in the Philippines are violated, primarily those “doing their Christian mandate and mission of ministering to the poor and the marginalized. Bishops and Parish priests, particularly from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), were red-tagged, harassed by soldiers implicating them as rebels.”

National Council of Churches in the Philippines’s Johanna dela Cruz addressing UNHRC’s 43rd Regular Session.

EcuVoice head and International Association of Democratic Lawyers interim president Edre Olalia for his part reported to the UNHRC that in the 44 months of the Duterte administration, at least 48 lawyers including judges and prosecutors have been murdered.

“Human rights lawyers like Ben Ramos as well as lawyers handling drug-related cases continue to be brazenly attacked in various forms. Orchestrated smear campaigns and vilification by red-tagging, labelling and reprisal charges against human rights defenders at every opportunity continue with impunity,” Olalia said.

The three defender’s reports Friday brings to four the successful oral interventions presented by EcuVoice before the UNHRC.

Last Monday, Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment reported that there are serious challenges to life, security and liberty of environmental defenders in the Philippines, “which redound to transgressions on the rights to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environmental of communities, including that of indigenous peoples and peasants.”

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment’s Clemente Bautista addressing UNHRC’s 43rd Regular Session.

“It must be noted that the EcuVoice delegation have welcomed all the UN special rapporteurs’ reports presented thus far, quite different from the bellicose stance of the Philippine government in the ongoing debates,” Olalia said.

This week, the UNHRC is scheduled to hear reports and oral interventions on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights as well as reports on minorities despite a growing scare of the spread of the corona virus disease (COVID) in this country brought about by 24 confirmed cases.

COVID has also spread in neighboring France and Italy, prompting overseas and migrant Filipino workers to express travel and work concerns that are likely to be affected by stringent measures imposed on border crossings.

All side events at the UN in this city have been cancelled that has severely affected restaurant and café businesses of Filipino expatriates in this city. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

EcuVoice: PH government exporting red-tagging in Geneva

GENEVA, Switzerland—A group of rights defenders called on the Philippine Mission to the ongoing 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council here to just answer questions about the human rights situation in the Philippines instead of engaging in red-baiting.

“The Philippine Government must focus on explaining to the international community why rights defenders are being killed and arrested, members of the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) delegation said.

Reacting to the government Mission’s statement Wednesday, March 5, at the Palais des Nations, EcuVoice said the government must also stop recklessly accusing killed and threatened human rights defenders as supporters of communists.

“How are vilifying human rights defenders as terrorists a justification to the fact that many of us are under threat of unjust arrests and are being killed by the security forces of the Duterte government?” EcuVoice delegation co-head and Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

The group said that while paying lip service to UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst’s report on the invaluable contribution of human rights defenders, the government accused rights activists in the Philippines of “[using] the cover of human rights defenders to protect, cover, or promote agendas of deceit and violence.”

The government further accused Filipino “communists” of benefitting from and exploiting the goodwill that the United Nations system endows human rights defenders.

 “Mr. Forst, you have mentioned the need to address impunity and provide effective remedy, what would you advice in such situation where unscrupulous groups are using the defender badge as an impunity blanket to evade accountability from gross human rights violations?” the government self-righteously taunted.

“This red-tagging spree being exported by the government in the august halls of the UN Human Rights Council is ad nauseam and reflects not only the paucity of its arguments but the bankruptcy of its moral ground in the community of nations.

“Enough already. Just answer the questions please, “EcuVoice team leader Atty. Edre Olalia said.

The EcuVoice delegation is in this city to follow up on at least written submissions related to the Iceland-led resolution in July 2019 calling for an investigation on human rights violations under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment international networks coordinator Clemente Bautista successfully presented an oral intervention on the killings of environmental defenders last Monday, March 2.

Other delegation members include a human rights worker facing arrest when she returns home, a congresswoman whose partylist is villified, a widow of a slain human rights lawyera bishop who is facing death threats, a mother whose two sons were murdered in the “drug war,” a lawyer who is labelled and his group viciously smeared a journalist whose peers are being pressured, and this reporter whose colleagues are facing various threats. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Rights defenders vow to fight Duterte

Human rights defenders, led by the Karapatan, vowed to fight Rodrigo Duterte’s fascism as they commemorated International Human Rights Day last December 10 in Manila.

Condemning various cases of human rights violations under Duterte’s three-year old rule, the activists held a program at Liwasang Bonifacio and later marched to Mendiola to burn an effigy of the president. (Video by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao)