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De Lima, rights defenders warn UN on Duterte’s ‘snake oil salesman of a government’

By adopting a more diplomatic tone in its resolution on the state of human rights in the Philippines, did the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) expect the Rodrigo Duterte government to suddenly behave? Senator Leila de Lima asked.

Reacting to the Council’s position on the penultimate day of its 45th General Session last Wednesday, the imprisoned Senator asked the UNHRC if after 28,000 murders and hundreds of cases of attacks on critics and human rights defenders, does it expect the Duterte government to “grow a conscience and cultivate an appetite for the promotion and defense of human rights?”

In a statement read at an online press conference by her spokesperson Atty Fhillip Sawali last Thursday, October 8, the Senator also expressed doubt that the technical cooperation offered by the UNHRC to Duterte’s government will finally enable it to fulfill its international obligations on human rights.

De Lima said the resolution is “not responsive to the human rights calamity under the Duterte government,” adding the new UNHRC resolution is out of sync and incongruous with its earlier resolution calling for in-country investigations by independent experts on reports of human rights violations the President himself encouraged.

“It does not meaningfully address the need to stop the policies and practices that result in EJKs (extrajudicial killings) and other gross human rights violations. It does not put in place an independent investigation of the killings and other abuses,” de Lima said.

She added that technical assistance and capacity-building for domestic investigative and accountability and similar measures do not result in any concrete mechanism that can lead to the prosecution and punishment of the masterminds and perpetrators of crimes and human rights violations.

The Senator said she fears that the government may just use UNHRC’s supposed technical assistance and capacity-building programs as convenient covers to hide its actual policy of contempt towards human rights and human rights defenders.

“In other words: the new UNHRC resolution fails to take concrete steps towards ending the killings. It likewise fails to advance the cause of justice for the numerous victims and their bereaved families,” she said.

De Lima urged the UNHRC “not to be easily swayed by the snake oil salesman of a government that has clearly declared an open war against human rights and the rule of law.”

 “How do you disable a killing machine? You confront it tenaciously, with all the talents and tools that you have, aiming at disarming and dismantling it, and holding responsible all its masterminds and operators,” de Lima said.

Diplomacy at work?

Philippine government officials were quick to welcome the UNHRC resolution and claimed the international body trusts that Philippine criminal and judicial institutions to address human rights violations.

In an online briefing Thursday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the resolution “shows that the UN Human Rights Council trusts the institutions tasked to address human rights violators.”

“We will fully cooperate with the UN Human Rights system because that is what we want. We are not saying we are perfect. Do not criticize us and help us instead,” Roque said.

Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra for his part said he will get the proferred technical cooperation with the UNHRC going and create a panel to review drug operations resulting in deaths.

The latest UNHRC resolution was co-sponsored by the Philippine government.

‘Simple posturing’

Asked on the possible reasons for the tone of the resolution and the calmer response by the Philippine government, National Union of Peoples Lawyers president Edre Olalia said it appears that the Duterte government is shifting its stance from belligerence to mollification.

“After overwhelming, persistent and consistent condemnation by the international community on the state of human rights in the Philippines, the Duterte government painted itself to a corner by its combative stance in the past,” Olalia said.

“The calmer tone may be a tactical approach to temper criticism of its record and it may also be a strategic approach to preempt accountability for its human rights violations,” Olalia added.

The lawyer also explained that voting at the UN is political and influenced by set voting patterns, lobbying, quid-pro-quo among States, and regional considerations.

“But what is relevant is whether the victims receive justice or the perpetrators are only emboldened further. In the end, it is the policy and reality on the ground that matters,” he said.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay added that the Duterte government should not be too quick on claiming it won points with a resolution written in fine language.

“What is very clear is that there still needs to be strong domestic accountability and impartial investigations,” Palabay said, noting that the resolution is still based on the report filed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) detailing thousands of rights violations by the Duterte government.

“The challenge here is how the Philippine government honors and views OHCHR recommendations, as well as those by other independent local and international human rights organizations,” Palabay stressed.

Palabay recalled Duterte’s recent online address of the UN General Assembly where he called for “open dialogue” and “constructive engagement” but complained that human rights had been “weaponized” against him and his government by local and international critics.

“Duterte is clearly just posturing. In any case, the ball is in the government’s court, so to speak,” she said.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas also dismissed the government’s assurance of dialogue and cooperation with human rights mechanisms.

“Any technical cooperation and capacity building on human rights for the part of the Duterte government  would just be tokenistic and superficial. Duterte’s practice of human rights promotion is practically naught. Soon enough, he would [again] be verbally lashing at the UNHRC and human rights defenders,” the KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Duterte gov’t targets Makabayan reps with trumped-up charges, regional parliamentarians report

Four Makabayan bloc representatives were targets of trumped up charges and other forms of harassments by the Rodrigo Duterte government, a regional group of parliamentarians reported.

The ASEAN (Association of SouthEast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said ACT Teachers Party Representatives France Castro and Antonio Tinio, Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao and Bayan Muna Representative suffered various forms of harassment under the Duterte government, along with Senators Leila de Lima, Antonio Trillanes and Risa Hontiveros and Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat.

“A key tactic of President Duterte’s administration to silence criticism has been the use of trumped-up criminal charges against lawmakers,” APHR said, adding the eight opposition lawmakers faced politically motivated criminal charges since June 2016.

Rep. Castro charged with ‘kidnapping’

APHR reported that Castro was detained last November 28 while participating in a National Solidarity Mission (NSM) to provide school supplies and food to indigenous Lumad communities in Mindanao.

Castro and 17 others, including former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo collectively known as the “Talaingod 18” were initially charged with “kidnapping and failure to return a minor” under the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

The charges were later downgraded to “other acts of child abuse” under Republic Act 7610 and all 18 people were released on bail on 1 December, but the investigation into the case is ongoing.

“The case appears politically motivated, as the delegation escorted the minors from the village at the request of their parents, in order to protect them from potential abuse by paramilitaries,” the APHR said.

“Given the paramilitaries’ history of abuse towards indigenous communities in the region, which has often included attacks on schools, it was reasonable to assume that their safety was at risk,” the group added

Reps. Tinio and Casilao charged with ‘child abuse’

ACT’s Tinio and Anakpawis’ Casilao also suffered harassments, APHR said, after attending a rally in Davao City last October 23 to protest the imposition of martial rule in Mindanao.

APHR said the peaceful rally was attended by children and youth belonging to Lumad communities.

“On the day of the rally, Sara Duterte, the President’s daughter and current mayor of Davao City, posted pictures on social media of Antonio Tinio and Ariel Casilao attending the demonstration.

“You take [minors] out of school to put them in the streets to conduct your rallies. Again, you do not deserve to be in Congress. When will the House of Representatives ever kick you out,” the younger Duterte wrote.

On 4 December, Davao City police charged Antonio Tinio and Ariel Casilao with “other acts of child abuse” under Republic Act 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.

The APHR however said the charges appear entirely baseless.

“There is no evidence of the participants ‘influencing’ the youth to be ‘angry and resent the present government’ as claimed in the subpoena filed by the Davao City Prosecutor’s Office,” the APHR said.

The group added that even if Tinio and Casilao indeed influenced the young rally-goers, the alleged act would hardly constitute “other acts of neglect, abuse, cruelty or exploitation”, as defined by RA 7610.

“The charges further violate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, which is guaranteed in the Philippine Constitution to all citizens regardless of age,” the APHR said.

The parliamentarians reminded that this right is also protected by international treaties to which the Philippines is a state party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

“[The treatises] explicitly enshrines the right of children to take part in peaceful assemblies. The case appears to be part of a wider effort to harass the Makabayan bloc and their affiliated social organisations, the APHR said.

Rep. Zarate charged with organizing rally ‘without permit’

Zarate was slapped with charges of violations to the Marcosian Public Assembly Act of 1985 on January 30, 2018 stemming from a rally he attended on November 13, 2017 against the visit of US President Donald Trump to Manila during the 31st ASEAN Summit.

Zarate and others were charged with conducting the rally “without permit.”

The rally was violently dispersed by the police with water cannons and sonic alarms, injuring several protesters. The police claimed some of its personnel were also injured when the protesters tried to push through the barricade.

The charges were dismissed by the Manila Prosecutors’ Office on 8 May 2018.

“The charges appear to have been baseless and part of the wider effort to judicially harass members of the Makabayan bloc,” the APHR said.

“The charges under Articles 148 and 158 of the Revised Penal Code were based on contradictory testimony of the police officers, while Carlos Zarate denied involvement in any form of violence during the demonstration,” the group added.

The APHR pointed out that, under international standards, freedom to assemble peacefully should generally not require seeking permission from authorities because this could be misused to suppress legitimate protests.

The four Makabayan parliamentarians are APHR members.

A common pattern

The APHR said that while the charges against the four Makabayan parliamentarians as well as against de Lima, Trillanes, Hontiveros and Baguilat have been filed under different laws – including charges for “drug trafficking”, “kidnapping”, “child abuse” and “inciting to sedition” – the cases all fit a common pattern.

“These lawmakers appear to have been targeted for opposing the President’s policies, and in particular the widespread extrajudicial killings under the guise of the ‘war on drugs,’” it said.

“They have also often been singled out because of their defence of human rights and their attempts to protect their constituents from human rights violations, whether in the context of the anti-drug campaign or other administration efforts, such as the push to reinstate the death penalty,’ the APHR said.

The APHR is a group of South East Asian lawmakers committed to promoting human rights, democracy and justice in the region. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Abandoned Mount Samat Military Camp Yields Bones, Evidence; Quest for Justice Continues

This article is republished in light of the conviction of retired Philippine Army Major General Jovito S. Palparan by the Branch 15 of the Malolos Regional Trial Court yesterday for the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of missing University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno. The testimony of prosecution witness Raymond Manalo contained in this article was given due consideration and weight by the court that finally convicted Palparan, long-known as “The Butcher” by his victims and the human rights community.

This report was originally published by Bulatlat.com on October 18, 2008.

= = = =

By Raymund B. Villanueva

On March 22, 2007, Shara Hizarsa was waiting for her father Abner to bring lunch to school she would later share with him. He had cooked and brought food for her without fail since he left the underground revolutionary movement due to frail health.

But no one arrived for the girl’s lunch that day.

It had been 19 months since. There is still no father to cook and bring food for Shara.

Last October 13, Shara commemorated her 12th birthday. Even her mother Cris cannot be with her on her special day because she had to join dozens of relatives of the forcibly disappeared under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime in a fact-finding mission in Barangay Bliss, Limay, Bataan.

Horror camp

In an abandoned military camp near the World War II monument in Mount Samat, about 50 human rights workers under Karapatan and Desaperacidos, the victims’ relatives, officials and staff of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and University of the Philippines (UP) anthropologists led by Dr. Francisco Datar dug holes on the ground, hoping to find remains of summary execution victims. They were led to the site by Raymond Manalo, one of two brothers who escaped from the custody of the 24th Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.

Manalo said that he and his brother Reynaldo were taken to the camp on November 21 or 22, 2006. A week later, he saw missing UP student Karen Empeño and farmer Manuel Merino. They were later joined by Sherlyn Cadapan, another abducted UP student.

Inside the camp, Raymond was ordered to help build the barracks, cook and clean house for the soldiers, led by a certain Maj. Donald “Allan” Caigas. He witnessed how the two students were hung upside down on one foot with sticks repeatedly rammed into their private parts. After each torture session on the women, Raymond was ordered to clean the room of the victims’ blood and faeces and even wash their underwear. He recalled of many nights he went to sleep with blood-curdling screams ringing in his ears.

Raymond also recounted in his affidavit that he, his brother Reynaldo and Merino were taken to “cattle-rustling and harassment missions” by the soldiers led by Caigas. He witnessed the execution and abduction of farmers in outlying villages.

One night in June 2007, soldiers took Merino from their holding room, saying then Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan wanted to talk to him. Several minutes later, he saw Merino being marched to a grassy field 50 meters away from the camp’s barbed-wire perimeter. Standing by a window, Manalo heard screams and moans, like someone who was startled (“Parang nagulat.”), followed by two gunshots. “Siguro hindi nadale sa saksak, kaya binaril,” he said. (“They probably failed to kill him by stabbing so they shot him.”) Then he saw what looked like a bonfire that lasted late into the night. The next morning, he was told not to look for Merino as he has already “joined” Cadapan and Empeño. “Pinatay si ‘Tay Manuel dahil sabi ng militar matanda na siya,” Raymond added. (“Manuel was killed because the military said he was already old.”)

A diorama exhibited at the House of Representatives based on Raymond Manalo’s description of the military camp. (Diorama by Ron Magbuhos Papag)

In July 2007, the Manalo brothers were taken to Caigas’ farm in Bolinao, Pangasinan to work as laborers where they escaped on the night of August 12, 2007.

Clear and convincing’ testimony

The government and army’s top officials took turns belying Raymond’s testimony by denying the existence of the camp. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon said that Manalo’s testimony was “baseless.” Lt. Gen. Isagani Cachuela, PA Northern Luzon commanding general, said that he would not know about the existence of the camp in Barangay Bliss. Maj. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, 7th ID commander, which has jurisdiction over the 24th IB, echoed Cachuela’s statement saying he “still has to find out.”

Last September 20, PA spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner also issued a statement saying Cadapan, Empeno and Merino were nowhere to be found in any army camp where their relatives and supporters claimed they were detained.

But residents of Barangay Bliss are one in saying that there indeed was a military camp in their village. The Philippine Daily Inquirer also reported that former Bataan vice governor Rogelio Roque confirmed that the military used to occupy the area, which is adjacent to his property.

Despite the military’s denials, Raymond’s testimony was considered by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court (SC) as “factual,” “harrowing” as well as “clear and convincing.” Last October 6, the SC affirmed the Appellate Court’s decision to grant the privilege of the Writ of Amparo to the Manalo brothers, providing them protection from State forces. The order also affirmed the possible culpability of Palparan in their abduction and torture, as well as that of Cadapan, Empeño, Merino and others. The SC also rejected the 7th ID’s investigation as “very limited, superficial and one-sided.”

CHR chair Leila de Lima, for her part said, “The Manalo brothers, for me, have the most significant testimony in the extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.”

‘I will prove to them I am right’

A week after being granted the privilege of the Writ of Amparo, Raymond led the fact-finding mission to the military camp. Before the sun rose, Raymond had already identified the camp layout while other mission members set up tents and cordoned areas where the possible grave sites were.

According to their observations, there was painstaking effort to erase the camp’s footprint in the area. The concrete hut floors, the basketball court, the flag pole as well as the Marian grotto were broken up and thrown in a clump of bamboo trees about 100 meters away. All the holes were backfilled and the water pipes removed. Still, amid the shrubbery and the wildflowers that overrun the abandoned camp and under the sprawling shades of the dozen huge mango trees that blanketed the area, Raymond managed to identify the spot of every structure that stood in the military camp.

Raymond Manalo describing the camp layout.

Hindi ko aakalaing babalik pa ako rito. Takot ako, nanginginig, giniginaw. ‘Nung una kaming dinala rito, akala namin ay isa-salvage na kami,” Raymond said. (“I never thought I would come back here. I am afraid, shaking, and I feel cold. When we were first taken here, we thought we would already be summarily executed.”)

By the time the CHR team arrived by mid-morning, the mission was ready to dig and document whatever could be found in the area.

At noontime, De Lima arrived from Manila and conducted an ocular inspection of the possible gravesites. She also ordered additional diggers to complement the Karapatan team who found the stony soil difficult to penetrate beyond a foot and a half.

The first four holes in three possible gravesites produced negative results. But there were signs of unusual human activity such as burnt tarpaulins, tabletop covers, shoes, among others. Raymond identified one shirt that might have belonged to Cadapan. The anthropologists also confirmed that some of the spots pinpointed by Raymond bore “disturbances” by human activity.

As dusk neared on the mission’s first day, a fifth hole was dug which the experts said was “promising” as the soil was still soft and comparatively loose past two feet. It was then that the experts ordered a halt to the diggings on account of the approaching darkness.

Night falls on the mission camp

Under the pale light thrown by old-fashioned “petromax” lamps, the remaining 30 or so human rights workers ate dinner while a squad of Philippine National Police-Regional Mobile Group troopers kept a somewhat loose perimeter security. Before dinner was over heavy rains fell on the camp, overturning tents and soaking both mission members and their clothing and equipment. The victims’ relatives bussed back to Manila due to security considerations, along with some Manila-based journalists. Only then did the CHR-sourced generator arrive from the town proper to provide electricity.

By 7 pm, when the rain stopped, the mission members slept with their wet clothes and soaked sleeping provisions. The generator was turned off an hour later and the last mobile phone calls and text messages were sent. Even the police retreated inside their tents and vehicles.

Breakthrough

The mission’s second day started with a briefing between the CHR, UP and Karapatan teams. Datar expressed confidence that if Raymond was telling the truth, they would find human remains such as small bones of the hand and feet. “These are the things that betray the perpetrators of the crime,” he said.

But that morning provided more disappointments. Site Three was abandoned after it produced no convincing evidence. A new site was opened in the hope of more positive results. Datar interviewed Raymond several times and asked him to walk from the camp’s edge to where he thought Merino was taken at least four times. Raymond also informed the expert that he remembers Merino was wearing an old pair of yellow “Beach Walk” flip-flops. Assured that Raymond was certain about his coordinates and facts, Datar ordered the widening of Site One.

While standing on the edge of the camp Raymond found clothing on the ground, nearly covered with soil. When he picked it up, he identified it to have belonged to Caigas. “Shorts ito ni Caigas. ‘Basic Wear’ ang tatak. Siya lang ang meron nito—pantulog niya,” he said. (These are Caigas’ ‘Basic Wear’ brand short pants. Only he had them—as sleepwear.”) He said he was certain because he washed the soldiers’ dirty laundry.

At exactly 12:30 pm, anticipation gripped team members on Site One. What was thought to be just a layer of burnt wood close to the surface yielded a four-centimeter splinter, which Datar immediately identified as a human bone. He then ordered a wider surface scraping of the site. Before the team decided to take a delayed lunch break the hole already produced 15 more bone pieces.

Dr. Datar shows what kind of bone fragment was found on the site.

When digging resumed more bones were found on the burnt-out hole. At 3:45 pm, Datar’s graduate assistant struck another vital piece of evidence—an overturned slipper found on the edge of the small cavity with yellow straps and bearing the brand name “Beach Walk.” When Raymond saw the article, he exclaimed “’Yan ‘yun! Kay ‘Tay Manuel! ‘Yan ‘yun!” (That’s it! That’s old man Manuel’s. That’s it!) Datar then said, “Positive na tayo.” (“We are already positive about this grave site.”) A few minutes later a simple ring band was also found as well as a human vertebra.

At 5 pm, the digging and scraping has reached the hole’s edge. Datar said that, based on the materials gathered and examined by the UP, CHR and Karapatan experts on the site, firewood and rubber tires were placed at the hole’s bottom before the victim was placed in a fetal position wrapped in a mattress. “These foreign objects and the victim’s position explain why the hole is relatively small,” he said. Datar added that the gravesite was covered with un-burnt soil in the perpetrators’ efforts to conceal the spot.

Datar however hastened to add that it would be impossible to extract DNA from the “carbonized” bones. He also said that he still has to study the specimens in the laboratory to ascertain which parts of the body the bones came from.

Strong proof

Still, Datar commended Raymond’s fortitude. “May lakas siya ng loob na sabihin (ang nalalaman),” he said. (“He was courageous to speak out.”). “It was clear there were human activities in the areas he pointed out,” Datar added.

Nabuhayan ako ng loob,” Raymond said. “Kung wala tayong nakita e di lalo na nilang sasabihing sinungaling ako,” he added. (“I had a morale boost. If we found nothing here, the military will say I lied all the more.”)

Raymond’s legal counsel Rex JMA Fernandez is optimistic about the results of the fact-finding mission. “What Raymond said (about their abduction and killings) was proven today. Moreover, there was deliberate purpose to sanitize the burial place. If you take a closer look, the camp was big. It was not cursory but a protracted occupation of the place (by the military). That Palparan was involved in the tortures would be validated by these findings. Even if the military would try to undermine the results of this mission, Raymond is a very credible witness,” the lawyer explained.

Fernandez added that he wants the area declared a crime site. “I think they should continue digging and investigating. They should also interview the locals,” he said.

The mission ends, the quest for justice continues

Cris Hizarsa summed it up for the relatives.  “Katulad ng ibang mga pamilyang naghahanap, umaasa akong hindi kasama ang asawa ko sa mga pinatay dito.  Yun ang pag-asa ko at ng mga anak ko.  Sana, yun ang regalong maiuuwi ko sa kaarawan ni Shara.” (“Like the other relatives of the victims, my family and I hope my husband was not one of those killed here.  I hope that is the news I bring home to my daughter Shara for her birthday.”)

Manalo breaks down at the spot where Manuel Merino was murdered by Philippine Army soldiers under the command of Gen. Palparan.

Before dusk of the second day, all the holes were backfilled as the mission camp was being dismantled. Raymond Manalo then walked one last time to the gravesite, accompanied by the Karapatan team and Dr Datar.  The CHR team chose not to join them.  Fr. Dionito Cabillas led the prayers while the mission members joined hands around the makeshift grave.  After the prayers, shouts of “Justice!” rang several times.

Then everyone broke down.  Copious tears flowed on Raymond’s scarred face, his shoulders askew in physical and emotional pain.  The chests of relatives of the forcibly disappeared heaved in grief while Datar’s own eyes were moist and red.

As the sun was setting behind Mt Samat the mission members walked away from the grave now looking more desolate with the weak flicker of candles amid the creeping darkness.  Finally, Raymond turned his back on the site where Manuel Merino was killed, leaving the wild flowers to bloom in a land that has seen such horror finally coming to light. (More photos of the fact-finding mission here.)

 

 

 

#BabaeAko to hold AMaSONA protest on July 23

By April Burcer

The #BabaeAko campaign announced a protest march on July 23 dubbed AMaSONA (Anti-Misogyny Activists sa SONA) to declare their stand against sexism, misogyny and other acts of injustices.

The announcement was made by a panel composed of Jean Enriquez of World March of Women, actor Mae Paner, Norma Dollaga of Association of Women in Theology, Gert Libang of Gabriela and Anelle Sabanal of Christians for Life and Dignity at a press conference in Bantayog ng mga Bayani Friday morning.

The panel shared women’s issues including the effect of the government’s cancellation of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on women, prostitution, attacks and harassment on activist women, price increases and the suffering of women the ongoing extra-judicial killings.

The #BabaeAko movement, which started as a social media campaign to denounce attacks and abuses against women they said are led by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.

The campaign launched in May has since grown to become one of the most influential people on the internet according to a recent Time Magazine article.

Senator Leila de Lima, jailed by the Duterte government in what many say is an act of vengeance, expressed her support to the movement.

“To my fellow #AMaSONA, as women and leaders, we have a lot on our plate –not just in the fight against misogyny, but also in addressing other issues of today,” de Lima said in a statement read at the forum.

“I am calling not only on the women but also to the Filipino people who value our freedom and democracy to stand against these attacks and to help our fellow citizens who were tricked into believing Duterte’s lies,” her message read.

The AMaSONA march will join the United People’s SONA on the day of President Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address. #