Environmental and human rights groups hailed a United Nations (UN) expert’s recommendations to abolish the government’s anti-insurgency task force and the country’s anti-terrorism law after a 10-day investigation in the Philippines.
In a joint statement, the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and the Philippines UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch said they welcome the statement made by UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights Dr. Ian Fry recommending the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the repeal of Republic Act No. 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.
In his exit statement last Wednesday, November 15, Fry said he listened to complaints by indigenous peoples groups, environmental rights defenders and other civil society organizations who were abducted, bombed and killed for opposing reclamation projects, hydro-electric dams, destructive mining and deforestation.
“They told me horrific stories on how they have been treated. I have listed in my recommendations to disband the NTF-ELCAC because it is clear that it’s operating beyond its original mandate,” Fry said.
“It is evident that the NTF-ELCAC is using its powers to protect key economic interests in the country. This has nothing to do with anti-terrorism or anti-communism. The military’s gross overreaction to people trying to defend their right to a safe, clean health and sustainable environment is totally unacceptable. The NTF-ELCAC should be disbanded,” Fry added.
The expert also said he would recommend ATA’s repeal after hearing stories of “totally unreasonable” designation of church and humanitarian workers as so-called terrorists whose funds are being held by the government.
Kalikasan PNE and the Philippine UPR Watch said Fry’s findings are welcome as they “(make) it clear that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s posturing as a climate change advocate” are merely for show.”
Rights group Karapatan also lauded Fry’s exit statement, saying it puts on center stage “the sinister role played by the NTF-ELCAC and the dangerous impact of the terror law on the lives and safety of environmental human rights defenders in the country.
The group noted that the Philippines is one of the world’s deadliest countries and Asia’s worst for environmental defenders in the past 10 years.
“Killings of environmental defenders peaked during the Duterte regime, which accounted for 205 or 73% of the 281 extra-judicially from 2012 to 2022,” Karapatan revealed.
The group added that the Marcos Jr. government is not doing better, citing the case of anti-Manila Bay reclamation campaigners who revealed being abducted by the NTF-ELCAC and the Philippine Army last September.
Bato, Task Force take exception
Reacting to the UN expert’s recommendations, Senator Ronald dela Rosa said Fry is “one of the most misinformed foreigners.”
In a budget hearing at the Senate Wednesday night, dela Rosa said Fry’s views might have changed if he only involved NTF-ELCAC in his investigations.
National security adviser and NTF-ELCAC vice chairperson Eduardo Año also said Fry should have met with the task force “to ensure that he has a full appreciation of the body’s mandate, operations, and overall directions.”
The NTF-ELCAC said it will seek a dialogue with Fry in the future.
Move to defund
But Karapatan said NTF-ELCAC’s “boilerplate responses” to Fry’s observations “further expose its propensity to disregard and distort human rights.”
“NTF-ELCAC’s statement that it is a ‘working and effective human rights mechanism’ is a ludicrous claim, considering its track record of propagating lies and its long list of crimes against the Filipino people,” Karapatan said.
The group said Fry should instead be commended for lending his voice to the growing call for an end to the NTF-ELCAC and ATA menace on people’s rights.
Karapatan added it anticipates Fry’s full report on his official visit to the Philippines to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2024.
“We hope that he can also look further into the militarist approach in the counterinsurgency policy of the Marcos Jr. – Duterte administration that drives NTF-ELCAC and the use of the terror law against environmental defenders and communities, as well as the neoliberal policies that spur destructive big reclamation, dam and mining projects that displace and violate rights of the people,” Karapatan said.
Meanwhile, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that in line with Fry’s recommendations, Congress should immediately move to defund NTF-ELCAC to prevent more human rights abuses in the country. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)