A group of human rights defenders said they have reported the case of the two abducted environmental activists to the United Nations (UN) at the ongoing 54th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Philippine UPR [Universal Periodic Review] Watch (PUPR) said the press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) last September 19 when anti-Manila Bay reclamation project campaigners Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano revealed their abduction has reached the offices of several UN Special Rapporteurs and country missions.
The PUPR said it continues to update attendees at the 54th UN Human Rights Council session about the NTF-ELCAC’s “degenerative tactic” of presenting abduction and enforced disappearance victims as surrenderers.
“The PUPR team, continuing to report on developments in the Philippines, (also) shared this development with the office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information,” the group in a statement said, referring to Irene Khan who is set to visit the Philippine in January 2024.
Bishop Melzar Labuntog, the General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines also asked other UN experts to red-tagging, freezing of assets, and arrests and detention of church workers and groups.
“Church groups living out their faith and expressions have met malignment and have been equated with terrorist groups,” Labuntog said. “The clear trend of attacking church workers and ministries is a clear indication of how human rights, freedom, and justice are being trampled upon.”
Bishop Labuntog is part of the PUPR delegation to the ongoing UN session, alongside an indigenous people’s leader, a climate activist, a victim of extra-judicial killings, and a people’s lawyer.
The group said they emphasize the injustices suffered by civilians under the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, citing at least 15 terrorism-related cases filed against activists, ranging from allegations of acts of terrorism to financing terrorism with corresponding civil forfeiture charges.
In their meetings with experts and country missions, the PUPR delegation said they also raise the issue of censorship such as the blocking of 25 websites of progressive news sites by the National Telecommunication Commission upon the orders of the National Security Council.
“The first target of government repression will not be the last,” National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-National Capital Region secretary general Kristina Conti said.
Conti added that NUPL’s own Facebook page became inaccessible last September 26 after several posts condemning the killing of a fellow lawyer in Abra province.
PUPR said one of its members from the Council of Health and Development has delivered an oral intervention through video in the interactive dialogue on economic, social, and cultural rights and COVID-19 recovery at the ongoing UNHRC session. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)