Jonila and Jhed’s case reaches UN, rights defenders announce

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)

More than a tale of two bishops

The religious in one of Asia’s predominantly Christian countries, the Philippines, may be among the most persecuted in the world.

By Raymund B. Villanueva

The moment may have been the most profound display of sadness that Filipino Roman Catholic Bishop Gerardo Alminaza had shown in public yet. At a peace forum in Manila last April, the usually cheerful prelate’s voice broke mid-speech. It took him several seconds to regain his composure, but he was still teary-eyed as he said, “I recently experienced a barrage of red-tagging, after I put out a Lenten statement with Pilgrims for Peace.”

Alminaza is known for his sermons and statements that show his iron-clad resolve to bring peace to his beleaguered flock in Negros Island in central Philippines. But being red-tagged in the Philippines can be deadly. 

In the largely Catholic Philippines, a number of clergy, alongside other rights defenders, are being “red-tagged,” or branded by security forces as communist operatives or sympathizers, simply for speaking out against human rights abuses. (Photo: Shutterstock / Al.geba)

The practice is defined as a malicious blacklisting of individuals or organizations as communists or terrorists, or both. The Philippine government has admitted on various occasions that it approves of red-tagging despite calls from local and international rights advocates for it to be stopped. In his speech before the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva in October 2022, current justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said, “It’s par for the course.”

“If you can dish it out, you should be able to take it,” Remulla told the 136th session of the Council, which questioned the Philippine government about red-tagging. “That, for me, is probably the essence of democracy. Are we not allowed to criticize our critics too? Is it a one-way street?” 

Observers and rights advocates, however, have pointed out that red-tagging is far from mere “criticism.” Individuals who are red-tagged are often subsequently charged with trumped-up allegations under the country’s hazy anti-terrorism law and are left to languish in prisons that are among the most crowded and inhumane in the world. And those are the somewhat lucky ones. There have been hundreds more red-tagged victims who have been summarily killed through the years, and many of them were hardly political dissenters and government critics. Aside from rights advocates, red-tagged victims have included environmentalists, lawyers, journalists, doctors, farmers, and indigenous peoples, among others. 

In a country that is mainly Christian — with some 80 percent of the 117 million Filipinos identifying as Roman Catholic and another 10 percent as Protestant — church workers, priests, pastors, ministers and, yes, bishops, have also been red-tagged. Like many red-tagged victims, several of them have ended up dead.

Not a solely Philippine phenomenon

The practice is neither new nor confined to the Philippines. Across the world, other governments conducting whole-of-nation counter-insurgency operations do red-tagging. Newly canonized St. Oscar Romero of El Salvador is probably the most prominent victim of such operations that include religious targets. 

Red-tagging, though, has become nearly synonymous with the Philippines in the last several years, and especially during the recently ended Duterte administration. And while the year-old administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has sought to have a gentler image than its predecessor, the picture on the ground has been less than reassuring.

Alminaza, for example, is among the more recent red-tagging victims. It all began for him last February via a television show, where his calls for peace and justice were also described as “diabolical and demonic” by hosts Lorraine Badoy-Partosa and Jeffrey Celis. Badoy-Partosa, a former Duterte presidential communications undersecretary, and Celis, alleged drug personality turned self-styled whistleblower against former comrades in the underground Left, have red-tagged many others, and are widely believed to be acting in behalf of the government’s counter-insurgency programs in their red-tagging spree.

Alminaza seems to have wound up on the red-tagged victims list because of his strong human rights stance in Negros. In 2019, he ordered all the church bells in his diocese to ring every night at six o’clock to call for a stop to the rising number of killings on the island — reminiscent of the situation in Negros during the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the incumbent president’s father. 

Negros Island is the country’s sugar central. Its vast plantations are owned by very few landlords who pay their hundreds of thousands of farmhands starvation wages. The landlords are also the island’s politicians. Those who call for better living conditions and social justice in Negros are targeted for killing by the military, police, the landlords’ private armies, and paramilitary forces. 

Today, under the Marcos Jr. administration, Negrenses, as the people of Negros Island are called, say that farmers, journalists, lawyers, rights defenders, land rights activists, and even politicians are being killed with horrendous regularity, several in massacre-style, among them a provincial governor and nine of his constituents earlier this year.

At the peace forum, Alminaza described the situation in Negros this way: “I drew to mind the 14 Negros farmers who were executed in the (government’s anti-drug and anti-insurgency campaign) Oplan Sauron SEMPO’s (Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations) one-time, big-time operations of 30 March 2019. Two of them, Edgardo and Ismael Avelino, were part of a mission station under the Basic Christian Communities of the Diocese of San Carlos in Negros Occidental. I imagined the fright and terror of families being awakened before or near the break of dawn and the unbelievably similar police reports of nanlaban (fought back)” killings. They had no due process, no legal counsel, no court hearings.”

“Red-tagging and terrorist-branding,” said the bishop, “can kill, have killed.”

Another bishop’s story

It is street wisdom also known to Bishop Antonio Ablon, who belongs to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI). Now a political refugee in Europe, Ablon conducts his religious celebrations in grand, old churches. But he says that he misses his humble cathedral in his home island of Mindanao. 

In June 2018, Ablon joined a fact-finding mission in Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur in the Philippine south after learning that a Philippine Army unit’s presence in the Indigenous Subanen community had resulted in harassments, intimidation, and the arrest of two residents. On the mission’s second day, the soldiers ordered the bishop and his team to leave as “they did not coordinate with the military.” A colonel later paid the bishop a “friendly visit,” warning him not to disrupt “(the military’s) special projects in the area.” Ablon was also told not to publicize the information the mission had gathered. 

The community suffered more harassment soon after. The soldiers went house to house and organized a “mass surrender ceremony” of alleged sympathizers of the New People’s Army (NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines). Bishop Ablon then facilitated another fact-finding mission, this time with the Commission on Human Rights, an independent state body, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Three months later, in September, IFI churches were defiled and painted with “IFI = NPA!” Throughout northern and western Mindanao, streamers and traffic barriers screamed allegations of the bishop’s connections with the underground NPA, along with other faith groups such as the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), among others.

Heeding the advice of several religious communities (including the Lutheran Church of Northern Germany, the Christian Catholic Church, and the global Anglican Communion), Ablon left the country to seek asylum in Europe in May 2019. Soon after, police officers barged into his cathedral, saying they were there to arrest him. When the deacon demanded to see an arrest warrant, the officers said it was merely a joke. 

Ablon has since been appointed the IFI’s bishop in Europe, probably a reaction to dimming hopes of his safe return to the Philippines. In July 2020, then President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the anti-terrorism bill.  

‘Church of the Poor’

Ablon’s predicament, however, is not that known among Filipinos, many of whom are also unaware that IFI’s first ever woman bishop, Rt. Rev. Emelyn Gasco-Dacuycuy, and three of her clergy, had been accused of being New People’s Army recruiters. The entire United Church of Christ in the Philippines has been accused as well of being communist, as has the organization of mainline Protestants in the country, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines. 

Filipinos are more familiar with the state’s persecution of the religious belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. Under the rule of the late dictator Marcos, for instance, a group of so-called ‘Magnificent Seven Bishops’ had been accused of having links with the underground communists for speaking out against rights abuses. 

Ordained priests after the Second Vatican Council, the prelates’ attempts at building a “Church of the Poor” made them easy targets of allegations of having communist links. It was exactly the same crusade that made Alminaza, decades later, join his brother bishops in what the Church says is a persecution that Jesus has also suffered. Even the nuns of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, the mission arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), have not been spared, their bank accounts frozen on allegations of abetting terrorism. 

The spate of red-tagging against the clergy compelled Caloocan Bishop and CBCP president Pablo Virgilio David to denounce it in his 2022 Good Friday sermon, saying Jesus Christ was himself a victim of red-tagging, and was accused of being a subversive who wanted to bring down the Roman Empire that was ruling Judea at the time. 

“[Jesus] was alleged to have been an organizer of poor fishermen in Galilee,” said David. “He was said to frequent far-flung areas where the rebellious zealots also were. He was alleged to be frequently seen in the deserts and mountains. And take note, he was related to a known activist prophet named John the Baptist, who spoke about the inconvenient truths of their time.” 

It therefore came as a shock to many when the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the government’s main red-tagging apparatus, claimed that the CBCP had joined it. But David quickly clarified that only the conference’s Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs overseen by one bishop had joined the task force. He added that the CBCP was only acting according to its mandate of engaging the government as private sector representative. The CBCP for its part said it would keep in mind the Church’s thrust on justice in its engagement with the task force.

The sun sets over this sugar plantation in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental province in southern Philippines. Considered the country’s sugar central, the province is one of the deadliest regions in the country for peasants and environmental defenders. (Photo: Shutterstock / JM Lopez)

Ablon, meanwhile, remains unbowed, using his pulpit and his office in Europe to bear witness to continuing rights violations in the Philippines. He has spoken before the United Nations in Geneva and in the Swiss capital of Bern during the city’s ‘Night of the Religions.’ 

The Protestant bishop has tried to content himself with seeing his wife and younger son only through video calls. He said that when Marcos Jr., a Duterte ally, became president, “I realized that I may not see my family and home anytime soon.” ◉

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This special report was produced in collaboration with the Asia Democracy Chronicles.

BBM’s new security policy alarms farm workers

UMA: Marcos further justifies state tyranny

Farm workers condemned government’s new national security policy (NSP) they said would only worsen the culture of impunity in the country. 

Reacting to the newly-approved Executive Order 37 (EO37) adopting NSP 2023-2028, the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has further justified state tyranny in his government’s counter-insurgency policy. 

The group pointed that in its section on “public safety, peace, and justice,” the NSP spelled out the directive to “strengthen[…] action against the legal fronts of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, National Democratic Front of the Philippines),” rendering in policy the practice of red-tagging trade unions and peasant associations. 

UMA said that in praising the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict that has led in the red-tagging campaigns, the Marcos government aims to continue its suppression of legitimate organizations as part of its counter-insurgency programs.  

Red-tagging in the Philippines is the malicious blacklisting of legal opposition individuals and organizations as affiliated with the CPP, NPA and NDFP that often leads to their persecution and killing. 

The government has said the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA), and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) remain its biggest security threat. 

UMA chairperson Ariel Casilao said NSP 2023-2028 is a dangerous mix of illogic and impunity, adding the new five-year policy is a threat to the lives and rights of every Filipino. Casilao also pointed out that the government’s new policy defies the International Labor Organization’s recommendation to end its red-tagging activities. 

“This [NSP 2023-2028) ran counter to its description of the ‘democratic way of life,’ elements of which included, in its own words, ‘participatory governance’ and ‘respect for human rights and freedoms,” Casilao added. 

The peasant leader said it is the police and the military who prevents democracy, particularly when they spy on, abduct, file trumped-up charges, and assassinate members of farmers organizations they have subjected to red-tagging. # (Raymund B. Villanueva) 

Veteran activist on ‘idiot red-taggers’

Dr. Carol P. Araullo, chairperson emirata of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, filed a ₱2.15 million damage suit against known red-taggers Lorraine Badoy and Jeffrey Celiz earlier this week.

“I do not want to play to their red-tagging schemes. I am not going to let idiots dictate what I am going to do,” Araullo said.

Araullo added she hopes to send a clear message that baseless allegations and attempts to silence voices of dissent will not be tolerated. #

(Jo Maois D. Mamangun / Kodao)


ALTERMIDYA: On the listing of 3 media organizations as ‘front organizations’: Unconstitutional, dangerous

Altermidya Network denounces the unconstitutional, undemocratic, and dangerous resolution released by the Kalinga Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC).

The resolution, which urges the local government to require permits for activities, comes with a list of 18 so-called Communist Party of the Philippines’ “sectoral front organizations” (SFOs). The list, prepared by the 50th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, included three media organizations.

As shown by photos released by Department of Interior and Local Government provincial director Anthony Manolo Ballug, the list included Altermidya members Northern Dispatch and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), along with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). This has the effect of preventing members of these media organizations from conducting their work as journalists and also puts them in grave danger from the military and the police.

The three media organizations are well-respected and award-winning institutions. The CEGP was established in 1931 and has produced hundreds of venerable journalists. The Northern Dispatch has been producing stories from the communities since 1989, while NUJP, founded by the late Tony Nieva, is known for advancing the rights and welfare of journalists in the country since 1986.

Even the 15 other organizations in the list are known legitimate organizations in Northern Luzon. Preventing them from continuing with their work without a court order is nothing less than undemocratic.

We urge the immediate junking of the Kalinga PTF-ELCAC Resolution No. 2023-04 as well as the 50th IB’s “List of SFOs”. We likewise ask the elected city and municipal officials of Kalinga to reject this dangerous resolution and list.

We will make sure that these attacks on press freedom and democracy are duly reported to the United Nations Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, who is set to conduct in-country investigations early next year. # (June 14, 2023)

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NORTHERN DISPATCH: On the inclusion of Northern Dispatch and other media groups in the 50th IB list of ‘Threat Groups’

We cannot help but ask: Is the military threatened by Northern Dispatch? Does the Armed Forces of the Philippines, with their guns, tanks, and bombs, find it difficult to face critical reporting that it must resort to malicious and covert labeling of our outfit, other media groups, and organizations?

The latest ‘secret’ list of alleged ‘Sectoral Front Organizations’ from the 50th IB seems to admit so. With all its might and combat training, the military still labels civilian and media organizations – as ‘Threat Groups.’

While their baseless rhetoric has already turned pathetic, its danger remains potent, enough to result in discrimination of groups and individuals, trumped-up cases, detention, enforced disappearance, and murder.

But the more crucial question is: Why the military considers critical media a threat and merits attention? Is it because our reports not only amplify the people’s democratic aspirations but also expose the ills of society that continue to thrive because of the government’s shortcomings?

Since its establishment in 1989, Northern Dispatch has reported on campaigns and struggles against widespread poverty, feudal exploitation, resource plunder, corruption, human rights violations and abuses, anti-people policies, and the government’s subservience to foreign powers. The people’s narratives we publish illustrate state security forces’ historical and continuing role in protecting this order.

While these stories show the root cause of the armed conflict and the social foundation of inequality and lack of justice, they still go through strict editorial standards. We write them with the Journalists’ Code of Ethics in mind.

Thus, we urge the military and the government to cease the practice of red-tagging and engage us under the rule of law and justice, and in an honorable manner. Prove that you are still capable of rational discourse on issues instead of treating critical media and activist groups as enemies of the state. #

Northern Dispatch Board of Directors, Editors, and Provincial Correspondents

June 14, 2023

Despite persecution, seasoned missioners serve rural poor in Philippines

By Sr. Edita C. Eslopor, OSB/RMP

I have belonged to the Congregation of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing for 40 years, and since I am assigned to the remotest of the rural areas — serving those on the margins of society (the lost, the least and the last living) — I also work with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

I have found my niche interacting with the sisters and lay mission partners from different congregations in the Philippines, and with parishes whose visions and missions share our common commitment to helping people in poverty. It is here that I genuinely appreciated the charism of our congregation. I am indeed grateful for God’s grace to persevere in my call to be a missionary in the Philippines.

From my experience, I could compare the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, as an organization, to a nutshell.

A nutshell is a hard covering in which the edible kernel of a nut is enclosed; it is sturdy and impenetrable and cannot be broken easily. If you strike it incorrectly, it will bounce back and be unchanged. The term in a nutshell is also used in writing or speaking to say something briefly, using a few words.

Missionary Benedictine Sr. Edita Eslopor climbs to visit an Indigenous Lumad village in the Philippines after an hourlong motorcycle ride. (Courtesy of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines)

I was reflecting on this when the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines commemorated its 54th anniversary last August 2022. It had struggled through the pandemic; relentless “red-tagging” as terrorist or communist under the Anti-Terrorism Law; ongoing vilifications; killings; and freezing the group’s funds through the government’s Anti-Money Laundering Council. These funds should have been spent to help the rural people in poverty, especially peasants, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, and their people’s organizations.

Founded on Aug. 15, 1969, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is the oldest mission partner of the Conference of the Major Superiors in the Philippines. In a nutshell — Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is resilient and can weather storm after storm, for it is well-designed to serve the poorest of the poor in the rural areas in the Philippines.

Seasoned religious women, men and lay partners who espouse the vision, mission and goals of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines are at the helm of the organization. They have accomplished much and made a name here and abroad for more than five decades now.

They are a paragon of service to the rural poor. Hence, the group is closely watched and vilified by the powers that be, and red-tagged by the military because the missionaries are so down-to-earth. They remind me of what Pope Francis said when he instructed priests: “Be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.”

And how relevant is what Bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said: “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

As the military unjustly attacked the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines by red-tagging them and freezing the funds intended for the peasants’ organizations, the missioners bounced back and continued to perform their missionary undertakings according to the saying: The mission is not ours; the mission is God’s.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is home to different sisters, priests and lay mission partners from different congregations. They took to heart their mission and seriously looked at the signs of the times — not as an ordinary event but as a call and a challenge that needed a response.

What made these followers of Christ read the signs of the times with the eyes and ears of their hearts? The sisters who have led the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines through the years are visionary and extraordinary women at the forefront of contextualizing their faith. Their feat is amazing and worth emulating.

To celebrate how the group has enfleshed its God-given mission, I tried to itemize it:

  • Five decades — of grateful and consistent journeying with the rural poor, partner organizations and funding agencies, to give birth to an organization of missionary doctors and health professionals (the Council for Health and Development);
  • 600 months — of meeting, assessing, planning to research, and attending rallies in solidarity with the people and other cause-oriented groups;
  • 2,607 weeks — of breathing in the “smell of their sheep,” working with farmers, fisherfolk and Indigenous people, stressing the need to ally with the people’s organizations;
  • 18,263 days — of talking the talk, facilitating fact-finding missions, medical missions, scholarship, and the like; of walking the walk with back-breaking responsibilities to help the people help themselves through their projects, thus empowering them;
  • 18,438,312 hours — of home visiting, contact building, providing/facilitating task reflections/assemblies/exposure, sharing and praying the Bible in the context of the lived experiences of the poor people they serve;
  • 26,298,720 minutes — of parrying the impact of the red-tagging and vilifying attacks from the military, of defending their God-given mission and congregational mandates, and of praying most earnestly for God’s guidance and protection.

As I lived my missionary life and when I looked to the lifelong members with their lean figures and malformed bodies, and dearly beloved departed missionaries, they always energized me beyond words. They mirrored the long years of great service and unwavering belief in the God of the poor and the giftedness of the people they served; their sacrifices for a cause they believed in; and their efforts without counting the cost that made their lives relevant and meaningful.

Missionary Benedictine Sr. Edita Eslopor and an African fellow sister distribute school supplies in a village in the rural Philippines. (Courtesy of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines)

Francis reminded those who serve, “We must not forget that true power, at whatever level, is service.” Their whole worthwhile life is their humble offering back to God for the grace and care that God has bestowed on them through the years.

These people are awash with good memories of their experiences with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Such a treasure — more precious than gold — is cherished in their hearts through the years.

Quo vadis, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, in the next 50 years? This is a question often asked, given the worsening situation in the country and a lackluster Philippine president. But the missioners have the hope and a cast-iron certainty that God is always on the side of the poor, as he loved them and made so many of them!

As for those who served the people living in poverty, God will always bless them with peace and grace. The missionaries endured and will continue to persevere, for in the words of an African proverb, they stand tall on the shoulders of many ancestors.

The rural missionaries will move on with grit and determination. God’s grace transformed them into extraordinary missioners. And they take heart from St. Oscar Romero’s testimonial: “Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down.” #

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Editor’s note: Sr. Edita Eslopor was red-tagged herself and her community has missioned her to another location.

This article was originally published by the

Tinang farmers threatened, red-tagged anew as victory nears

Days before their “installation” as genuine agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), officers and members of the Malayang Kilusang Samahang Magsasaka ng Tinang (MAKISAMA-Tinang) received threats and have been red-tagged anew.

A copy of the police blotter reporting the threat against MAKISAMA-Tinang chairperson Alvin Dimarucut.

The leader of the farmer’s group involved in a land struggle in Tarlac Province received threats from an employee of a local politician a week before the anniversary of their mass arrest, a police blotter showed.

 A June 4 blotter at the Concepcion (Tarlac) police station stated that a certain Conrado “Jonjon” Magtoto reportedly threateningly said MAKISAMA-Tinang chairperson Alvin Dimarucut must be on the lookout for his safety.

Magtoto was driving a tractor in behalf of the family of Concepcion mayor Noel Villanueva at a disputed portion of Hacienda Tinang at about 2:30in the afternoon of Saturday, June 3, when he uttered the threat.

The farm hand noticed a certain Ma. Roche Castro taking videos of MAKISAMA-Tinang’s newly-planted pepper crops when he asked her under whose group she belonged. Magtoto accused Castro of taking videos of him.

“Are you with Alvin? You can tell him he must be ready,” Magtoto reportedly said.

In an interview with Altermidya last Monday, June 5, Dimarucut said that while he considers Magtoto’s words threatening, he is “not afraid of the many threats he has received.”

MAKISAMA-Tinang chairperson Alvin dimarucut (in light blue shirt) with members of his group. (Altermidya photo)

MAKISAMA-Tinang nonetheless filed a report at the police station where they were jailed for several days.

In February 18, 2022, Dimarucut and comrades also filed a police report against Magtoto who drove a tractor over the disputed property despite the issuance of a February 4, 2022 Cease and Desist Order by DAR-Region III director Homer Tobias.

Kodao sources said Magtoto is under the employ of the Villanuevas even as the disputed 60-hectares of the property awarded by the Department of Agriculture (DAR) to 90 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBS) is also being claimed and occupied by the group called Samahang Nayon Farmers’ Cooperative.

In a March 21, 2023 decision, DAR secretary Conrado Estrella III said 60 hectares of Hacienda Tinang must be returned to 90 ARBS and four farmhands, most of whom are members of MAKISAMA-Tinang.

MAKISAMA-Tinang told Altermidya that they expect their “installation” within the next few days.

The farmers and their supporters were arrested last June 9, 2022 in what is being described as the largest such incident since the end of the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. dictatorship.

WHAT WENT BEFORE: Scenes at a police parking lot

Concepcion Police in the biggest mass arrest since the end of Marcos’ martial law. (Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura photo)

Farmers face off with police at Ombudsman’s office

Meanwhile, MAKISAMA-Tinang members faced off with their police captors in the mass arrest incident at the Office of the Ombudsman in Quezon City today, June 6.

The “clarificatory hearing” was in relation to the charges filed by the farmers against 30 Concepcion police personnel, including then officer in charge PLt. Col. Reynaldo Macabitas.

The farmers’ charges include:

—Violation of Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained and Under Custodial Investigation


—Unlawful Arrest

—Arbitrary Detention

—Physical and Mental/Psychological Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishment

—Grave Misconduct, Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of Service, and Oppression

—Gender-based Sexual Harassment in a Public Place

MAKISAMA-Tinang farmers revealed the police officials in attendance responded to questions asked them in “wishy-washy” way.

The police’s oral statements often contradicted the written affidavits they submitted to the Ombudsman, the farmers said.

“Farmers and peasant advocates alike were especially taken aback by the brashness of the red-tagging committed by P/Lt. Col. Macabitas in front of the hearing officer herself, hinting at military involvement,” the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura in a statement after the hearing said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUPL to gov’t: Do your job, keep it fair and square

Human rights lawyers said it is the government that should investigate allegations of war crimes in connection with the reported death of top Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.

Reacting to a statement made by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) Legal Cooperation Cluster, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said the government is bound to gather evidence and initiate prosecution of those connected with the alleged torture and execution of the Tiamzons.

The NTF ELCAC earlier said that those who made the allegations, including the NUPL bear the burden of proof, adding that the lawyers’ group and human rights group Karapatan are affiliated with the CPP.

The task force added the mere fact that both the NUPL and Karapatan are demanding an investigation are “a clear proof that they are lying and can’t prove their perverted claim.”

The NUPL however reminded the government that it is the State’s duty to conduct investigations on complaints of rights violations.

“These types of comments are non-sequitur (illogical) and unduly place the burden on human rights lawyers and defenders to conduct a probe,” the NUPL said.

The lawyers added that it was the military that first reported the supposed waterborne firefight that may have killed the Tiamzons and eight others in August 2022, but later took down their social media posts on the matter.

Keep it professional

When citizens complain of rights violations, the government should welcome it as part of its commitment to uphold international humanitarian law, the NUPL said.

Instead, government lawyers—colleagues in the legal professions and co-officers of the court, are choosing to resort to “hateful and gratuitous name-calling” by labeling human rights attorneys as “CTG (communist terrorist group)-affiliated or CPP, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front of the Philippines front without competed, credible and admissible evidence,” they said.

The NUPL was reacting to Assistant Solicitor General Angelita Miranda, a member of NTF ELCAC’s Legal Cooperation Cluster, who alleged that both NUPL and Karapatan are fronting for Communist groups.

The NUPL said such practice endangers their lives and prevents them from independently performing their duties as lawyers.

“Especially since we in NUPL are compelled to handle cases that most of our colleagues in the profession cannot, would not, or do not – for reasons we respect – handle,” the group said.

“While we may differ in views, opinions and positions – just like we do in court – we should all endeavor to keep our professional dealings civil and fair, use only dignified language, avoid low blows, and refrain from promoting an unsafe environment in any setting, as we are mandated to do as lawyers under the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability and out of basic respect for our fellow human beings,” the NUPL asked.

“We expect nothing less from our fellow lawyers. Let us keep it fair and square, if you please,” NUPL added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘FOR MY CHURCH AND MY PEOPLE’: Filipino Bishop bears cross in foreign lands

By Raymund B. Villanueva

Nearly 650 bishops of the global Anglican Communion gathered at England’s Kent University last July 27 to August 8 for its Lambeth Conference that only happens once every 10 years. In one of his daily addresses to their most important gathering of leaders, Archbishop of Canterbury Justine Welby asked the nine Philippine Episcopal and Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) bishops in attendance to stand after a moving choral rendition of the Filipino song “Dulang ng Ama.”

Welby prayed: “Our Lord and Gracious God, unite Your church in the Philippines and give them strength with their new government. Bring their bishop in exile who has not seen his family for two years and may not see them for another four or five. Bring him back from exile. Transform government that it may be made in justice, may be able to hear criticism and change habits. Bless the Philippines with peace in places of war and struggle. Bring reconciliation. We pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Church of England’s supreme bishop Welby implored for IFI Bishop Chaplain in Europe Antonio Narcua Ablon, one of the most persecuted church leaders in the world today.


Bishop Ablon’s persecution began in June 2018 when he joined a human rights fact-finding mission in Barangay Saad in Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur in June 2018. They received word that a Philippine Army unit has encamped in the indigenous Subanen community that resulted in harassments, intimidation and the arrest of two residents. On the mission’s second day, the soldiers told the bishop and his team to leave as “they did not coordinate with the military.” After returning to his diocese, a Col. Merlowe Patria paid Bishop Ablon a “friendly visit” to order him to seek permission from him and the mayor next time, “so as not to disrupt special projects in the area.” The military officer also warned the church leader not to publicize the information they gathered.

Barangay Saad suffered more harassments after the fact-finding mission. The soldiers went house to house soon after and organized a “mass surrender ceremony” of alleged New People’s Army (NPA) sympathizers  in August of that year. Unable to abandon his flock, Bishop Ablon facilitated another fact-finding mission, this time by the Commission on Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The retribution against the bishop started a month later. In September, their churches were defiled and painted with “IFI = NPA!” Throughout northern and western Mindanao, streamers and traffic barriers screamed allegations of the bishop’s connection with the underground revolutionary army, along with other groups such as the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Bayan Muna, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and others.

An Iglesia Filipina Independiente Church in Zamboanga del Sur was defiled by red-taggers in September 2018. (Photo from Davao Today)

In response to increasing threats to his life, the Lutheran Church of Northern Germany and the Christian Catholic Church (also known as the Old Catholic Church, OCC) in Europe invited Bishop Ablon to a conference in Germany in May 2019. Before he could return to the Philippines, however, police officers barged into his Pagadian cathedral, looking for him. The armed men confronted his deacon and told him the bishop is being served with an arrest warrant. When the priest demanded to see the document, he was told it was merely a joke.

The OCC Bishop of Utrecht, the church’s traditional leader, asked Bishop Ablon to stay in Europe for three more months to give the situation a chance to “cool down.” It did not.

‘Seafarers’ pastor’

It was during the Bishop’s visit to Europe that the Iceland-sponsored resolution was passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. The resolution expresses concern over allegations of human rights violations in the Philippines, particularly involving extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, as well as intimidation and persecution of human rights defenders and others critical of the government.

Bishop Ablon thought he could provide testament to the contents of the resolution. He spoke before churches and organizations throughout Europe to give witness to the human rights situation in the Philippines. He joined Filipino human rights alliance Ecuvoice representatives Atty. Edre Olalia and Cristina Palabay during the July 2019 adoption of the Iceland-led resolution at the UN Human Rights Council. In March 2020, Bishop Ablon once again joined a delegation of Ecuvoice at a UNHRC session in Geneva, Switzerland.

Seeing that the bishop’s safety remains a concern if he returns to the Philippines, the Hamburg Foundation for Politically-Persecuted Persons in November 2019 gave him a scholarship for a year to stay in Germany. When the scholarship concluded, the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Germany appointed him as  ecumenical co-worker to allow him to stay longer. He was then asked to serve as port chaplain in Hamburg and minister to seafarers, many of whom are Filipinos. He busied himself assisting sailors, particularly those quarantined due to the corona virus pandemic.

Bishop Antonio Ablon bringing assistance to a sailor at the Hamburg port.

The bishop’s hopes for his return to the Philippines before long was dashed when former President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the anti-terrorism bill in July 2020, however. He was convinced to apply for asylum and was granted an interview by the German government in December 2021. It was granted in just 16 days.

This month, Bishop Ablon returned to the United Nations in Geneva to attend the UNHRC’s fourth periodic review on the human rights situation in the Philippines. He spoke at the rally in front of the UN after the review and in a forum at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva. In the Swiss capital of Bern last November 12, he attended as special guest the city’s Night of the Religions. The next day, he delivered a sermon at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in a Mass celebrated by OCC Bern Bishop Harald Rein. In his homily, Bishop Ablon asked for solidarity by the churches and peoples of the world for the Filipino people’s quest for human rights and justice.

Bishop Antonio Ablon delivering his homily at the Bern Cathedral last November 13, the eve of the fourth Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human rights Council on the Philippines. (Photo by Koko Alviar, IFI)

“Tell the world”

Bishop Ablon has become a celebrity of sorts in Europe. He is welcomed by fellow bishops, priests and church members in many churches and across religions. He elicits greater admiration when they realize that he brings his bishop’s vestments in a simple and small backpack that he received as a loyal public transport passenger.

Bishop Ablon’s pectoral cross (second from top left) made headlines at the recent Lambeth Conference of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

His own pectoral cross, an intricate beadwork made especially for him by the Lumad, was cited as one of the most unique among hundreds at the Lambeth Conference.

But the church leader has more crosses to bear than being a church and diocese-less bishop in foreign land. He has not seen his wife and younger son for three years and makes do with just video calls. “In fact, when President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. became president, I thought of not seeing my family anytime soon,” he said.

“In my sermons and speeches, however, I always remember what the community leader of Barangay Saad begged of me,” Bishop Ablon said. He said it is what gives him strength. “In my last visit to Barangay Saad, the elder held my hand and begged me: ‘Tell the whole world of what we suffer and our dreams of a better life. We hope the persecution of us Lumads would stop,’” the bishop recalls.

“This is now my mission for my church and my people,” Ablon said. #

Anti-dam activist’s abductors wanted him to turn gov’t spy

Tauli’s colleagues said kidnappers were state security forces

The abductors of anti-dam campaigner Stephen “Steve” Tauli wanted him to turn government spy and tried to force him to confirm fellow activists’ alleged links with underground revolutionary groups.

The Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) on Monday, August 29, said the Kankanaey Igorot activist was also forced to sign a sworn statement admitting he was a leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).

“The whole time, Steve was blindfolded and handcuffed, while being threatened that they could kill him anytime if he would not cooperate,” the groups said.

Tauli, CPA regional council member, was assaulted and abducted by five men at a store near the CPA office in Barangay Appas in Tabuk City, Kalinga province at around 6:45 in the evening.

“As he was leaving, five men suddenly grabbed him, blindfolded and handcuffed him, then mauled him and forced him into a black van while he was desperately struggling and screaming for help,” the groups’ joint statement said.


While inside a black van he was forced into, Tauli was blindfolded, handcuffed and mauled while he desperately struggled and screamed for help, the two organizations reported.

The victim immediately and repeatedly demanded for his captors to identify themselves and their units as well as to bring to either a police station or a military camp, instead of an unknown location. Tauli also told his abductors to file charges against him in court if they thought he had committed a crime, the CPA and the CHRA narrated.

“Here, the men started to lecture Steve about the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the government anti-insurgency program) and its objective of stopping the insurgency problem in the country. They interrogated him about his work and some people he allegedly has links with,” their statement said.

‘Under duress’

After an hour of interrogation, the van drove for another two hours, stopping on what Tauli reportedly thought was a secluded area and where the interrogation continued for several more hours.

“They said that he could help them by neutralizing certain persons they identified as leaders of the CPP-NPA in the Cordillera region,” the groups’ statement said.


The CPA and CHRA said Tauli feared for his life, knowing what had happened to his friend and fellow activist James Balao who was abducted in Baguio City in 2008 and was never surfaced.

After repeated threats to his life and thoughts of distress to his family for suddenly going missing, Tauli agreed to sign a prepared sworn statement. His kidnappers then removed his blindfold to sign the document and read it while being recorded on video.

 “They then threatened him not to report what had happened and to comply with what he had signed, otherwise they would harm him, his family, and his colleagues,” the CPA and CHRA narrated.

Tauli reportedly told the groups his wearing masks the entire time.

Tauli was released by his kidnappers the next evening, August 21, near where he was abducted and was made to walk to the CPA-Kalinga office. His colleagues, who were about to continue to search for him that night, found the victim dazed and in shock, the organizations said.

Red-tagged anti-dam activist

The groups said that Tauli, like fellow CPA leaders and members, were subject to red-tagging, surveillance and harassment before the incident.

Tauli’s abduction came at a time while CPA-Kalinga launched a campaign against the Saltan Dam and right after his group filed a petition for a Writ of Amparo at the Court of Appeals because of the continuing red-tagging and attacks against human rights defenders.

Saltan River as seen from below a Balbalan, Kalinga Bridge. (R. Villanueva)

Saltan River in upper Kalinga province is considered one of the country’s cleanest inland waterway. It is a major tributary of the Chico River system and passes through the famed Balbalasang Balbalan National Park, “the green heart of the Cordillera.”

The Saltan D River Hydroelectric Power Project is listed to be on its pre-development stage and awarded by the government to a company called the JBD Management and Consulting Services, Inc.

“We are of the firm belief that the swift response of family, colleagues and the wider community to immediately search for him, government officials who stood by their mandate to protect their constituents, and the public outcry forced his abductors to release Steve Tauli,” the CPA and CHRA said.

“His was a near-death experience in the hands of his abductors who clearly were part of the State security forces,” they added.

The groups said Tauli and his family are still reeling from the deep trauma caused by his abduction and threats to his life are still continuing. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)