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Groups condemn harassment, surveillance vs Cordilleran activist

Human rights organizations branded as harassment and political persecution the ongoing intense police surveillance against a prominent Cordilleran activist.

Front Line Defenders (FLD) and the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) said the family and friends of activist Windel Bolinget have been constantly harassed for information on his whereabouts since he had been informed of a warrant of arrest against him last December.

Bolinget and 10 others had been charged with murder by the Office of the Provincial prosecutor of Davao del Norte, at the southern part of the country, for their alleged involvement in the killing of Garito Malibato, a member of a local indigenous peoples’ organization called Karadyawan, in March 2018.

FLD said the murder charge appears to be fabricated as Bolinget has never been to Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte where Malibato was murdered.

The group added that local indigenous organizations pointed to the paramilitary group Alamara as the real perpetrators of the murder.

“Further, a relative of the victim also expressed that Malibato had received several death threats from the same paramilitary group before he was killed,” FLD said.

The group reported that since December, there has been intense physical surveillance on Bolinget at his house and at the CPA office in Baguio City.

“Windel Bolinget’s family and colleagues fear that, if the defender is arrested, he may be subjected to the tokhang-style execution (extrajudicial killing under the pretext of ‘resisting arrest’), which is a common occurrence in the country,” FLD said.

Victim of vilification

It is not the first time that Bolinget had been under threat by State forces, the group revealed, noting that the activist was included in a military hit list, along with other CPA leaders in 2006.

In February 2018, the Department of Justice’s terrorist proscription list also included him but was eventually dropped from the record due to lack of proof.

Bolinget is also a victim of an intense social media vilification campaign since last year branding him as well as his family and colleagues as terrorists.

Last December 10, International Human Rights Day, flyers with Bolinget’s photo alleging he is a recruiter of the New People’s Army were scattered in Baguio City and La Trinidad, Benguet province.

‘Will not be silenced’

In a statement last Thursday, January 14, Bolinget denied the allegations.

“I am not a member of the New Peoples’ Army nor am I a terrorist. I am an unarmed civilian and I believe that continuing the activist tradition of indigenous peoples for human dignity, social justice, land and environment is crucial in our society,” Bolinget said.

“In due time, I will engage the services of lawyers and challenge my case. I will not be silenced by a fabricated charge,” he added.

Earlier, the CPA launched an online appeal to have charges against its leader dropped, saying Bolinget did not commit any murder or physical harm against any individual.

“The trumped-up case is obviously meant to silence him and the CPA from asserting indigenous peoples’ rights and human rights against development aggression (destructive mining and dam projects) and rights violations. It is the latest of a series of attacks against Bolinget,” the group said.

The CPA said the charge against its leader is part of systematic attacks of the Rodrigo Duterte government against political dissenters and human rights activists through the implementation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

A member of the Kankanaey and Bontok indigenous peoples in Mountain Province, Bolinget is a veteran environment defender and human rights activist who had been part of the CPA for 23 years as Education Commission Officer, Secretary General and now Chairperson.

He has long been known as an indigenous activist strongly committed to his work, the CPA said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)