Even as National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants Wilma and Benito Tiamzon finally walked out of detention from Camp Crame today, reports from regions indicate that state security agencies are stepping up attacks against legal activists.
The Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.
Pond is also the research and documentation officer for the Salugpungan School Network in Mindanao, which remain the only available opportunities for education of indigenous children.
The attack happened as peace panels of the government and the NDF were preparing for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks in Oslo, Norway.
Pond was accosted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) criminal instigation and detection group (CIDG) after a three day RMP assembly at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center on Archbishop Reyes Avenue, in Cebu City’s Lahug district.
Her arrest came as activists and peace advocates were hailing the release of the Tiamzon couple, which brought the number of freed National Democratic Front (NDF) political prisoners to 17.
“They will join 15 others so far released in peace talks in Oslo on August 22 and for consultations with the NDF Negotiating Panel,” lawyer Edre Olalia said. Two of the released consultants are not joining the Oslo talks as they need urgent medical care, NDF sources said.
The RMP report said Pond was in a taxi with three other people when CIDG cops blocked them. They forced her out of the vehicle.
“The female CIDG held her by the arm and asked her with different names but she denied. This was followed by more questions showed photographs, and a supposed warrant of arrest, but they did not make her read the warrant,” the report said.
“One of Amy’s companion insisted that she should read the warrant for her to know what her case is but despite Amy and her companion’s insistence they failed to let Amy read the warrant. Amy vehemently resisted this illegal arrest.”
The witnesses said one of the CIDG men went near Amy and inserted two ID’s in her bag.
“Then they asked her to alight the car. She refused to go with them but they forced her. In this instance, Sr. Francis Anover and Sr. Marisol Garduno who were also in the center immediately went to her rescue.”
Pond was brought to Camp Sotero in Cebu City. and charged with double murder and frustrated murder in Compostela Valley under the name of Adelfa Toledo.
Before Pond’s arrest, Quezon province cops nabbed a peasant leader identified with the military party-list group, Anakpawis.
Bulatlat quoted Pacalda as saying the peasant leader held with him his copy of the certificate from the National Amnesty Commission when he was arrested at around 9 a.m. Aug. 12. He was on a jeepney en route to the Anakpawis Partylist’s office in Catanauan town.
The rebellion charge against Pajalla, which is the ground for his arrest, was first filed in 1995. But Pajalla was granted amnesty by President Ramos in 1997, said Pacalda.
Karapatan and other rights groups have warned that the continuing presence of paramilitary troops — trained and supervised by the military — represents a major threat to the peace process.
“We must watch out for saboteurs,” said Catholic Bishop (Caloocan City) Deogracias Yñiguez on the eve of the Tiamzons’ release. He said church workers and civil society and people’s organizations must remain vigilant on human rights violations and other abuses, which could wreak havoc on the peace process.
The Ecumenical Bishops Forum and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Yñiguez said, worked hard with other groups “to find many ways to ensure that the crucial peace process resumes.”
Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo confirmed that paramilitary troops strafed a lumad community on July 30 during holding a wedding in San Fernando, Bukidnon, killing a pregnant woman and wounding seven other people, including five children.
A DSWD report said a paramilitary group associated with the 8th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army. Taguiwalo said all victims beneficiaries of the DSWD’s 4Ps and Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT).
Taguiwalo also ordered an investigation into the provision of projects for suspected mastermind ‘Alde Salusad’ or ‘Butsoy’ despite a warrant of arrest for a previous killing of a lumad datu, Jimmy Liguyon, in front of his small children.
The Save Our Schools (SOS) network said attacks on indigenous schools in Mindanao have increased following then assumption of Duterte. The tough talking leader has close links to restive indigenous groups fighting against the entry of big mining firms and plantations into their ancestral lands.
In the areas around Duterte’s home city of Davao, teachers were forced to close down some schools because of death threats, according to SOS executive director Rius Valle.
He said paramilitary forces trained and supervised by military officials were hunting the teachers in the Pacquibato district of Davao City.
“They documented attempts to kill them,” Valle said in an interview.”The two teachers had to close down the school and seek sanctuary in Davao City.”
After the Paquibato incident, which happened just before Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona), paramilitary troops also killed the leader of a parents’ association in a lumad school on the outskirts of Davao City. The community in the area have a long running feud with religious leader Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a known supporter and friend of Duterte.
On August 13, six men, riding in tandem on three motorcycles, also strafed a group of lumad in Barangay Zillovia, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur. A woman, shot in the chest, had to be placed under intensive care.
The victims are indigenous claimants to land now covered by an forestry agreement granted to Provident Tree Farms, INc.
The RMP said the incident is connected to an earlier series of attacks, including the murder of Datu Mansulbadan, the former supreme datu of the Manobo community in the area.
Four other Manobo — including a 13-year old boy — who were the apparent target of the gunmen suffered less serious injuries. The attack also prompted an evacuation of residents.
PH leaders ignore cost of ‘development’ on social margins
(First of 4 parts)
As the Philippines rolls out the red carpet for leaders of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation member-states, its own indigenous peoples are in the spotlight as advocacy groups worldwide ponder how to stop “development” from bulldozing society’s margins.
A decades-long battle for the rich earth and the minerals beneath lies at the root of the upsurge in conflict across a huge swathe of Mindanao’s heartland in southern Philippines.
At the center are the Lumad, non-Muslim indigenous peoples. The Lumad, with a population estimated at 7 million, have fought for centuries against new migrants, retreating in the face of superior arms and socially engineered influx.
On the last frontiers of the Philippines’ “island of promise,” they are making their last, fierce, desperate stand against government-approved mining operations and plantations.
Above them are crags unfit for the cultivation of food. Below them are the teeming urban centers that annually reap the deadly harvest of runaway development. Around them, armed groups of all stripes, battling for their hearts and minds.
Of the more than 60 indigenous folk killed under the Aquino administration, 53 are lumad, from the last parcels of pristine highlands that are targets of applications for mines and plantations.
The Philippine government largely frames the Lumad problem as an offshoot of Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency. Peace and social welfare national executives fret over the ballooning number of Lumad evacuees but are mum on the causes of displacement.
There have been 14 victims of four massacres. Four of the slain were minors, according to the human rights group Karapatan.
Throw in Lumad advocates, rights workers and environmental activists and the number of extra-judicial killings in Mindanao jumps to 144.
Joan Carling, secretary-general of the Thailand-based Asia Indigenous People’s Pact (AIPP), says at least 13 Lumad, indigenous peoples of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, have been killed this year — four every three months — by either state soldiers or paramilitary troops.
Forty thousand people, more than half of them minors, have been displaced by military and paramilitary operations. There have been 188 attacks on schools, hundreds of reported cases of harassment, including and arbitrary detentions, illegal arrests and torture, with children among the victims. Around 8,000 Lumad are now in evacuation camps. Read: Children are war targets in PH’s last frontiers
These grim figures barely hint at the real cost of the war for occupation of the indigenous people’s lands.
From 46,000 to 50,000 government troops – 55 battalions, excluding engineering and intelligence units and those involved in civilian-military relations – are stationed in Mindanao.
The AFP, after decades of officially taking a back seat to the Philippine National Police (PNP) on matters of internal security, have taken the helm once more in the last phase of President Aquino’s term.
Their official goal: to break the backbone of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army.
Under the Whole of Nation approach, lifted right out of the US Special Forces’ manual of operations, almost the entire civilian bureaucracy has subsumed the delivery of basic services to fit the military agenda.
In the last year of Mr. Aquino’s rule, Mindanao’s landscape looks no different from the war laboratories under the Marcos dictatorship or his scorned predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Military officials alternate between calling the victims of rights violations rebels and claiming the killings are an offshoot of a tribal war between anti-communist and pro-communist rebels. To an economist and consultant of the AFP’s pacification campaign, any lumad killed must be considered an NPA rebel.
The national government’s peace and social welfare executives fret at the “unsanitary” conditions of the Lumad evacuation camps and the presence of children. But they remain silent on the cause of evacuations.
Lumad have thumbed down the solution broached by the social welfare secretary– resettlement – saying this comes straight from the playbook of those out to take their lands. Read: Lumad nix resettlement
Birds of prey
Mr. Aquino pledged to overturn or “straighten” the errors of the Arroyo administration. Yet his government has adopted his predecessor’s vision of turning one of Mindanao’s most impoverished and conflict-prone region into Asia’s mining capital.
To the embattled lumad, the main difference is that even more land now is controlled by big corporations.
Mining concessions sprawl across more than 500,000 hectares of Mindanao. Eighty percent of these mines are on lumad lands. Plantations account for 700,000 hectares, 12% of the island’s agricultural land. A million hectares more are up for grabs.
Areas that seldom experienced floods in the past now annually suffer deaths in the thousands, with huge boulders and felled logs crashing down into entire townships.
In the Caraga province of Surigao del Sur, reports of violence against the Lumad happen in the areas of the fiercest resistance to mines and plantations.
“In the last three years, every time the soldiers come to our villages, they always demand that Mapasu, our organization, gives up its resistance against mining,” according to Michelle Campos, daughter of slain Lianga Lumad leader Dionel Campos.
Michelle also lost a mentor on the same day her father died. Emerito Samarca, the head teacher of Alcadev, an award-winning Lumad alternative school, was found dead in the school’s main building on September 1. Campos killers’ had held him back as they forced students and teachers out of the compound.
Mapasu means “persevering struggle for the next generation” in English. The 22 communities under it are among the last holdouts against mining and plantation concessions in the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley complex.
The Andap Valley, which sprawls across nine municipalities, hosts the biggest remaining coal block reserve in the world. It is also rich in gold ore.
More than 6,200 hectares in Lianga are counted in the blocs of approved mining applications for mineral production sharing under Philex Gold Philippines Inc. and Rosario Mining Development Co., Rosario Consolidated Mining Corporation, and Sta.Irene Mining Corporation.
Philex, is known to have caused the Philippines’ historically largest mine disaster in its mining project in Padcal, Benguet.
Another mining giant, Benguet Corp also has a coal contract that includes Lianga, aside from Marihatag and San Miguel towns.
Aside from Surigao del Sur, the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Sur are also rich in coal, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. The Department of Energy has given the green light to the establishment of coal plants in Surigao del Sur.
Rich earth, poor folk
The Mapasu community around Alcadev was famed for its self-sufficiency, which came courtesy of the counsel of Samarca and fellow agriculturists.
The school’s 16-hectare compound produces enough crops to feed more than a hundred boarding students and teachers the whole year round. Two other farms, including a village cooperative, produce the surplus that have allowed Lumad to start livelihood in crafts.
The Lianga Lumad have trained a big number of indigenous health workers who volunteer in remote communities that have never seen government medical units. They even sent relief volunteers to provinces hit by super typhoon Haiyan, bringing food from their farms.
Yet that model has always been under siege. Mapasu has paid a high price for its independence and resistance. On Oct. 24 last year, Campos’ predecessor, Henry Alameda, was killed, also in front of his child.
One of the paramilitary men identified in Alameda’s killing surfaced in the aftermath of Campos’ death at a press briefing inside the AFP’s headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.
Malacanang’s national security cluster also hosted a gathering for bloggers to present Belandres and three other pro-government datus.
Belandres blamed communist rebels for the Lianga massacre. The ex-rebel, who admitted having killed former comrades, demanded that Mapasu turnover its “communist datus” for an “internal Lumad peace pact” so that indigenous peoples could live in peace again.
Yet Belandres does not distinguish between the NPA and civilians, insisting supporters fall under the category of combatants.
When bloggers raised the possibility of Mapasu members standing firm against the entry of mining firms, Belandres called it a communist ploy.
The other pro-military datus in the gathering echoed the message repeatedly heard by Michelle: Mining is good for development and only communists would refuse that. A senior AFP commander in Mindanao also complained to an international human rights worker about stubborn Lumad who do not see the benefits mining firms can give to their communities.
There is little doubt that the Andap Valley hosts communist rebels. A study by a church group in the1980s said a loose alliance between the NPA and Lumad was able to limit the entry of extractive activities and logging concerns.
Some timber concessions remain in the Andap Valley but Lumad resistance – strengthened by rebel presence – have kept their gold, copper, chromite and coal reserves intact.
Now plantations are making greater inroads into the area. Belandres said his group has asked the government to reward them with livelihood – rubber and palm oil plantations.
Palm oil plantations of Filipinas Palm Plantation Incorporated (FPPI); Agusan Plantation Inc. (API); Dole-Philippines & Sumitomo Fruits (SUMIFRU) already cover almost 15,000 hectares in Caraga.
The new anti-plantation alliance, REAP, says oil palm plantations have doubled their spread in Mindanao from 23,478 hectares to 42,731 hectares in the last 10 years.
Rubber plantations expanded threefold, from 81,667 hectares in 2005 to 214,314.6 hectares by 2014.
On paper, Caraga is a “model for development.” It has eight wood-based companies and15 hydropower projects. It hosts 23 of the country’s 48 large operating mines — 20 nickel mines, 2 gold mines, 1 chromite mine and 1 cement quarry.
Kalikasan reports that seven percent of the region’s land area is covered by mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA). The government has also granted 23 existing exploration permits. Thirty applications are pending for production sharing agreements.
Yet, the indigenous populations earlier displaced by existing mining concerns remain on the margins. They make do with seasonal work while struggling with damage to the environment and the loss of their culture — supplanted by the politics of patronage imposed by government and big business.
Those who labor to present an alternative to the government’s approved models, in turn, find themselves facing the barrels of its guns. (Next: Bai Bibi’s long fight to protect Mindanao’s heart)
As the Manilakbayan, the Lumad protest caravan, crossed the waters to Luzon today, students and teachers of another school for indigenous children in Bukidnon fled after a village official padlocked the institution.
“Get out. We don’t want you to be victims,” White Culaman barangay captain Felipe Cabugnason told the teachers after breaching a portion of the wall around the boarding school in Kitaotao town.
His band also confiscated cell phones of students and teachers, taking SIM cards to ensure no documentation of the incident. Some went undetected.
Cabugnason’s move followed a warning from the Kitaotao local government and the Department of Education that he does not have the power to close schools.
Reporters received a text for help mid-morning. Teacher Evelyn Cabangal’s mobile phone was answered by a man claiming to be Juan Canotan, a parent of a student at the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in Sitio Dao.
He confirmed the barangay captain had arrived but said no demolition was happening, pending negotiations.
Later, however, Junance Magbanua, administrative staff of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc (MISFI), which operates the school, said the man on the phone was actually Cabugnason.
Cabugnason, who had earlier threatened to close the school, was in the company of several men carrying crowbars and other heavy tools, Magbanua said.
In a phone interview, Magbanua said she and 20 students, three teachers and another child had no choice but to evacuate Dao, taking the school’s livestock. The trek to Arakan, North Cotabato takes three hours.
(UPDATE: at just past 4 pm, Magbanua said the group had reached the highway and managed to get a ride to Arakan. She added that Cabangal had managed to reclaim her phone.)
When they left, the school was still standing, Magbanua said.
“But I’m afraid they will demolish or burn it down now,” she added.
The school is named for an Italian missionary murdered by paramilitary forces in October 2011. Some of those identified as his killers are reportedly under the protection of a legislator, Nancy Catamco, who ironically heads the committee for indigenous peoples in the House of Representatives.
Magbanua said she responded to a call for help from the school. She arrived around 10 am and saw children crying as men broke down the school fence. Three of men sported haircuts and bearings of soldiers but were in civilian clothes, she added.
It is not the first attack on the village.
Tension gripped White Culaman last month when 200 government troops swooped in to arrest 13 leaders of lumad organizations.
The military accused the Lumad of being communist rebels. But a trial court in Bukidnon threw out the case and ordered all 13 Lumad released.
During that same operation, villagers told a fact-finding mission, soldiers threatened to burn down their school.
(UPDATE) Arakan’s assistant parish priest Fr. Peter Geremia is a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. He has survived several assassination attempts. He called the attack in White Culaman as an insult to the memory of Tentorio and everyone who has helped Mindanao’s indigenous peoples.
Attacks against lumad schools are always accompanied by military claims that these institutions – often the only ones accessible to lumad children – are both training grounds for future guerrillas and logistics hub for communist rebels.
The barangay captain would later write MISFI, ordering it to voluntarily close the school or face demolition.
The Kitaotao local government itself and the Department of Education warned him, saying such action was beyond his authority.
But only this summer, the barangay captain spoke at the school’s moving up ceremony, praising its role in the education of Lumad children. It was after the military arrived that Cabugnason had a change of heart, teachers at the school said earlier.
(UPDATE:) Captain Norman Tagros, 8th IB officer gave this convoluted denial to Davao Today.
Hindi po totoo na yung mga sundalo natin ang nagpasara ng school sa Sitio Dao sa Barangay White Culaman, itong Father Pops Tentorio Memorial School. Ang desisyon ay galing sa community, barangay council. We made the effort naman po na magkaroon ng isang mapayapang closure sa issue, we had a peace dialogue with the barangay councilo pero unfortunately di nakapunta ang taga misfi, sometime in the early part of October.
Very clear ang gusto ng community na ipasara ang school dahil sa posed na danger ng school dahil ginagawa daw itong tinutuluyan ng NPAs ang school. Ang alam namin nakapagpadala rin ng sulat ang barangay council at barangay kap Cabugnason sa DepEd.
Queried about the DepEd saying Cabugnason had no authority to close the school, the military officer said:
Regarding that matter we’re still looking into it. Ang gusto lang natin, yung Bayanihan team natin (AFP teams) nandun para magkaron ng peaceful, para maiwasan ang kaguluhan, para mabigyan ng security ang community, kasi ilang beses na ring inatake ang community ng NPA dahil sa defiance nila, sa pag-aaklas nila.
Daan lang sana tayo sa mapayapang pamamaraan. Yun nga kanina nagdecide na ang mga tao, karapatan naman po nila yun community nila yun. Di totoong dinemolish at walang sundalo na nandun. Antay pa namin ang details about that (sa mga nasirang cyclone wire).. I believe hindi totoong ganun ang nangyari kasi kung ganon na may pananakot siguradong makikialam ang mga sundalo sa pagpapasara ng schools. Sitio Dao is roughly 3 kilometers from the center of Barangay White Culaman, di totoong may pananakot.
The Manilakbayan caravan arrives in Manila Monday to highlight the killings of Lumad defending ancestral lands from the encroachment of mining and plantation firms.
Fifty-six of the 71 indigenous peoples killed under President Benigno Simeon Aquino administration are lumad. Of the 56, a dozen were minors, according to records of the human rights watchdog Karapatan.
More than 40,000 Lumad – half of them children — have been forcibly displaced by joint operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the more than 20 paramilitary groups, some of which are being underwritten by mining companies.
Save Our Schools network has recorded 233 cases of human rights violation against Lumad children.
Nine of ten Lumad children have no access to schooling. And yet the government has ordered the closure of three lumad school networks, affecting more than a thousand students.
North Cotabato 2nd district Rep. Nancy Catamco calls herself a “Diwata” — a goddess — of Mindanao’s lumad peoples. On Facebook, her press releases rhapsodise about how people love her, weep to see her.
To the threatened indigenous people of Davao del Norte and surrounding provinces, however, Catamco is a traitor. The chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Indigenous Peoples, Catamco, has launched a unique campaign to “rescue” internal refugees — by delivering them to their tormentors.
Catamco, cops, and the Alamara paramilitary group stormed on July 23 the Haran Mission House in Davao City of United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP).
The sprawling compound has served for 21 years as sanctuary for lumad fleeing military abuses in Talaingod and Kapalong towns, Davao del Norte.
Fifteen refugees were hurt when truncheon-wielding cops forced down the gate of the UCCP Haran compound and destroyed the temporary shelters of IP folk. Lumad resistance and the intervention of Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte prevented greater violence.
WATCH VIDEO: Catamco instigates police attack on lumad refugees (with permission by kilab Multimedia Productions)
Catamco was in the thick of the disturbance, the third incident since she started visiting lumad refugees, on invitation of the Save Our Schools network.
The UCCP bishops condemned “the illegal and violent conduct,” including the “brutal” beating of pastors by cops with truncheons and steel shields.
“We are outraged at this show of excessive force more so because the PNP did not have any warrant to enter and search the Church facility, which is a private property,” the UCCP said at a pressconference.
Church leaders accused Catamco of failing to heed the demands of the Ata-Manobo for an end to military presence near their schools and homes.
She even came with the Alamara, a para-military group whose existence she earlier dismissed.
No less than the refugee parents of the Alamara forces confirmed their identities and affiliation. Among the Alamara members was Perut Malibato of Sitio Patel, Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte.
It was a tearful reunion between Perut and his parents, Celia and Anayak, and younger brother, Alvin.
Refugee leaders allowed Perut to talk with his family. He tried to convince them to return. They refused, reiterating the condition that earlier angered Catamco – they would return only if systems of reforms guarantee a halt to military abuses.
On her first visit, lumad – thinking Catamco was an ally of militant lawmakers who had publicized their plight – gave her a warm welcome.
The atmosphere turned stormy on the second day of dialogue, when she started insulting lumad leaders, demanding their immediate return to Talaingod and Kapalong.
WATCH VIDEO: YOU WANT TO DIE HERE?
Accusing Catamco and cops of bad faith, UCCP said: “Just a few hours prior to the violent incident, the Church facilitated a dialogue with DSWD and NCIP, and came up with resolutions that they would just attend to the needs of the women and children. But even while the resolution was being firmed out, the PNP terrorized the evacuees with their presence in full riot gear, the presence of paramilitary group ALAMARA, demolition team, fire trucks and military trucks, and then proceeded to destroy the gate and forcibly entered the church premises.”
The lumad and their supporters were ready for the storm because Catamco had earlier vowed she would make sure they returned to their mountain villages.
Her first encounter with the lumad at Haran was friendly. After a brief meeting in the company of Makabayan lawmakers, Catamco had promised to come back with officials of the Department of Social Word and Development, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Commission on Human Rights.
But she also arrived with Army generals, the very sector that lumad blame for their plight.
It was in the aftermath of that round when Catamco hurled her first vow to force the lumad back home — where members of their tribe had been murdered, arrested, ambushed and where soldiers have taken over the only schools that have served the needs of lumad children.
Catamco pretends these charges are being exaggerated. Well, WATCH THIS.
The incident happened last year, prompting an evacuation of lumad. Catamco berated the lumad for repeated evacuation. But the reason for that is, because the military has continued to harass schools and communities despite an agreement forged during a past dialogue.
Catamco, the diwata, loves to hear her voice and only her voice. When she doesn’t get her way immediately, she stages a tantrum. She threatens.
On Thursday, she acted on that threat. Tough luck for her, their travails have taught lumad the art of resistance. She was sent on her way, her goddess’ train limp between her legs.
Read more about THE LUMAD GODDESS BETRAYING HER OWN PEOPLE, as the lumad claim she did, on abs-cbnnews.com
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo simpered as she hailed as “hero” an officer called “the butcher” for his long record of human rights violations. His name: Jovito Palparan.
Under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, 470 political activists were killed by the state’s armed henchmen. They were either gunned down near their homes and place of work or arrested, tortured and then dumped somewhere. Some, like Jonas Burgos, remain missing.
In 2010, before he took his oath as President, Benigno Aquino III met with European ambassadors over the issue of human rights and vowed to bring “closure” to the one of the worst records for a democracy.
“Cases of extrajudicial killings need to be solved, not just identify the perpetrators but have them captured and sent to jail,” he told journalists after the meeting.
Mrs. Arroyo ruled for nine years. Mr. Aquino is entering the last of his six years in office.
Under the incumbent, the human rights group Karapatan has documented 262 incidents of extrajudicial killings and 292 victims of frustrated killings. Do the math.
Jonas’ mother, Edith, his wife and daughter, continue to look for him. One of the officers suspected of having a hand in his abduction – broad daylight, in a crowded Metro Manila mall – has just been appointed Army chief by Mr. Aquino.
Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año was among those charged by Mrs. Burgos for the abduction of Jonas. He was exonerated in what the family called a “whitewash.”
“I believe that at one point during Jonas’ disappearance, Año had custody of Jonas,” Mrs. Burgos stressed in a statement.
She warns that with Año’s appointment as army chief, “there is no hope at all that justice will be obtained for human rights crimes during the watch of Aquino.” Jonas’ mother adds,
I fear for defenders, victims and independent minded human rights workers. With so much power in the hands of a head of an Institution reputed to be a violator of human rights, we can only pray to the Lord Almighty to have mercy.
Like Mrs. Arroyo’s hero, Año’s record – latest as head of the 10th Infantry Division in Mindanao – is littered by a trail of allegations: extrajudicial killings, disappearances, illegal arrests, torture, hamletting and forcible exacuation of civilians, according to Karapatan. He probably accounts for a good share of the 60,000 persons displaced and dislocated due to military operations under Mr. Aquino’s administration.
Why is the son of democratic icons increasingly looking like his much-hated predecessor? There has been no halt to the killings of political dissidents (or journalists). There certainly has been no closure, despite the arrest of Palparan.
What has happened in the last few months is an upsurge in rights violations. Aside from killings, the stalking of activists has become more pronounced, more brazen, more deliberate and broader in scope.
Several members and officers of COURAGE, the labor federation of government workers, have asked the Supreme Court a writ of amparo.
“It is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security has been violated or is threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.”
Men going to their homes, or offices, accosting them on the streets, on public transportation – in most cases there is a note with a mobile phone number to call. In all cases, there is one message: We know your (legal) organization serves the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army. Your life is in danger. You cooperate with us, or else.
At the National Food Administration, security staff took in for questioning on April 21 a man with a gun. He was asking for the whereabouts of for Hilario M. Tan, retired NFA employee and former vice president of the National Food Authority Employees Association (NFAEA) and Evelyn P. Garcia, , NFA employee and national assistant secretary general of the organization.
The man claimed to be a Sgt. Borres, liaison officer of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). He could not produce a mission order for his gun. Why he was allowed to leave under these circumstances is a question the NFA should account for.
There are many other cases just in the summer of 2015. You can read about these here.
You’d think the filing of a writ of amparo petition in the Supreme Court would give harassers some pause.
What happened was the opposite.
Courage adviser and former deputy secretary-general Antonieta Setias-Dizon is among the petitioners. Twice this summer, a man had accosted her, making the same demand as those received by her peers.
Lately, Setias-Dizon documented the presence of a silver Toyota Innova vehicle always on her trail. The vehicle carries the plate number AAM 3129. More than one man are involved in what in military lingo is the surveillance.
That vehicle was parked near the Supreme Court when Setias-Dizon and company filed their petition. It followed her to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines National Office in Ortigas where she sought refuge. In what seems to be an escalating operation, the Inova was joined by a Red Pajero, another Toyota Innova and three Honda motorcycles.
I asked new Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon about the latest harassment case. His reply via Facebook:
Thanks for the alert… i had previously written to the AFP Human Rights Office about other reports of harassment of COURAGE leaders… BUT, this is a new development… will have the matter looked into as well… keep the faith!!! Press On
The CHR can monitor. It can issue statements and write letters. But it has no prosecutory powers. Still, if some former activists now in government can risk the ire of their touchy Boss, they would be doing the country a service.
Activists can be pesky for the powers-that-be. Their rallies could inconvenience commuters. But review their role in pushing for reforms: the legal victories leading to the rollback of power rates; the hue and cry and the petitions that led to the landmark SC victories against pork, both legislative (PDAF) and executive (DAP).
Most so-called democratic gains that Filipinos enjoy today were not gifts from the country’s powers. They were fruits of struggle. You let the silence of the grave blanket activists, you let darkness cover our society.