Statement of CHR Spokesperson, Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the violent attacks and unlawful harrassment against human rights defenders in the country

Statement of CHR Spokesperson, Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the violent attacks and unlawful harrassment against human rights defenders in the country

In less than two months’ time in 2020, an alarming series of attacks against human rights defenders in the Philippines has been linked to elements of the government. The Commission on Human Rights is gravely concerned about the patterns of harassments directed towards progressive individuals working with peoples organisations in the country.

On 19 January 2020, peasant organisers Emerito Pinza and Romy Candor went missing in Brgy. San Antonio, Kalayaan, Laguna. Human rights groups reported that suspected elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Mobile Force Battalion 4A were involved in the killing.

On 03 February 2020, indigenous people leader-organiser Jay-ar Mercado of Oriental Mindoro was violently killed by alleged members of the 4th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. His remains were found buried in Bulalacao without the consent and knowledge of his family.

In Western Mindanao, Engr. Jennifer Agohob, a resident of Oroquieta City and member of the Union of People’s Lawyer in Mindanao (UPLM) and Karapatan, was illegally arrested on 05 February 2020 on the basis of a warrant of arrest for murder issued on 26 July 2019 by Judge Victoriano Lacaya, Jr. of Regional Trial Court Branch in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte. Agohob was not made aware of any of these complaints.

Just yesterday morning, 07 February 2020, five activists were illegally arrested in simultaneous raids in Tacaloban City including staff of political party Bayan and peasants’ organisation SAGUPA; spokesperson of People’s Surge Network; a staff member of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines; and the Executive Director of Eastern Vista. The raids were launched by the Philippine National Police (PNP) officers led by Lt. Col. Pedere. All activists were charged with “illegal possession of firearms” and remain detained at the Palo PNP station.

The judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest and criminalisation of human rights defenders should be a key area of concern of the people and should never be tolerated. Some government officials have tried to connect human rights defenders with communist groups and terrorist organisations among others to pursue a politically motivated defamation campaign against them.

The Commission on Human Rights calls on the government to end immediately all forms of violations against human rights defenders, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. We also demand the authorities to recognise the legitimacy and importance of their work and to cease stigmatisation of these individuals which could incite perpetrators to act against them.

We cannot further reiterate that the State should develop protection mechanisms that support and safeguard our human rights defenders, particularly those who are facing high risks such as individuals working for indigenous people’s rights, land, and environmental concerns; journalists; and women human rights defenders.

Furthermore, the government must strengthen its witness protection mechanisms to inspire confidence and encourage victims and witnesses to provide testimony without fear of reprisals to facilitate proper investigation of the case and hold perpetrators accountable to mitigate impunity.

With the intensified implementation of Executive Order No. 70 to combat insurgency in the country, we petition the government to rescind the policy as it has been consistently used to justify threats and intimidation of individuals and organisations working for the improvement of the human rights and welfare of various marginalised, disadvantaged, and vulnerable sectors of society.

The Commission for its part has dispatched investigation teams to seek truth in these cases of human rights abuses.###