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Volume III,  Number 43              November 30 - December 6, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Bulatlat.com Special Report ON HUMAN RIGHTS

Human Rights Violations in the Philippines:
A Grim Reality

Baby Gabriela Llesis would be 10 months old by Dec. 19. She would also be 10 months in prison by then. Baby Gabriela has a hole in her heart and a mass growing on her liver. Yet she and her mother Zenaida, charged by the government as a New People’s Army guerrilla, continue to be incarcerated because of government’s intolerance of defiance. Baby Gabriela represents the thousands of innocent victims of human rights violations under the Macapagal-Arroyo government, which would rather make those who view society differently pay than be heard.

BY Dabet Castañeda

According to the report of the human rights alliance Karapatan (or Movement for the Advancement of Human Rights), a total of 2,461 cases of human rights violation cases have been documented from January 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power, to November this year.  

Karapatan breaks down the number of victims as: 169,530 individuals, 18, 515 families, 196 households, and 71 communities.

 One person, it says, is killed every three days under the Macapagal-Arroyo government or a total of 271 persons.

Meanwhile, 58 others have either been victims of enforced disappearance or abduction. At least 1,070 persons have been unjustly arrested.

The most striking in this record is how human rights defenders, which include human rights activists, journalists and militant leaders, are themselves being victimized.  

Zenaida Llesis and baby Gabriela

Photo courtesy of Karapatan

Thus, when the Macapagal-Arroyo government commemorates the 54th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10 this year, it would be that of a puppet moving its lips, without the sentiment or passion to protect the people, human rights activists say.

Policy of terrorism

Although the administration pays lip service to the promotion of human rights, its policy of terrorism is primarily directed against militant organizations and individuals who it believes are colluding with, sympathizing and/or supporting the NPA which has been waging an armed revolution since 1969.

In remote areas of Cagayan, a province north of Manila, military and paramilitary forces would barge into houses in remote villages in the middle of the night and ask, “Sino’ng myembro ng Bayan Muna dito?” (Who are members of Bayan Muna here?)

Bayan Muna (People First) is a progressive political group known to be critical of the government. Its members are branded as leftists or, worse, terrorists by military. 

Such is a regular fare throughout the country. Members of legal organizations are hunted down, arrested, tortured or even killed. Some have been abducted and are missing to this day. 

The Macapagal-Arroyo government shows its intolerance of organizations which argue for fundamental changes.  Since 2001, 38 Bayan Muna leaders and organizers have been killed, some in such brutal manners obviously meant to drive home a point.

Defenders as victims

Defenders of human rights have found themselves at the end of the line, too.  Under the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency, 10 members of Karapatan have been directly targeted and killed.  Two of its leaders, Benjaline Hernandez (deputy secretary for southern Mindanao), and Eden Marcellana (secretary general for Southern Tagalog), were killed while conducting investigations on complaints of human rights violations in their respective areas.    

On the other hand, media people who practice their right to freedom of expression have also found themselves under close military surveillance.  Those who are critical 

Funeral of human rights leader Eden Marcellana at the UP Chapel last April

of government policies or have decided to get the opposition’s side of the story are either berated in public, such as in the case of GMA 7’s Tina Panganiban Perez who interviewed Sen. Gregorio Honasan, or permanently silenced, such as radio commentator Jun Pala who raved against Davao’s death squads.  This year, six media practitioners have been killed bringing to 13 the total number of journalists killed under Macapagal-Arroyo. 

Women and children have not been spared either. 

In a recent report from Cagayan Valley, two female youths tagged as members of the NPA are being held by the 52nd and 53rd Infantry Battalion under the command of a Col. Rosete of the 502nd Brigade. Joana Marie Anacan, 19, and Jasmin Abaoag, 20, together with three others were captured by the said unit after an alleged encounter between the NPA and the soldiers on Nov. 10 in Maddela, Quirino, a Karapatan report said.

Joana was reportedly hit on her hips and, despite her wound, is languishing in a military hospital in the province while Jasmin was held in solitary confinement for three days before she was allowed to receive visitors.

Meanwhile, the Macapagal-Arroyo administration has kept 13 women in detention, two of whom were arrested with their children in February of this year. Another gave birth while in jail. All are still incarcerated with their infants. 

Five women political detainees have reportedly been raped by their military captors. 


The administration also accounts for 19 cases of massacre affecting 81 individuals.  Victims are mostly civilians and to escape liability, incidents of massacre are often dismissed by the military as “legitimate military encounter”.

One such incident claimed the lives of an unarmed peasant family in April of this year.  Two toddlers aged three and one, and their pregnant mother were killed in a massacre right in their own home by military intelligence groups and special forces units. 


State-sponsored involuntary disappearances persist. Most victims are political activists, community organizers, dissenters and suspected members or sympathizers of rebel groups.

Described as the worst form of human rights violation, the number of involuntary disappearance and abduction cases has alarmingly increased, with a total of 43 cases recorded under the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency, involving 58 individuals.

This number brings to 1,624 the long list of desaparecidos in the Philippines since the Marcos dictatorship.

Some of the most prominent cases occurred when the president declared a “state of lawlessness” in key cities of Mindanao and several persons belonging to Muslim communities have “disappeared” after being tagged as culprits in the Sasa warf bombing in Davao City. 

Last April 5, Abdullah Ala, 47, was reportedly abducted by armed and masked men while buying a welding rod at a hardware in the village.  The police had denied a hand in the abduction of Abdullah. But after his kidnapping, five more men, all of them Muslims, were abducted in much the same way. None of them has surfaced.  


In less than three years of the Macapagal-Arroyo government, there are 98 documented cases of torture affecting 150 individuals.

Unspeakable pain and inhuman treatment by their military captors have caused the death of four community organizers of Anak ng Bayan (Children of the People), of the activist youth organization and political party. The four were abducted and killed on Sept. 23, in Compostela Valley in Southern Minanao. 

The Karapatan report reads, “Official medical investigation showed their bodies to have bruises all over, their faces covered with masking tape with their tongues sticking out, their eyes wide open and their necks with deep rope marks.”

Some accounts say the 18-year old girl was raped before she was killed. 

Political Detention

Presently, there are 330 documented political prisoners in the Philippines. Most of them are poor peasants suspected of being members or supporters of the NPA. 

Eighteen of them are minors, five of whom are 12 years old and below when arrested. Jason Pegoria, a native of Leyte (a province in the eastern part of the Visayas region) was only 12 when picked up on allegations that he was a member of the NPA. 

Though arrested because on their political beliefs, most of the detainees are charged with or convicted of criminal offenses.  This criminal charges further violate the rights of the prisoners as they are publicly branded as murderers or thieves.

Meanwhile, 22 political prisoners docketed in various jails in the country have been ordered for release by Arroyo but are still in jail to this day. 


The counter insurgency and anti-terrorism campaigns of the government have resulted in massive displacement of entire families and communities, particularly in Mindanao, affecting Lumads, Moros and Christians alike.

The large-scale deployment of military troops in Southern Tagalog has also caused thousands to flee their homes. In Oriental Mindoro alone, where the displacement of 30 families and 167 individuals has been recorded, nine AFP battalions are currently deployed.

Documentation from regional centers of Karapatan shows that there are 137 cases of forced evacuation affecting a whopping 111,605 individuals; 103 cases of destruction of properties and 135 cases of divestment of properties.

Even places of worship of Muslims in Mindanao have become open targets by the military.  To date, there are two cases of desecration of the place of worship hurting three individuals.

In urban centers, there have been rampant violent demolitions of urban poor communities including stalls of street vendors.  The Metro Manila Development Authority, chaired by Bayani Fernando, is tasked to do the demolition jobs.  In one incident, a member of this agency who is supposed to be unarmed killed a street vendor. 

To date, there are three cases of demolition affecting 70 families consisting of 200 individuals. 


Karapatan Secretary General Marie Hilao-Enriquez has described the human rights situation as alarming.

A veteran activist since the martial law years, Hilao-Enriquez said the situation today is “reminiscent of the Marcos fascist rule where human rights violations were rampant and openly done.”  

What is more bothersome, she said, was that “nobody in the military or the police force is held accountable for the violations.  Worse, the violators are being cuddled by the president.” 

She was referring to Col. Jovito Palparan who, after being implicated in the killings of activists in Mindoro Oriental, was promoted to one -star general and now heads the 2nd Infantry Division in Rizal.

Meanwhile, a battalion commander in Leyte was given a scholarship grant in the United States after being implicated in the massacre of a peasant family in the said province.  Despite the incident, Arroyo sent Lt. Col. Oscar Lactao to the Command Staff Course scholarship grant in Fort Leavenworth.

“We do not expect the government to publicly announce the policy on state terrorism,” Hilao-Enriquez told Bulatlat.com. “Even during the time of the dictatorship, Marcos denied all accusations of human rights violations or any policy consenting that matter. But the number of victims and the manner in which they were killed, tortured or disappeared have proven that Marcos had no respect for human rights.”

Even more disturbing, she said, is the fact that the Macapagal-Arroyo government was catapulted to power by an Edsa uprising. For her to so easily turn her back to her promises at the start of her administration illustrates the kind of presidency she had implemented and the kind she would continue to implement beyond 2004. Bulatlat.com

*Statistics and data compiled by Karapatan and the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace

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