Cordi Honors Northern Luzon Rights Defenders

Seven lawyers, three nuns, two women, one bishop and one educator received the first Gawad Tanggol Karapatan, a tribute to human rights defenders by human rights organizations in Baguio City last week.

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat

BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) — Seven lawyers, three nuns, two women, one bishop and one educator received the first Gawad Tanggol Karapatan, a tribute to human rights defenders by human rights organizations here last week.

The tribute to human rights defenders included seven posthumous awards, which their families received.

The awarding ceremonies at the Charismatic Renewal Center (CRC) here was launched to honor and remember human rights lawyers and advocates in Northern Luzon with unparalleled contributions to assert and defend people’s rights from the time Martial Law was declared in 1972 up to the present.

“Remembering Martial Law is not forgetting the horror it has left in the people’s memory. It is but fitting to honor the defenders of human rights who have learned to subsume personal interest in the people’s interests,” Prof. Joanna K. Cariño said in her introduction of the Gawad Tanggol Karapatan.

Cariño is the founding chairperson of Cordillera Afong-Selda, an organization of former political detainees in the Cordillera. A detainee during the dark years of Martial Law, she fondly remembered those who paid her a surprise visit in Camp Olivas, among them Atty. Pablito Sanidad of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

Lawyers among the awardees

Sanidad is among the lawyer-awardees. Cordillera Human Rights Alliance Chair Reynaldo Cortes and retired regional trial court Judge Alberto Benesa also received awards. Slain lawyers David Bueno of Ilocos Norte and Romeo Astudillo of Abra and lawyers who succumbed to various ailments like Arthur Galace and Felix Cabading were also honored for their consistent vigilance against human rights violations even after Martial law has been lifted.

Sanidad and Cortes remain active in their work as human rights lawyers.

Bueno’s younger brother Rey, who received the posthumous award in behalf of the Bueno’s recalled how two motorcycle-riding men finished off his then 31-year old brother 20 years ago in Laoag City. Astudillo, also arrested and later detained with Benesa in 1985 in Bangued, Abra for their human rights lawyering, was gunned down in March 2003. Both killings have not been served justice.

Galace did not stop serving his clients up to the last day. He succumbed to diabetes-related complications in 1993.

Many told anecdotes about Benguet Provincial Prosecutor Felix Cabading, who, in 1994, ordered the release of eight detainees charged of illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions for lack of evidence. Among those he absolved and ordered release after a five-day detention at the Benguet Provincial Jail was playwright Bonifacio Ilagan, arrested with seven others in La Trinidad and brought to a motel, which served as a safe house.

Ilagan, also the occasion’s keynote speaker, presented the awards together with local presenters from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), Tongtongan ti Umili, Anakbayan-Metro Baguio and Interfaith Gathering for Truth and Accountability.

Human rights activists all

Other post-humus awardees included two nuns, Sr. Esperanza Quirino and Sr. Mary Anunciata Salamatin of the Religious of the Good Shepherd. Activists and convent personnel remember the two nuns as indefatigable and resourceful human rights advocates.

Also awarded are two other religious leaders, Bishop Emeritus Juan Marigza, UCCP and another nun, Sr. Aurora Dulay, ICM. In his acceptance speech Marigza recounted a mass action in the mining communities of Itogon where he confronted soldiers trying to block a throng of protesters from entering the open pit site in Barangay (village) Loacan.

Gawad Tanggol Karapatan also honored Mary Lou Felizco and Petra Macliing, both called “Mother” by younger colleagues.

Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) Chair Beverly Longid said the awards are also intended to instill in the youth the importance of knowing their history and learning from it. “It is important that they know the unsung heroes of Northern Luzon who resolutely fought state fascism and oppression under Martial Law, and who continue to fight today,” she said. Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat

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