By JOAN GARCIA
CANDON, Ilocos Sur — The 3rd Regional Assembly of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA-Karapatan) paved the way for the different sectors of the region to unite and strengthen their resolve in fighting for their rights.
For the people of Ilocos, especially for the farmers and fisher folks, life is tougher than ever. Coming all the way from Agoo, La Union, Manang Billy of the TimpuyogDagitiManggalap ken Mannaloniti La Union (Timek) attended the assembly in the hope of seeking support for the scrapping or RA 8550.
Republic Act 8550 or The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 has been a big obstacle in the livelihood of the fisher folks of La Union and Pangasinan. RA 8550 sets provincial and municipal boundaries in the ocean thus, limiting access to small fishing boats. The municipal boundaries are guarded by the Public Order and Safety Office (POSO) in cooperation with the local Philippine National Police (PNP).
Those who are caught crossing the boundaries are detained like the San Nicolas West 22 last July 2009. The San Nicolas West 22 were detained for two weeks on the charge of dynamite fishing even if there was no evidence of such. Their catch, three fishing boats and nets were also confiscated by the PNP. Although they were already released, their belongings were not returned to them. The cheapest fishing boat costs around P30,000.
In Ilocos Sur, the situation of the farmers is no different from those of fisher folks.
The military presence in several barangays (villages) of the 2nd district of Ilocos Sur has restricted the economic activities of the residents. The residents cannot attend to their crops early in the morning and could not stay late anymore. The families who earn money by selling firewood can no longer collect wood in the nearby mountains fearing that they might be accused by the military of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Since the entry of the 86th and 50th Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army in the towns of Salcedo, Galimuyod, Sta. Lucia, and some villages of Candon in August this year, two farmers have been killed and were eventually tagged as members of the NPA.
According to Rod Tajon, secretary general of the IHRA-Karapatan, “The 3rd Regional Assembly is of great importance because we continue to experience human rights violations. Two farmers were mercilessly killed in a span of two months. Communities are under heavy military operations. The people’s unity and desire to end militarization and human rights violations are well reflected in the success of the activity attended by more than 200 individuals.”
EddieMar Agustin, who came from Piddig, Ilocos Norte, and a member of Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop Exploitation) travelled for almost four hours to attend the assembly because he wants to “be a part of the protection of human rights”.
“I learned that we should all unite so that we would not be afraid in fighting for our rights. For everyone who came to attend the assembly, I hope that our advocacy would not be limited to us, rather, we should encourage the people from our communities in fighting for human rights. It is in our unity that we can achieve freedom,” said Agustin.
Girlie Padilla, secretary general of the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP) was the keynote speaker of the assembly. According to Padilla, the work of defending human rights is a tough and dangerous job. During the Arroyo regime, there were 475 victims of extra-judicial killings, 68 enforced disappearances and 578 illegal arrests of human rights defenders. Among the victims of extra-judicial killings, 35 are members or officials of KARAPATAN, while three are victims of enforced disappearances and 53 are illegally arrested.
Aside from the constant threat to their lives, human rights defenders also have to deal with insufficient resources and lack of lawyers. “Nonetheless, we are not weakened by these limitations and threats, we remain steadfast, that is why we are delighted that on this day, many of our human rights defenders and advocates are present”, Padilla said.
The assembly was held at the Candon Civic Centerlase on Dec. 9.
Despite organizational setbacks due to lack of volunteers and former officers assuming other tasks in the past years, IHRA has exerted its best efforts to lead campaigns against state terrorism.
In the report of Rod Tajon, Secretary-General of IHRA-KARAPATAN, there were 3 extra-judicial killings in the region in 2005- Albert Teredaño, PepeManegdeg and Romy Sanchez. In 2006, there were 14 victims of frustrated murder. Aside from these, in the period 2005-2006, the Oplan Bantay Laya was implemented in the region. The Ilocos Sur District 1 towns experienced widespread recruitment in the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and was heavily militarized.
Starting in 2007, the trend of harassment to regional mass leaders started. In 2008, the second district of Ilocos Sur became militarized with the implementation of Oplan Amihan by the Northern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). On that same year, the AFP announced that the insurgency has been quashed in Ilocos Sur.
The IHRA did not waver in the campaign for justice for human rights, especially during the height of human rights violations in the region.
Documentation trainings were given to member organizations and communities in 2007 until 2008. During the investigation conducted by Prof. Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, and Arbitrary Killings, in 2007, the IHRA was one of the groups that provided testimonies.
In 2009, the IHRA spearheaded the creation of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center- Ilocos in recognition of the need to give special attention to children victims of human rights. Psycho-social trainings were given to children’s rights advocates in preparation for the workshops that were conducted for the children victims.
According to Tajon, “Although there have been many hurdles such as the constant threats and harassments against IHRA members, the IHRA remained as the primary voice of the Ilocos people with regards to the protection of their rights”.