Vilification of activists, insidious form of human rights violation

“It’s not simply red tagging; the important aspect of it is it violates the freedom of expression, right to peaceful assembly and right to self determination among others. Such violation of these rights gives an impression that to resist or to dissent against tyranny, fight for genuine reform and to clamor for justice are wrong,” – Beverly Longid, Katribu Party-list.

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MANILA – When one talks about human rights violations, one usually refers to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, forcible displacements, indiscriminate firing at communities, and the like. But another form of human rights violation is emerging.

In a round table discussion held last Sept. 11, Rhoda Dalang, executive director of Dinteg or the Cordillera Indigenous People’s Legal Center , said political vilification of individuals and groups is not innocuous as it precedes grave attacks on people and their rights such as extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, political arrest and detention, among others.

Dalang said vilification of individuals and groups is a form of human rights violation committed by state security forces and government officials against political groups, communities, and individuals with the intent of spreading and promoting the belief that the targets of the vilification campaign are terrorists, enemies of the state or supporter or fronts of these to justify killing, abducting, or imprisoning them.

“Political vilification popularly known as red-baiting or labeling has assumed a different viciousness in the course of the US-sponsored war on terrorism,” Dalang said. “It has become more widespread, systematic and intense, with the red-labeling of individuals and groups as communist terrorists, terrorists, enemies of the state being applied similarly to both armed and unarmed political opposition groups.”

Dalang cited that former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions Prof. Philip Alston affirmed, in his report in 2007, the connection between the extrajudicial killings of activists, journalists, party-list leaders, human rights defenders to the systematic practice of public vilification by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Usually, he said, the victims were vilified first before being killed.

“He [Alston] reported in detail that the counterinsurgency strategy includes dismantling ‘fronts’ of the CPP-NPA-NDFP through a combination of public vilification and operational measures such as extrajudicial killings,” Dalang said. The widest form of vilification is the public showing of the AFP power point presentation ‘Knowing the Enemy’ where numerous organizations were listed as fronts of the Communist Part of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA) –National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Two foreign missionaries, both staunch advocates of indigenous peoples rights, were politically vilified before they were killed by suspected state security forces. Dutch missionary Willem Geertman, an anti-mining advocate, was accused of being a leader of the CPP and NPA by the 48th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, an Italian priest who helped in establishing 60 alternative learning schools for Lumad children in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato was also accused of being a member of the NPA.

Dalang said victims of vilification are those who are vocal in their opposition against anti-people policies of the government. The Cordillera People’s Alliance and the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp) were listed as front organizations of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and were included in the military’s power point presentation Knowing the Enemy and the 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army’s book Trinity of War.

National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) general secretary Rev. Fr. Rex Reyes said vilification goes beyond name–calling. “It can also be considered as a death sentence.” He said there is nothing wrong with being called a leftist but what is wrong is when the person is killed because he or she is part of the Left. “Vilifying and demonizing a person is vilifying and demonizing the work of God,” he said.

Dalang said Aquino’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan is “no different from Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya.” “In fact, it was proven to be more vicious in its two years of implementation. It’s different in name but the same in essence,” Dalang said.

Dalang cited the case of Sr. Stella Matutina, OSB, a staunch environmental defender, who was accused of being an NPA by the 28th and 67th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Eastern Mindanao. The same accusation also resulted in her arbitrary detention in 2009 where she and her three colleagues in Panalipdan Davao Oriental were detained in a barangay hall in Cateel town, Davao Oriental by elements of the 67th IBPA.

Just this August, Katribu Party-list second nominee and national vice president Genasque Enriquez was also charged with murder and frustrated murder after the military falsely accused him of participating in an armed clash between the NPA and the 8th IB in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur on July 21.

Dalang said these cases are enough bases for pursuing legal safeguards against political vilification.

“It’s not simply red tagging; the important aspect of it is it violates the freedom of expression, right to peaceful assembly and right to self determination among others. Such violation of these rights gives an impression that to resist or to dissent against tyranny, fight for genuine reform and to clamor for justice are wrong,” said Katribu Party-list first nominee Beverly Longid.

Some measures

Dinteg does not take the issue sitting down.

According to Dalang, Kamp and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Monitor-Ateneo Human Rights-Alternative Law Group submitted two shadow reports on political vilification to the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines by the United Nations Human Right Council (UNHRC) last June.

The group is also lobbying for the passage of a resolution in the House of Representatives with the title House Resolution Urging the House of Representatives to Condemn Vilification/ Labeling by Virtue of Religious, Political and Organizational Affiliation and Support the Recommendations of the UN Rapporteur Prof. Philip Alston to Arrest Future Incidents of Vilification. The said resolution was filed by Bayan Muna last March 6.

Meanwhile, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Commissioner Cecilia Quisumbing encouraged the groups to continue with the documentation of incidents of vilification. She said President Aquino should give attention to the incidents of vilification.

Meanwhile, Longid said the campaign against vilification should go beyond condemnation. “Let us file criminal cases against the perpetrators and even go to international courts,” said Longid.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), for one, has filed a civil case against Arroyo. UCCP general secretary Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza said that without using the words “political vilification” per se, their legal counsel argued that “the military establishment (just as what has also been done to a number of non religious militant organizations) had proceeded to falsely and maliciously identify UCCP and many of its church Pastors and church leaders, by and large, to be subversives and communists fronts, and that in the name of the so-called ‘national security’, they had to be ‘neutralized’ i.e. physically rooted out or eliminated from the body politic.” It is now pending at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court after the case has been filed on June 16, 2011. The UCCP was also named as front organization of the CPP-NPA-NDFP in the military’s Knowing the Enemy.

The round table discussion was held in partnership with the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL). Representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), the Government of the Philippines nominated section to the Human Rights-Joint Monitoring Committee and CHR attended the said discussion.

“Human rights is a result of the people’s struggle. Our rights are guaranteed by the law [but] it is our responsibility to restore it,” Reyes said. (

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