“Today, we declare the verdict on the US-Aquino regime’s crimes against the Filipino people, its violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. For these crimes, we say, the US-Aquino regime is guilty.” — Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Guilty.
This is the verdict on President Aquino as Filipino activists commemorated International Human Rights Day in a protest action in Mendiola, Dec. 10.
“The witnesses are victims of human rights violations or their kin. Their testimonies are their own harrowing experiences under the US-Aquino regime. Today, we declare the verdict on the US-Aquino regime’s crime against the Filipino people, its violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. For these crimes, we say, the US-Aquino regime is guilty,” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said.
Protesters gathered at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila before marching to Mendiola. During the program, testimonies from human rights defenders and victims from all over the country were delivered, leading to the verdict of the people against Aquino.
Participants of the Manilakbayan, a caravan of the Mindanao people for social justice, were also among the contingents of the protesters. They assailed the continuing militarization and the absence of response from the Aquino government on their concerns.
Karapatan has documented 226 extrajudicial killings from July 2010 to November 2014. There are also 26 victims of enforced disappearances and 104 were tortured.
In his more than four years as president, Palabay said, Aquino has “done nothing but exaggerate the actions it has taken supposedly to address human rights violations; or ignore as baseless or propaganda the complaints of violations against his regime. He calls the people’s protests against human rights violations as heckling, hooliganism or vandalism.”
Human rights defenders under attack
Hanimay Suazo of Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region said there is no reason to celebrate the fact that the Philippine government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, since violations continue to this day.
Most of the victims, Suazo said, are human rights defenders and environmental advocates.
High-ranking military officials who have been previously charged in cases of human rights violations were deployed in Mindanao, she said, referring to Gen. Aurelio Baladad and Gen. Edgardo Ano, who are involved in the torture of the 43 community health workers in 2010 and the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos in 2007, respectively.
Lawyer Cathy Salucon of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said even human rights lawyers are also being subjected to harassment and surveillance. She also recounted the killing of William Bugatti, a paralegal.
“One too many victims; way too many violations. Yet so much elegant and fancy laws that have a disconnect with reality on the ground,” Edre Olalia, secretary general of NUPL, said.
In a statement, Jomorito Goaynon, spokesperson of Manilakbayan ng Mindanao, said, “It is revolting that extrajudicial killings, trumped up cases against activists, among others, continue despite the Philippine government being a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
With at least half of the forces of the military deployed in Mindanao, activists assailed that it has resulted to gross rights violations. Manilakbayan said there are at least 500 trumped up cases filed against activists while 166 schools have been subjected to attacks as teachers, students and parents are tagged as either members or supporters of the New People’s Army.
“We want notebooks and ballpens, not attacks on our schools,” Divina Pogkot, a student and a participant of the Manilakbayan, said during the program.
Goaynon said that instead of addressing their demands, “the Aquino government has remained stubborn in hearing the cries of the Mindanaoans. Since the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao contingent reached Manila last Nov. 21, after a 14-day journey from Mindanao, the Aquino government has not bothered to address the said demands.”
Not for the people’s benefit
During the program, protesters assailed various projects being implemented by the Aquino government, saying this would not benefit the people.
Glacy Macabale of the Save the Bay Alliance said at least 26,000 hectares are to be subjected to a reclamation project in the National Capital Region and neighboring provinces alone. In this project, she added, casinos and other high-rise buildings would be constructed for the benefit of capitalists while ordinary people would be displaced from their homes and livelihoods.
Cristina Lanatao, a survivor of Typhoon Pablo, said her community has yet to receive help from the government two years since the typhoon.
“Where are the funds?” Lanatao asked during the program.
Pastor Pio Mercado of Caraga Watch said foreign large-scale mining has intensified under the Aquino administration. The military, he added, are being deployed in communities not to protect the people but big mining companies and foreign-owned plantations.
This, Pastor Mercado said, has resulted to displacing of peasants and indigenous peoples from their ancestral domains and livelihoods.
“We are not only adjudging Aquino but the entire rotten system that perpetuates such scenarios,” Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bayan, said.