By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Days before President Aquino delivers his final State of the Nation Address (SONA), his critics among leaders and members of various peoples’ organizations denounced in a press conference what they call as “systematic attack on all fronts against activists” by state troops and the police.
In a meeting held last weekend at the national office of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Quezon City, its members shared stories of having been under obvious surveillance, being openly harassed (tailed and intimidated by men identifying themselves as soldiers or policemen, etc.), slapped with “trumped up charges,” recruited by men claiming to be part of the state military “to snitch on revolutionaries, or their families will be harmed,” among others. These surveillance and cases of intimidation and “recruitment” happened in workplaces, offices and right outside the homes of targeted activists in the last few weeks.
Some of these used to be unheard of as happening right in the capital in broad daylight, noted Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. Similar acts have been reported in the past, and still happening now, but mostly in regions outside of Metro Manila. Now, such attacks have reached the doorsteps of leaders and organizers of progressive peoples’ organizations in the capital.
Members and leaders of Kabataan Partylist, Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students, and National Union of Students of the Philippines, were reportedly approached by men who introduced themselves as soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) asking them to cooperate, or by military men in plainclothes offering “part-time jobs,” said Marc Lino Abila, CEGP national president. The same was reported by women’s group Gabriela, child rights advocate Salinlahi, Alliance of Concerned Teachers and workers’ groups Kilusang Mayo Uno and Courage.
“While military abuses continue with impunity under the failed governance of daang matuwid, the Aquino government, at the same time, has been desperately making all-out effort to silence vocal critics through threat, harassment and intimidation as well as the fabrication of trumped up charges against human rights defenders,” said SALINLAHI Alliance for Children’s Concerns Secretary General Kharlo Manano.
Manano, another Salinlahi member and Mary Ann Sapar of Gabriela in Davao were recently charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention and trafficking in connection with their efforts to help the B’laans who were forced to evacuate from their communities due to militarization. Salinlahi’s council member in Saranggani was reportedly charged with frustrated murder, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, violation of children’s rights and indigenous peoples’ rights, also in connection with the evacuation of the B’laans.
In a press conference last weekend, Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador described these charges against the rights defenders as baseless and utterly preposterous.
The activists noted the government’s use not only of harassment but also of “legal offensives” and seeming disrespect even of what its own institutions can do for the victims of harassments who sought legal redress. COURAGE said that since July 14, after one of their union leaders, Antoinieta Setias-Dizon, and other members of different progressive organizations filed a Writ of Habeas Data and Writ of Amparo before the Supreme Court, several men tailed them. Since July 14, Setias-Dizon was forced to seek refuge at the office of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines as several men and vehicles tailing her started staking out and watching her moves.
From her record, “Setias-Dizon is a unionist and an activist championing the interests of government workers and employees and of the Filipino workers and people as a whole,” the Kilusang Mayo Uno said in a statement. The labor center also condemned the “non-stop and blatant surveillance and harassment” being conducted on Setias-Dizon by men who introduce themselves as members of the military.
Attempts to silence criticisms
“All these reports of ongoing human rights violations are emblematic of the political repression which, on record, the Philippine government has unleashed on the people, especially the groups defending the peoples’ rights and livelihoods,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan alliance. She noted that such rights violations have happened under the past administrations. What differs now, she said, is the extent or reach of the rights violations and threats especially in the National Capital Region and in Mindanao.
Ferdinand Gaite, national president of Courage, said these incidents are indicators that the Aquino government is “willing to employ brazen and desperate measures to intimidate and harass progressive organizations and leaders.” With his SONA approaching, Aquino is “desperate to suppress his critics to dodge accountability on his countless crimes against the Filipino people,” Gaite said.
Worse, the KMU warned that one thing this campaign of surveillance and harassment being waged by the Aquino government is aiming for is “to keep workers, employees and other sectors of society impoverished and exploited and to attack their struggles for genuine social change.”
Bayan spokesperson Teddy Casiño said that these increasingly brazen and broadening net of attacks on activists are happening because President Aquino is in his last year and desperate to show his so-called legacy.
“He doesn’t want to make it known that there are a growing number of criticisms of his corrupt policies,” Casiño said.
Go after corrupt government leaders instead
ACT Teachers’ Rep. Antonio Tinio praised progressive peoples organizations who consistently strive hard to defend the country and its people from plunderous policies being implemented by the government. He said the way to oppose this worsening intimidation of activists is to press ahead with what they have been doing, exposing and opposing the government’s anti-people policies.
He told the military and police to keep keep their hands off the leaders and members of these progressive organizations, and instead, to go after the crooks in uniform and in the government.
“These organizations love this nation and the people. The police and the military should instead go after thieves and rights violators,” Tinio said.
Palabay of Karapatan said they will file charges and complaints in courts, in the Commission on Human Rights and in various international human rights organizations in connection with the harassment of activists being implemented by the police and the military.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be threatened,” Casiño said when asked what the organizations allied with Bayan will do in the light of ongoing overt surveillance and harassment of their leaders. Casiño recalled similar incidences when the state tightened the net on controlling the movement and speech of activists. He said the people’s movement survived Marcos and all the administrations that replaced him which unsheathed “war” on the people. He expressed confidence the people’s movement will prevail just the same this time. But he also expressed hope that the long list of human rights violations perpetrated under Marcos or Arroyo will soon be put to a stop by the people.
“We are proud to be activists, to be with the people fighting plunder and rights violations. We will continue at it for as long as there is reason to fight,” Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus said.