By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – A progressive indigenous people’s group in Cordillera region condemned the harassment by suspected state security forces on one of its leaders, calling it the Aquino administration’s “attempt to silence dissent.”
Xavier Akien, 48, a Kankanaey and vice chairperson for internal affairs of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), reported being tailed around Baguio City and Benguet province by at least six suspects on board two vans and two motorcycles on April 6 and 13.
“CPA strongly believes that the incident is not an isolated case but part of Oplan Bayanihan of the BS Aquino regime in his final attempt to silence people’s dissent before the end of his term,” said Abigail Anongos, CPA secretary general, in a statement.
On April 6, Akien and his wife were in their car and had just left a grocery mart when they noticed a van had tailed them from the basement parking lot.
“Before pulling out from the parking space, I observed that a van was parked near us but I assumed that it was just waiting for us to leave so it can use the vacated space. But as we were exiting the establishment, the same van started to tail us.”
“When we were on the road going to Harrison, I observed again the same van tailing us. I decided to pull over along the road. The van passed us. But to my surprise, when we passed before the University of the Cordilleras, I saw the same van parked on the side of the road and then it followed us. Later on along the road, I observed two more motorcycles and another van following us on our way to La Trinidad,” said Akien.
Akien then drove straight to the La Trinidad Municipal Police to ask for help, but was surprised that the suspects followed them there. The two motorcycle drivers and their back riders were accosted by police. They failed to present any identification, and claimed they were looking for a job.
“It is clearly a handiwork of the military,” added Akien.
The CPA suspects that the surveillance could be a prelude to worse human rights violations. Several CPA leaders who have been red-tagged by the military were killed or disappeared in the past decade. CPA founding member James Balao, who was abducted in 2008, remains missing to this day. Under President Aquino’s term, Ifugao human rights worker William Bugatti was shot dead in 2014.
CPA has taken a strong stand against large-scale mining, development aggression and human rights violations. It has led campaigns for the Cordilleran indigenous people’s right to self-determination.
Akien, who said he had been harassed before, called for a stop to harassment on activists.
“We are no criminals, we are just activists…They are targeting the CPA because of its campaigns and activities for environmental protection, especially against mining and energy, for indigenous people’s rights, on disaster response and for sustainable development,” he said.
Akien said he is concerned for his safety but added that he is not fazed by the incident.
“CPA, since its establishment in 1984, has been in the forefront of the people’s struggle for the defense of land, life, and resources. We will always be inspired by our people, heroes and martyrs to continue this noble task,” he said.