By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – At least 17 women rights defenders were killed under the administration of President Duterte, according to the association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines, Tanggol Bayi.
The latest victim, Elisa Badayos of Karapatan-Central Visayas, was killed on Nov. 28 while conducting a fact-finding mission in Negros Oriental.
On the occasion of International Women Human Rights Defenders’ Day, Nov. 29, women and children’s groups protested at the gate of Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense, to condemn the intensifying attacks against women rights defenders.
“This brazen killing of a woman human rights defender and her fellow human rights advocates on the eve of International Women’s Human Rights Defenders’ Day is the latest proof of the impunity with which state forces under the Duterte administration commit human rights violations,” Joms Salavador, Gabriela secretary general said in a statement.
Salvador said the diminishing space for human rights advocacy in the Philippines is putting the safety of women human rights defenders in the country in grave peril, especially with “Duterte administration’s rapid swing to an undeclared but openly fascist rule.”
Gerifel Cerillo, Tanggol Bayi convenor said that while Duterte shows “apparent contempt” for women and human rights through “rape jokes, distortion of human and people’s rights principles, and sexist comments,” state security forces carry out extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and detention, and harassment of women human rights defenders.
Among the women rights defenders killed under Duterte was peasant leader Leonila Pesadilla, 56, who was killed with her husband Ramon in Compostela Valley on March 2, by suspected soldiers.
Both are members of the Compostela Farmers Association (CFA) and were active in opposing the encroachment of big mining companies on their ancestral lands in Compostela Valley, such as the Agusan Petroleum and Mineral Corporation. The couple also donated a parcel of land to Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center (STTICLC).
On March 17, peasant leader Cora Lina, 46, was killed by suspected soldiers from the 60th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army. Lina was with Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Laak (United Farmers in Laak or Namulak) and Dayong sa Kasakit. She was also the village chairperson of the local government unit in Purok 4, Kibaguio village, Compostela Valley.
On August 14, Manobo Jessybel Sanchez was killed. Sanchez, 42, was secretary of Lumadnong Panaghiusa-Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (LuPa-STTI), an organization of indigenous peoples in Mindanao. She received threats prior to her killing allegedly from the 68th IBPA.
Women human rights defenders are also threatened with trumped up charges, said Cerillo.
She cited the case of five women activists in Cordillera who are facing trumped-up charges of frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder, along with 18 individuals. The charges were filed by the 7th Infantry Division-Philippine Army.
The five are Sarah Abellon-Alikes and Sherry Mae Soledad of the Katinnulong dagiti Umili ti Amianan-Regional Development Center; Joanne Villanueva of Cordillera Women’s Education, Action, and Research Center; Rachel Mariano of the Cordillera Health, Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera; Asia Isabella Gepte and Shirley Ann Angiwot of Innabuyog-Gabriela.
The five and their organizations are active in the Cordillera people’s movement for the defense of ancestral land, right to self-determination, genuine peace and democracy.
On Nov. 18, Karapatan Western Mindanao staff Rosario Tabanai, 47, and her husband, peasant leader Senando Jacutin were arrested by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 9 and the 1st Infantry Tabak Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They face trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Amid the intensifying oppression to rights defenders, the women’s group vowed to fight tyranny.
“Women have been at the forefront of the people’s resistance against fascist and tyrannical regimes such as Duterte’s. With his renewed threats to crack down on progressive groups, we will remain steadfast in upholding women’s rights and human rights. We are not afraid of tyrants like Duterte,” said Cerillo.
Gabriela meanwhile reiterated their call to the government to end the fascist campaign against the people. They also call for the continued support of international human rights organizations for the protection of human rights defenders in the country.