By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan denounced the recent reports of activists and human rights defenders being accused of trumped-up charges.
On June 26, Karapatan Southern Tagalog said it received a copy of a subpoena summoning Anakbayan Southern Tagalog Regional Coordinator Ken Rementilla and Jasmin Rubia, secretary-general of Mothers and Children for the Protection of Human Rights (MCPHR). They were accused of violating Section 12 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), or providing material support to terrorists.
Karapatan said Rementilla and Rubia are the 10th and 11th victims of the State’s “legal offensive” against political dissent in the Southern Tagalog region since the ATA was enacted in 2020.
Meanwhile, on June 25, 59-year old Susan Medes was arrested, together with members of various local farmers’ organizations in Himamalyan, Negros Occidental for alleged murder and frustrated murder charges. Medes is the chairperson of Bgy. Buenavista-Bito-Cabagal Farmers’ Association (Babicafa).
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, said that the increased use of the anti-terror law and other trumped-up charges against activists has become a pattern during the first year of the Marcos Jr administration, “as it implements draconian policies rolled out as laws during the President Duterte administration and continues its campaign of political persecution of activists and political dissenters.”
Palabay said that there are at least 49 individuals who were arrested and detained under the Marcos Jr administration. Karapatan documented 778 political prisoners as of June this year.
Karapatan denounced the state forces’ attempt to weaponize the “draconian” Anti-Terorism Act (ATA) against Rubia and Rementilla.
The charges stemmed from a fact-finding mission in July 2022 which saw the participation of Rubia, Rementilla and Tanggol Batangan paralegal Hayley Pecayo. Led by MCPHR, an alliance of church workers, women activists and human rights advocates, the mission aimed to investigate the killing of 9-year old Kyllene Casao in Taysan, Batangas allegedly by elements of the 59th Infantry Battalion (IB) on July 18, 2022.
Karapatan said that the military accused Pecayo of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) and claimed that those who took part in the fact-finding mission were providing material support to terrorists.
Karapatan said that the participants of the said fact-finding mission were harassed and threatened by members of the 59th IB. This led the delegates of the mission, represented by Rubia and Rementilla, to file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights on August 1, 2022.
“The ATA violation case is clearly being made in retaliation for the complaint filed at the CHR by the two,” Palabay said.
Karapatan said that the ATA case against Rementilla and Rubia is the latest in a slew of ATA cases faced by several Southern Tagalog activists. The subpoena was issued by Antipolo City Prosecutor Mari Elvira B. Herrera on June 9. The complaint was filed by Sgt. Jean Claude E. Bajaro of the 59th IB.
They added that six out of the 11 victims are affiliated with Karapatan’s regional and provincial chapters in Southern Tagalog. “The 59th IBPA is hellbent on preventing human rights workers and defenders from exposing and opposing grave human rights violations in the region,” Palabay said.
For Medes and 17 others, the charges stemmed from an encounter between the NPA and the Philippine Army 62nd IBPA on May 12, 2018 in sitio Bunsad, Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan in Negros Occidental.
Her husband Rodrigo was also arrested along with six others, including United Church of Christ in the Philippines Pastor Jimmy Teves in June 2019. They are facing trumped-up charges of murder and frustrated murder in connection with an encounter between the military and the NPA in May 2019 in Barangay Tan-awan, Kabankalan City.
Prior to Medes’s arrest, Fausto family (which includes two sons aged 15 and 12) was killed on July 14 also in the village of Buenavista, Himamaylan. Emelda Fausto was also a member of Babicafa. She and the rest of her family reportedly experienced harassment prior to the killing.
“We call on human rights organizations and advocates to strongly support the embattled activists, to actively campaign for the repeal of the terror law, and uphold human and people’s rights against the worsening climate of repression and impunity under the Marcos Jr. regime,” the group said. (RTS, DAA)