At Ground Level | Global rights groups assail terror law misuse

Is it now terrorism to support the people’s calls for cheaper rice? Are legitimate actions to defend human rights now to be prosecuted as crimes?

Following Marcos Jr.’s approval of the National Security Policy (NSP) 2023-2028 on Aug. 12, progressive people’s organizations and the human rights community are increasingly protesting the continued threats, including red-tagging, vilification and actual attacks on the country’s human rights defenders and activists.

More alarming, they pointed out, has been the intensifying abuse of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.

Last Tuesday (Aug. 22), eight international nongovernmental human rights organizations, supported by 34 human rights formations in the Asia-Pacific region, issued a joint solidarity statement with the country’s human rights defenders.

They noted the “weaponization” of the ATA against human rights defenders, at least 13 of whom in Southern Tagalog currently face criminal complaints. The emerging trend “adds to the long list of harassment orchestrated by the Philippine Government to delegitimize [their] work,” the signatories said. “Such aggressive crackdown on defenders not only violates their fundamental functions but also hinders their crucial work in protecting and promoting human rights for all.”

The statement emphasized that the above-cited actions were a “stark contrast” with the Philippine government’s international commitment, being a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which it ratified in 1986 and, most recently, its commitment in the Universal Periodic Review 2022 (a UN procedure) related to effective protection of Philippine human rights defenders.

The eight signatory HR organizations are: Amnesty International; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development; Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development; Front Line Defenders; International Federation for Human Rights; International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; International Service for Human Rights and World Organization Against Torture.

They urged the Philippine government to do the following: Cease all forms of intimidation and attacks against HRDs in the country; ensure an enabling environment that would allow all such defenders to continue their work without fear of reprisals and repeal all laws and regulations that have been weaponized to vilify and harass HRDs.

The human rights alliance Karapatan, meanwhile, warned that NSP 2023-2028 further enables threats and attacks against HRDs, given its call for “vigorous support” to the NTF-ELCAC and allied counterinsurgency agencies.

For instance, Karapatan has received reports that on Aug. 18, elements of the NTF-ELCAC in Cagayan Valley went on a house-to-house visit – remember “tokhang?” – to members of a newly-formed farmers’ organization in Cauayan and Angadanan towns in Isabela, pressuring them to “surrender” allegedly as “affiliates” of the CPP-NPA-NDF.

The following day, Karapatan added, a tarpaulin was strung along the highway in Brgy. Pengue Ruyu, Tuguegarao City showing a photograph of Makabayan-Cagayan Valley coordinator Agnes Mesina with her name and the word “terorista” attached to it. A notice written in Ilokano offers a P100,000 reward for anyone who can provide information on her whereabouts. Mesina has been supporting the Isabela and Cagayan farmers in their campaign for affordable rice prices, and for government to address the growing hunger among landless farmers in the region.

Is NTF-ELCAC attempting to scuttle the farmers’ organization? Under previous administrations’ counterinsurgency “oplans,” progressive peasant leaders in the region were serially harassed, arrested, detained and killed.

Remarked Karapatan: “It’s appalling how millions of pesos are spent to pay NTF-ELCAC operatives while farmers who cry out for food and aid are threatened and harassed. They even have the gall to offer rewards against persons like Mesina, who voluntarily helps the farmers in the region.”

Meantime, in Southern Tagalog, the Philippine Army’s 9th Infantry Battalion is aggressively pushing its counterinsurgency campaign, focused on Batangas province. Besides calling on New People’s Army fighters to surrender, it has been frightening the public to beware of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

A printed handout in Pilipino, “Babala mula sa 59 IB,” warns:

“Ang sino mang sumusuporta sa teroristang grupo… sa kahit ano mang pamamaraan ay makakasuhan […], kaakibat ang parusang walang piyansa na:

“Hindi bababa sa labing-dalawang taon hanggang habang buhay na pagkakakulong;

“Multa na hindi bababa sa P500,000 o higit pa sa P1,000,000;

At ituturing na kasapi ng teroristang grupo na ito!”

Another leaflet produced by the same army unit seeks to induce NPA fighters to surrender. It discusses the E-CLIP (Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program), “one of the priorities of the current administration for long-term peace towards [national] development.”

Details are provided of the program’s objective, which will hopefully attain the “permanent and peaceful resolution of the insurgency problem, provide livelihood and various other benefits to former rebels who return to the fold of the law.”

Supposedly, the program will benefit not only those regular members of the CPP-NPA-NDF who would surrender, as well as members of the people’s militia. Also generously to be covered are their wives and children (common-law, legitimate or illegitimate) and their parents and siblings.

The list of E-CLIP benefits promised to surrenderees includes a substantial reward for yielded firearms (P45,000-P90,000); livelihood assistance (P50,000); financial aid (P21,000). That’s not all. There will be free education; enrolment in the 4Ps program; housing fund (P450,000); livelihood tools (P100,000); provincial assistance (P5,000); medical aid, access to government social services; Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan projects; free alternative-livelihood training. The moon and the stars, perhaps?

Another printed handout informs interested parties that they may contact local government officials, or proceed to the following offices of the 59thIB – Advanced command posts in Brgy. San Marcelino, Taysan, Batangas and in Brgy. Talumpok, Silayan, Batangas City; Battalion headquarters in Brgy Lual Barrio, Mauban, Quezon and CAFGU Patrol Base in the different towns of Batangas.

The leaflet even encourages targeted surrenderees to call the battalion hotlines. It provides its Facebook page, Twitter link and email address. Topping these, the 59th IB provides information on its recruitment for additional soldiers, listing down the various qualifications to be properly documented and submitted by those wishing to apply.

Published in Philippine Star
August 26, 2023

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