By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Disband the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and revoke the Anti-Terrorism Act.
These are among the recommendations of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change Ian Fry who just concluded his visit in the Philippines.
Fry ended his 10-day visit in the country and presented his interim report in a press conference on Nov. 15, Wednesday at the UN House in Mandaluyong City.
Fry cited the rights violations committed against the indigenous peoples groups, environmental human rights defenders and members of other civil society organizations, whom, he said, have been carrying out campaigns opposing unsustainable land reclamation, hydro-electric dams, deforestation and mining.
“They told me horrific stories on how they have been treated. I have listed in my recommendations to disband the NTF-ELCAC because it is clear that it’s operating beyond its original mandate,” Fry said during the press conference.
In his dialogues with these groups, Fry received several complaints against the NTF-ELCAC and how advocates were being intimidated for opposing “development projects.”
Fry noted that the NTF-ELCAC has been operating beyond its mandate and with impunity.
He said that the systematic red-tagging of environmental human rights defenders and indigenous peoples is a “clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and right to life.”
He added that “it is evident that the NTF-ELCAC is using its powers to protect key economic interests in the country.”
“This has nothing to do with anti-terrorism or anti-communism. The military’s gross overreaction to people trying to defend their right to a safe, clean health and sustainable environment is totally unacceptable. The NTF-ELCAC should be disbanded,” Fry said.
Fry’s initial report also mentioned that the right to a safe, clean, health and sustainable environment is recognized by the UN General Assembly and is included in the Philippine Constitution.
Fry also recommended that the government revoke the ATA after hearing stories of church people and humanitarian workers who were designated as terrorists, and funds being held due to the terrorist designation. He said these actions were “totally unreasonable.”
“The government needs to create a clean slate around its approach to anti-terrorism and revise laws to make them appropriate for the circumstances that are occurring now. And not to use the laws to harass, vilify and kill environmental human rights defenders,” Fry said at the press conference.
Read: Bank freeze order vs. church group to deprive poor of aid, services
Read: Groups condemn terrorist designation of 4 Cordillera activists
Read: Then and now, indigenous peoples fighting for ancestral lands charged with terrorism
Read: More human rights defenders accused of terrorism – Karapatan
Indigenous peoples driven out from their lands
In his dialogue with indigenous groups, Fry said the groups gave accounts of how they were being driven out of their lands due to large dams. He also cited the aerial bombings of ancestral lands by the military with some “apparently using phosphorus in a number of indigenous peoples ancestral lands.”
Fry also met with representatives from Tumandok tribe and heard their struggle against the Jalaur Mega Dam Project. He also cited the case of Tumandok tribe leaders who were killed on December 30, 2020 and others who are still in jail for trumped-up charges.
“Their only ‘crime’ was that they had protested against the construction of the Jalaur Mega Dam Project. These people are stewards of their ancestral lands and primary custodians of the environment. They have no interest in terrorism or communism,” said Fry, adding that at present, no one has been held accountable in the killing of the nine Tumandok.
Read: Gov’t troops massacre 9 Tumandok in Panay
Read: ‘I saw them shoot my husband’ – wife of slain Tumandok leader
Read: The struggles and aspirations of Tumandok in Panay
Read: Rights group raise alarm possible promotion of police officer behind Tumandok massacre
Read: Iloilo court says search warrant in deadly raid vs. Tumandok invalid
Fry said it is critical that the killing of the nine members of Tumandok tribe is properly investigated by an independent body and those responsible are brought to justice.
“It is also critical that those relatives of those who were executed are properly compensated for their loss, even if the loss of a loved one cannot be properly compensated for,” Fry said.
During his visit, Fry also met with several government agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Justice as well as officials from the Climate Change Commission, among others.
Other communities that the UN Special Rapporteur visited are the Baseco compound in Tondo, Manila, Manila City Hall, Valenzuela as well as Tacloban City, Baybay and Abuyog also in Leyte where he looked into the effects of super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).
Fry will present a comprehensive report of his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2024.
“This year represents the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration enshrines the right to life and states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. I call on the Philippine government to respect this right and establish a truth reconciliation process to investigate the unlawful killings by the military, hold those accountable for these killings and provide reparations for those who suffered,” Fry said. (RVO)