Trump and Duterte, hands off rights defenders! - Karapatan

Speaking at a press conference on April 21, 2018, Moro rights activist Jerome Succor Aba who was detained fro 28 hours and subjected to torture by the US Homeland Security, along with Australian missionary Sr. Patricia Fox who was also detained for nearly 24 hours by the Bureau of Immigration (BI), shared their experiences with regard to repressive immigration laws that are being used to crackdown on rights defenders. Lumad activist Kerlan Fanagel, also part of the panel, also recounted how he was barred by the BI from travelling to India in February 2018.

 

 

 

“We can see the concrete danger that ensues when governments start equating rights defenders as “terrorists” or “enemies of the State”. What happened to Aba, Sr. Fox, and Fanagel are all part of a larger picture of repression and systematic targeting. Moreover, the harrowing experiences of physical and psychological torture undergone by Aba under the custody of US Homeland Security indicates a Guantanamo Bay-level of torture to force a narrative that he is a “terrorist-communist”, when in fact he was invited by church and human rights organizations to speak about rights abuses in the country,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay. 

Aba recounted the various forms of psychological and physical torture that he was subjected to, including being made to undress, with an electric fan focused on him, while he was being interrogated by US officials. Throughout the interrogation, Aba was kept handcuffed. Homeland Security officials also denied him food and water, and even disrespected his religion by deliberately serving him pork. Aba was also rebuked for making the slightest movement, even just stretching his arms or moving his head would earn him the ire of interrogators.

To add to his harrowing experience, Aba relayed that a gun and a grenade was intentionally placed in a room, in two different occasions while he was under custody. He relayed that it was either an excuse to bodily harm him or further their accusations. He was also threatened every time he went to the comfort room, with officials urging him to come out fast or he will be shot.

Karapatan said that Aba was treated as an “enemy combatant”, with the kind of physical and psychological torture that was used on him. The interrogation proceeded with officials accusing him of being a “terrorist”, “communist”, “terrorist communist”, or “communist terrorist”. The rights group noted that other civil and political rights that were violated include denial of access to a lawyer and human rights organizations which were just outside the airport, waiting to assist him. His belongings were also illegally searched. Furthermore, he was only read the Miranda rights after the long hours of interrogation ended. Aba’s privacy and freedom of movement was also grossly neglected after US officials showed him voluminous information on his family, educational background, and activities. He was also not allowed to call anyone except when he was about to be deported. Aba’s electronic gadgets were searched and information in it were illegally obtained by his interrogators.

Palabay added that “for the supposed champions of democracy and civil liberties, cases such as Aba’s show the US’ true colors – that they themselves are the foremost violator of human rights, albeit conveniently justified by waivers signed under duress. The same can be said for the Philippine government who denies the Filipino people their basic rights by using labels to demonize their victims, and move the discourse away from the rampant rights violations on the ground.”

Meanwhile, amid the international concern over the widespread rights abuses in the country and the political persecution of rights defenders, the European Parliament has adopted an Urgency Resolution on the drug war, the proscription petition which tags at least 600 names, including human rights defenders, as “terrorists”, the violence and harassment against indigenous peoples in Mindanao, among others. The Parliament called for the Duterte government to fully cooperate with UN Special Rapporteurs, for the EU member states to remove the Philippines from the UN Human Rights Council, and a possible suspension of the Philippines’ GSP+ status. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque have expressed their sentiments on the Urgency Resolution, saying that such are a violation against the country’s sovereignty. Palabay said that “Cayetano and Roque, clouded by their political ambitions, have religiously stuck to the script of defending Duterte to their death, hoping this would give them the political mileage they need to further themselves in government positions.”

“Rights defenders like Jerome Aba, Sr. Patricia Fox and Kerlan Fanagel are being subjected to repressive policies that restrict their movements and prohibit them from voicing out the issues of the communities they work alongside with. On the other hand, there are people like Cayetano and Roque, bastions of arrogance and flimsy self-importance, who are given platforms to speak out and move without restraint. Clearly this speaks of a fascist government who filters statements to suit a narrative that all is well and fine with the country, despite its people being shattered and in tatters by every day rights abuses,” underscored Palabay.   

“We thus call for justice and accountability in the case of these rights defenders who endured illegal detention, the deliberate deprivation of their right to freedom of movement, freedom of association, expression, and peaceable assembly. The PH and US governments have much in common, parallelism that becomes more salient with regard to their view on human rights and their ruthless, systematic targeting of human rights defenders. For those on the ground, we persist, just as we have always done throughout repressive regimes that have tried to break our spirits and silence our screams for justice,” concluded Palabay.

 

Watch the recorded video coverage of the press conference: