Women activists decry attacks against rights defenders, call for release of all political prisoners

On the eve of International Women’s Day on March 7, 2018, organizations led by Karapatan and Tanggol Bayi staged a protest rally at Camp Crame, Quezon City to call for the release of all political prisoners and an end to attacks against activists and human rights defenders (HRDs). 
Women relatives of political prisoners Marklen Maojo Maga, Dionisio Almonte, Edward Lanzanas, Rhea Pareja, Rex Villaflor and Jesus Abetria, and of detained peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Rafael Baylosis, Ferdinand Castillo, and Leopoldo Caloza also joined the women-led mass action. Children of HRDs, sporting butterfly wings to symbolize their solidarity against tyranny, and former political prisoners led by Sharon Cabusao of Gabriela also joined the activity.

“For the macho-fascist and foul-mouthed Duterte, repression is wielded as a tool against activists and human rights defenders in an attempt to force them into silence. Among his favorite moves is the use of blanket rhetoric, labeling anyone seeks to engage the government as “enemies of the state”, “terrorist” or “NPA members and sympathizers”. Everyone is considered fair game by this murderous government and its ruthless, bloodthirsty security forces,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay during the protest rally. 

Tanggol Bayi, an association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines, said that women experience verbal assaults from Duterte, on top of the criminalization and attacks that women HRDs experience on the ground. 

Tanggol Bayi also emphasized that women, if not subjected to harassment, are either put to jail or killed. Myles Albasin, a woman youth leader from University of the Philippines-Cebu, together with five peasant organizers - Bernard Guillen, Carlo Ybanez, Joemar Indico, Joey Vailoces, and Randel Hermino - were illegally arrested on March 3, 2018 at Brgy. Luyang, Mabinay, Negros Oriental. They were alleged as NPA rebels and charged with trumped up cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, which were all denied by the six. 

Jolita Tolino, a Dulangan Manobo and a volunteer teacher of the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services, Inc. (CLANS), an alternative Lumad school that caters to indigenous children, was arrested on February 7, 2018 based on trumped-up charges of murder and frustrated murder. Five women activists in Cordillera were also named in fabricated charges of frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder filed by the 7th Infantry Division, implicating them in an alleged encounter between the NPA and the AFP. All five are members of mass organizations. 

“Duterte has already jailed 145 human rights defenders, mostly from the ranks of peasants and indigenous communities. As of December 2017, there are 486 political prisoners in the country, 41 of whom are women. Clearly, Duterte is using everything and everyone in his machinery to gag the voices of those who are asserting people’s rights and welfare,” said Geri Cerillo of Tanggol Bayi. 

“We also remember Karapatan Negros coordinator Elisa Badayos, who was killed while on a fact-finding mission in Bayawan, Negros Oriental on November 28, 2017. We are reminded that as fascist regimes breed intolerance against resistance and dissent, it is capable of truly heinous crimes. For the human rights defenders all over the country and all over the world, we are with you in solidarity. It is the sacrifices that fellow HRDs have experienced that jolt us awake and remind us everyday that our rights were never handed down to us, it was always fought for,” Cerillo stated.

The said protest action is part of the activities in line with the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development’s (APWLD’s) Feminist Solidarity Against Militarism and Fundamentalism.