Abduction of development worker, strafing of student activist show rapidly deteriorating rights situation in PH — Karapatan

Amid the looming passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the human rights situation in the Philippines is rapidly deteriorating with worsening and continuing attacks on human rights defenders and activists, rights watchdog Karapatan said, as the group strongly condemned the abduction of development worker Elena Tijamo and the strafing of student activist Jolina Calot Meraya.

“Elena Tijamo’s abduction and the ruthless strafing of Jolina Calot Meraya show the militarist Duterte regime’s blatant disregard for people’s rights especially in the middle of a deadly pandemic. These brutal attacks show the dangers of red-tagging and pushing for counterinsurgency-centered policies such as the Anti-Terrorism Bill — and at a time of crisis, these policies clearly reflect the priorities of the fascist government,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Tijamo, program coordinator of the Farmers Development Center (FARDEC), was taken from her home at Brgy. Kampigganon, Bantayan, Cebu around 8 p.m. last June 13 by four unidentified armed men accompanied by two women suspected to be military agents. According to initial reports, the unidentified men and women who took Tijamo did not introduce themselves and wore masks and black clothes. More than a week has passed and Tijamo’s location is still unknown.

During a House panel briefing on November 5 last year on the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Department of National Defense listed FARDEC as a “communist terrorist front organization” along with 18 other humanitarian, indigenous and religious organizations such as Oxfam Philippines, the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center, the Cordillera People’s Alliance, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and Gabriela Women’s Party, among others.

Meanwhile, Meraya, a member of the League of Filipino Students – University of Eastern Philippines Chapter, is currently in critical condition after combined forces of the Northern Samar Police Mobile Force and the 20th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) strafed their residence in Brgy. Bagacay, Palapag, Northern Samar last June 20. The strafing incident left Meraya’s mother and sibling wounded, and killed her father Zaldy and his companion Bebe Tobino, both are farmers who have been threatened by military forces.

The 20th IBPA is now claiming that Meraya’s father and Tobino were “neutralized” New People’s Army “extortionists” and they are currently blocking the hospital visits of their families, friends, and colleagues.

The Karapatan officer said that “as these abductions and indiscriminate firing of individuals based on arbitrary claims of State forces continue, the murderous ways in which they deal with armed engagements with these civilians red-tagged as ‘rebels’ or ‘terrorists’ further expose their fascist nature.”

“In the midst of State-perpetuated atrocities, we can no longer expect the government to protect us from the dangers of COVID-19 — let alone the State terrorism and violence. Forcibly tagging every Filipino as an enemy, a communist, or a rebel when they voice out dissent is no longer a new tactic for the mercenary armed forces, but what comes alongside these abuses are the calls and the struggle for justice that will never cease. Karapatan denounces these abductions and merciless killings, the red-tagging of human rights advocates and activists, and the overall culture of impunity carried out by the fascist Duterte regime. Surface Elena Tijamo now! Justice for Jolina Calot Meraya and her family!” she ended.