Karapatan: Duterte’s attacks on activists intensify as cases of illegal arrests and torture pile up

Human rights group Karapatan strongly condemns the Duterte regime’s continuing attacks directed against rights activists as illegal arrests and various human rights violations have intensified in the string of the government’s relentless crackdown.

“Since October started, at least 13 human rights defenders were illegally arrested and charged with trumped-up charges. There is an orchestrated attempt, led by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), to criminalize and delegitimize the work of human rights defenders. The NTF, since its inception in December 2018, has incessantly targeted human rights defenders, and have blurred the distinction between armed combatants and civilians. To the eyes of these bloodthirsty beasts and ruthless criminals, human rights defense is a crime. As a State policy, this has severe implications on the ground as human rights workers continue to be subjected to a wide range of human rights violations, particularly killings, illegal arrests, torture, and harassment,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General said.

Last October 10, 2019, 3 human rights activists were illegally arrested for trumped-up and fabricated charges meant to harass and threaten individuals and organizations who continue to raise legitimate demands and campaign for genuine societal reforms.

Virgilio “Ka Yoyong” Lincuna, Chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in Caraga and Mag-uuma sa Agusan del Norte, was illegally arrested by 30 members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Butuan City based on a warrant for a fabricated case of attempted murder that allegedly happened in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

In a separate incident, Melissa Comiso, a Lumad and head teacher of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines - Northern Mindanao Sub-Region’s Literacy and Numeracy Program, was illegally arrested in Butuan City and is currently detained at the office of the CIDG in the same city. According to reports, her fellow Lumad teacher was also accosted along with her.

“Lincuna led numerous peasant struggles that gained victories for farmers and residents of rural areas in Caraga, while Comiso and her colleague worked for years to provide education to Lumad children who have suffered continuous government neglect. Defending the right to self-determination is not a crime, nor is amplifying and organizing farmers to fight for genuine agrarian reform. The Duterte regime hopes that this series of illegal arrests would instill fear, but the root causes and social ills that necessitate human rights defense continue to worsen. Thus, this regime is not solving anything, but merely adding to the outrage and the crimes against the people,” she said.

The Karapatan official also slammed the recent illegal arrests of human rights activists in Palawan and Eastern Visayas, and raised alarm over reports that some of them are being tortured and threatened while under detention.

On the evening of October 4, 2019, at around 8:30pm, former Karapatan – Southern Tagalog Secretary General Glendhyl Malabanan and six other human rights workers were arrested without warrants by combined elements of the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan after they conducted a fact-finding investigation on reports of human rights violations perpetrated by military forces against farmers in Taytay town. 

Arrested on October 2, 2019, Christian “Chanchan” Sabado, a peasant organizer under Northern Samar Small Farmers’ Association, including two other farmers, namely, Anton Manoso and Edson Piczon, were likewise illegally arrested by elements of the 20th Infantry Battalion.

“We are deeply concerned about the situation of those illegally arrested as we have received reports that last October 5, 2019, when Manozo and Piczon’s families visited the inmates, they were able to confirm reports that the victims were being tortured, intimidated, and coerced. Expectedly, the military and the police deny this, but the assertion of the family bears more weight than the claim of butchers. In these incidences, they do not allow the victims to speak and they intimidate the family into silence or submission. These abusive and corrupt institutions have a long-standing tradition of torture, repression, rigid hierarchy, and blind obedience – even to orders to commit human rights violations,” Palabay explained.

According to her, these recent incidents are indicative of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country: “The police and the military, emboldened by a power-hungry and militarist Commander-in-Chief, have developed the same disdain for human rights. These ruthless State forces, gratified by the assurances and bribes given by the Duterte regime, continue to perpetrate human rights violation on this government’s behalf. We warn, however, that Duterte and his band of militarist cohorts will not hold power forever. We remind these butchers that the protection they enjoy now is not invariable.”

“The arrests and the ongoing attacks on human rights defenders prove that fascist impositions such as Martial Law and other counter-insurgency measures have only exacerbated the decades-old injustice perpetuated by no less that the Philippine government. It reflects that institutions such as the PNP and AFP, which are borne out of a mercenary tradition, have continued their role as obedient and mindless killing machines,” Palabay added.

 “Human rights defense is not a crime. While this government has worked aggressively to release false but incriminating pictures, unleashed their trolls in social media, and have incessantly made rounds in universities, work places, and even engaged international platforms to undermine the work of defenders, this regime can no longer save its face and has been marked as a human rights violator. They want to paint defenders as criminals, but they cannot dismiss the reality of what these defenders stood for. We demand the immediate release of Lincuna, Comiso and her fellow Lumad teacher, Malabanan and six other defenders in Palawan, and Sabado and two other farmers in Eastern Visayas. The Duterte government is repackaging its war and changing its tactics, sometimes even copying the work of human rights organizations, but it is further isolated by its corruption, unaccountability, and perpetuation of widespread injustices,” Palabay concluded.