Karapatan denounces arrest of long-time woman activist Atel Hijos

Karapatan denounces the arrest of longtime women’s rights activist Atel Hijos yesterday, August 31, 2022 in Butuan City as yet another reprehensible act that shows how the judicial system is being weaponized against human rights defenders, following numerous other cases of trumped up charges against and arrests of human rights defenders in the Caraga region.

Mindanao-based activists and development workers such as Dr. Naty Castro, human rights worker Renalyn Tejero and Teresita Naul, women’s rights activists Nerita Castro, teacher Gary Campos, development workers Julieta Gomez and Niezel Velasco, peasant activists Virgilio Lincuna and Marcela Diaz, church worker Aldeem Yanez, indigenous rights activist Gloria Campos Tumalon, among others, were arrested and many of them remain detained due to similar charges. Luzon-based trade unionists Juan Alexander Reyes, Rowena Rosales, Maoj Maga, and Antonieta Dizon, and development workers Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza were likewise implicated in trumped up charges filed in courts in Caraga - even if all of them have never been to Mindanao.

As of July 2022, there are 92 political prisoners in the Caraga region, 22 of them are women.

Karapatan is gravely concerned that with all these cases filed in Caraga courts, the region has become a warrant factory where trumped up charges against activists are cooked up to suppress their voices and stifle political dissent.

The arrest of Hijos is based on fabricated testimonies of soldiers saying that Atel is a combatant and was involved in armed encounters - a blatant lie considering Atel’s senior age and frail physical condition. In one of the charges leveled against her, she has submitted sound and reasonable proof that she was attending election-related activities at the time of the alleged incident of armed encounter by soldiers and New People’s Army rebels. Like all those who were arrested, Hijos has been subjected to red-tagging, via numerous posters and fliers bearing her name and picture disseminated by the military in public places in Caraga.

A former public school teacher, Atel was a founding member of the Women’s Alliance for True Change (WATCH) - Mindanao, a broad-based movement of women who resisted the Marcos dictatorship. She had been a long-time officer and women’s rights advocate of Gabriela, unwavering in her advocacy and assistance for women victims of violence and abuse, including those perpetrated by State agents. She had numerous forays into local government elections, having been involved with Gabriela Women’s Party.

Atel has pulmonary tuberculosis and hypertension, and she had a mild stroke. She has been bedridden, and she has  difficulties walking, at times using a wheelchair. How can an elderly and elderly woman, with such frail built like Atel’s, possibly commit all the crimes alleged against her?

The successive arrests of long-time women’s rights activists Atel Hijos and Adora Faye de Vera, both have fought the Marcos dictatorship, show the government’s contempt for brave Filipinas who struggle against political repression.

We demand the immediate release of Atel Hijos, Adora Faye de Vera and all political prisoners on humanitarian and just grounds. We enjoin all women human rights defenders in the Philippines and around the world in our collective call - Free Our Sisters! Free Ourselves!