Rights group decries attacks, crackdown on teacher-unionists and Lumad volunteer teachers

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemns in the strongest terms the consecutive attacks against members of progressive teachers’ union Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in what appears to be targeted and organized efforts to crack down, intimidate, even kill its members.
"The demand of teachers for an increase of their basic pay is clear and legitimate. The series of organized actions of teachers all over the country has prompted the Duterte government to now intensify its attacks against teacher-unionists affiliated with ACT. Last week, one teacher in Bukidnon was the victim of frustrated killing while another is currently detained due to trumped-up charges. This regime is wary of any form of unity and collective action among various sectors. Wanting to insidiously spread an atmosphere of fear and to discourage teachers to uphold their basic rights, the government resorts to human rights violations. How truly ruthless this government is to even criminalize and target teachers. Truly, no one is exempt from State terrorism," Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said.

Around 8 a.m. on October 15, 2019, ACT – Region X member Zhaydee Cabañelez survived an ambush and is recovering after four masked gunmen shot her multiple times in front of school children in Dalit Elementary School, Valencia City, Bukidnon. Cabañelez is the 2016 Outstanding Teacher awardee in her barangay and is also actively involved in campaigning for the welfare of teachers.

On the slay-try against Cabañelez, Palabay assailed the military for seemingly justifying the attack against the teacher because she is allegedly the daughter of a New People's Army officer: "We have received confirmation that the parents of Cabañelez are both active members of peasant organization KASAMA Bukidnon. Her parents have been consistently red-tagged by the military. However, regardless of this and even if she was, hypothetically, the daughter of an NPA officer, reprisal against her is against international humanitarian law. The fact that the military is once again floating this dangerous idea that families of combatants can be held hostaged or attacked to force armed combatants to surrender indicates their propensity to deliberately violate IHL. This government is working incessantly to blur the lines between combatant and civilian and has qualified us all as targets," she explained.

Meanwhile, ACT – Bulacan provincial coordinator Digna Mateo was nabbed during a joint operation conducted by the Bulacan Provincial Intelligence Branch, together with the intelligence units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and police personnel of Meycauayan City and Marilao. The operatives were onboard three vans and arrested Mateo at around 1:45p.m. of October 16, 2019 at the Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Marilao, Bulacan. The police and the military are citing a trumped-up murder charge against Mateo. She was brought to Camp Alejo Santos in Malolos City and was paraded to the media as an arrested member of the New People’s Army; her arrest follows reports of her being tailed by a riding-in-tandem a week earlier as she was on her way after campaigning for the election of the ACT - Central Luzon union as the sole and exclusive negotiating agent in the region.

“Immediately after the celebration of World Teachers Day when thousands of teachers marched for PhP30,000 basic pay, this government has zeroed its attacks on teachers. This is not a coincidence, but an insidious attempt to sow fear among the ranks of teacher-unionists. We consider these as organized, targeted attacks against ACT, its members, and teachers who actively fight for their rights and demands. Moreover, these are part of the Duterte regime’s broader crackdown on progressives, activists, unionists, organizers, and human rights defenders whom the fascist state gleefully labels as ‘terrorists’ and ‘enemies of the state.' The government considers them as such because they expose the real political and economic crisis in the country, which is compounded by the Duterte regime's failure to solve these fundamental problems,” Palabay added.

ACT and its members have been at the receiving end of many state-perpetrated attacks such as months of police profiling and red-tagging, as well as threats and harassment. She continued that the targeted crackdown on ACT “shows that the Duterte regime is trembling in fear in the face of a growing people’s movement and is now resorting to fearmongering tactics and harassment to divide and silence teacher-unionists who are advancing the united fight of Filipino teachers for a living wage.” 

The rights group noted that teachers in indigenous schools are likewise terrorized. On October 7, 2019, at around 9 in the morning, five armed soldiers of the 3rd Special Forces Bttalion took pictures of teachers and students while the latter were conducting classes in the Lumad school Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS). This was the latest in a series of harassment against teachers of TRIFPSS. Prior to the October 7 incident, the same military unit forcibly entered the teachers' cottage on September 28 and interrogated teachers for half an hour, also forcing the teachers to give a masterlist of enrollees. 

The Karapatan official commented that "martial law in Mindanao has allowed the worsening harassment against teachers and indigenous schools. Like the teachers affiliated with ACT, teachers in Lumad schools have been subjected to a range of violations. Instead of solving the reality of teachers' plight and government neglect of indigenous communities, the advocacy of teachers are instead criminalized and silenced." 

Palabay added that "the continuing implementation of martial law in Mindanao and intensified counterinsurgency operations under Oplan Kapanatagan will further aggravate attacks against activists, leaders, and entire organizations and communities." Karapatan has documented at least seven cases of extrajudicial killings in Bukidnon in 2019 alone, all of which are leaders and organizers from peasant and indigenous communities in the province.

“Karapatan stands with the family and colleagues of teacher Zhaydee Cabañelez in demanding justice and accountability for this brazen attack. We also strongly call for the immediate release of Digna Mateo and the dismissal of trumped-up charges levelled against her. Likewise, we demand for an end to the harassment of Lumad schools and its teachers and students. We commend ACT, all teacher-unionists and Lumad school volunteer teachers for their courageous work, amid active efforts to malign and terrorize the organization and its members. The government must be reminded that the right to self-determination of IP communities and the right to a living wage are State obligations, not ink on paper. These recent attacks on ACT members and Lumad teachers exhibit the human rights crisis that our country is currently facing. However, the worsening situation merely shows the need for widespread and far-reaching resistance," Palabay concluded.