Surface Honey Mae Suazo, Free Cora Agovida! Hands off women and environmental human rights defenders!

November 29 is designated by women’s groups worldwide as the International Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) Day. It is a day meant to celebrate the contributions of women defenders in advancing women’s rights, as well as commemorate the colorful and courageous lives of WHRDs who were killed in the line of fire. 

Tanggol Bayi and Karapatan, alongside WHRDs across the globe, raise our fists in solidarity and echo the battle cry to revive our collective power to resist, defend, and demand for our human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

“Today, we amplify the rallying call to unite and resist an alarming wave of authoritarianism permeating in our midst. In many areas of struggle, women defenders are at the frontlines, including the struggle for a safe and healthy environment. As laws are weaponized to cripple critical thought and criminalize dissent, women human rights defenders have increasingly at risk. Yet the overwhelming pushback from women continue to challenge the macho-fascist character of emerging authoritarian regimes," said Cristina Palabay, co-convenor of Tanggol Bayi. 

Tanggol Bayi, an association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines, together with Desaparecidos and the Save Our Schools Movement trooped to Camp Crame on November 29 to condemn the continuing attacks against WHRDs and the worsening human rights situation in the country which have directly and adversely impacted women. The group was joined by advocates and other rights groups. 

The group highlighted the cases of women and environmental rights defenders Cora Agovida and Honey Mae Suazo: "Both are recent cases of State-perpetrated attacks against women defenders who assert people’s rights, including our communities’ rights to a safe and healthy environment. Even as the President gave a tokenistic speech on violence against women days ago, the cases of Agovida and Suazo relay the reality beyond the rhetoric. They are women who have both voice and agency, who are empowered to organize and move others into action against government-aided businesses and projects detrimental to communities; yet it is precisely this empowerment that threatens the government and thus rendered them as targets," Palabay explained, citing President Duterte's Executive Order No. 70, and the subsequent formation of a National Task Force (NTF) as among the main policy directing the stigmatization, demonization, judicial harassment and killings of rights defenders. 

Agovida, Gabriela-Metro Manila spokesperson, was arbitrarily arrested on the morning of October 31, 2019, along with her husband. The couple’s home was raided by operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), while Cora’s two children – aged two and ten years old – witnessed the incident. Cora and her husband were falsely charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, after operatives planted evidence in their belongings. They are currently detained at the Manila Police District. Their two children, which are practically orphaned by the detention of their parents, are undergoing counseling and are being cared for by a children’s welfare organization. 

Agovida was actively involved in the campaign opposing the reclamation of the Manila Bay coastline. She also took part in the campaign against the operation of a coal pile in Tondo, as she promoted education programs detailing the detrimental impact of the coal pile on women and children’s health. 

Since November 2, Honey Mae Suazo was reported missing. After initial investigations, the former Karapatan regional officer in Southern Mindanao was last seen on that day, after she visited her relatives’ grave in Panabo, Davao del Norte. Honey Mae sent a last communication to her partner, saying that she was being tailed by a white pick-up truck. When her partner went to look for her, she could not be found and her phone numbers were all out of reach. Honey Mae was with Karapatan for 5 years, from 2011 to 2016, during which she was active in the campaign against militarisation of communities in the region as well as in the campaign against large-scale mining and logging operations if corporations. However, even after she has left the rights group, she continued to face numerous threats and malicious campaigns. Her disappearance is attributed to the handiwork of the military who have been actively engaged in perpetrating threats against her. 

"Cora and Honey Mae are but a few examples of women who refused to cower amid an atmosphere of terror. Likewise, their cases show that we are far from a society that truly respects and promotes people's rights," Palabay said. 

The Tanggol Bayi official added that while much is still to be done, there have also been important milestones to learn from: "In both public and personal spaces, WHRDs have made strides in exposing and challenging patriarchy, militarism, discrimination, gender-based violence, impunity and human rights violations. Triumphs for recognition, justice and accountability have been achieved. However, it is precisely the brand of toxic macho leadership espoused by Duterte and his band of militarist cohorts that overturns previous victories for human rights. Thus, we owe it to our courageous sisters who have been killed, disappeared, or arrested in the course of the struggle for women's rights, to continue beating the drums of resistance."

"WHRDs know the importance of collective action, of solidarity, of linking our struggles with other sectors. This is likewise a history lesson repeatedly taught to us. To the oppressed and repressed sectors of society, we are called to band together, resist a reversal of our gains, and move forward for people's rights. After all, if there is one thing the PHISGOC got right, it is that we win as one, " Palabay ended. 

 

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