Karapatan human rights workers, rights violations victims in Southern Mindanao region under attack

On April 26, 2015, at around 9:50 a.m., a man with military haircut wearing light fatigue shirt and short pants was walking back and forth the road, and would tiptoed to look over what was behind the gates of the Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region office. At the time, those inside the office were Leonora Ricafort and son JaysonEduardo E. Regidor and sons Levie, Eduardo Jr. and Jhon Mark; Romnick Talara, wife “Jessa” and son Justin James; Aida Sanduman-Seisa, Primjun Oblianda-Cabatuan, andRoselyn Tausa (. Most of them are victims of human rights violations).They noticed the man because he passed through the road four times. On the 5th time, he stood at the side of the Karapatan office. He looked up to see what was inside the office. 


At around past 10 a.m., Eduardo Regidor Sr. opened one of the windows on the second floor of the office. He saw another man who went out of a neighbor’s apartment. The man, Eduardo said, was 5”6’ to 5”7’ tall, brown-skinned and slightly stout. Eduardo saw the man also making a call through his cellphone. He overheard the man saying, “Hello, PNP, yes, it’s near the house I am renting…Zero.” The distance between the apartment and the Karapatan office is about three meters. Eduardo told Leonora what he heard. He told Leonora he would go back to Brgy. Paquibato Proper, but he was advised against going home until it becomes clear what was going on.


Eduardo did not heed Leonora’s advice and went ahead with his plan. He and his three sons, Levie, Eduardo, Jr., and Jhon Mark, went out. They noticed the man who made the phone call. Meanwhile, the people inside the house noticed a woman whom they believed was also monitoring their office. An hour later, another man passed by the office, grinning and shaking his head.


While Eduardo and his sons were already at the corner of Lopez Jaena St. and Pag-asa Street, they saw three men armed with .45 caliber pistols. One of them told Eduardo and sons, “Aha, dito lang pala kayo nagtatago (So, you are hiding here.)” Eduardo and his sons were alarmed by the man’s statement. One of his sons immediately flagged down a taxi. They instructed the taxi driver to speed up. The three armed men also rode their individual motorcycles and tailed the taxi up to Matina Aplaya. At Matina Aplaya, the three armed men lost track of Eduardo and sons.


On April 27, at around 5:00 p.m., Aida, Roselyn and Primjun arrived at the Karapatan office. They saw two men who took a quick look at the office as they passed by. 


At past 7:00 p.m., Eduardo Regidor Sr. arrived at the office. A few minutes later, three men went to the gate beside the Karapatan office. Then they went to the office’s gate, saying “Ayo (Hello).” The men attempted to get in. One of the men, according to Aida, carried with him something that was wrapped with a towel, which Aida surmised was a gun. Aida and Roselyn said they knew that the men did not mean well because they refused to identify themselves and no one in the office knew them. When those inside the Karapatan office did not open the gate, one of the men pushed the gate, which had double locks. The two other men attempted to climb the concrete wall to get inside the compound. One of the men was the same person who, on April 26, at 10 a.m., was conducting surveillance in the Karapatan office.


The attempts of the men to barge into the Karapatan office stopped only when a Karapatan staff member called for police assistance and members of the media. Through a call to the hotline 911, the police responded and members of one of the radio stations, Radyo ni Juan. After the media and police interview, the police brought the Karapatan staff to the San Pedro Police Station to file a blotter report of the incident.


On April 28, a press conference was held at the Karapatan-SMR office from 9:00 a.m. to 12 noon, to denounce the incident. On the same day, the Commission on Human Rights also sent an investigation team to the Karapatan-SMR office, after it was reported by the Karapatan National Office to CHR National Office.


The human rights violations victims from Paquibato, Davao City and Bukidnon were under the sanctuary program of Karapatan’s Southern Mindanao Region chapter. The peasant leaders from Paquibato, Davao City and their relatives fled from their communities to seek the help of Karapatan on the trumped-up criminal charges against the peasant leaders and residents in the area and on the threats and harassment they experienced during the military operations of the 69th IBPA, which continue to this day. The military unit, under the 10th IDPA of Gen. Eduardo Año, is responsible for several cases of extrajudicial killing, forced evacuation, threats, harassment, among other rights violations. The unit was tagged as the Palparan battalion because its elements were trained and formerly under the command of The Butcher Ret. Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who is responsible for the disappearances of several activists including two university students. Gen. Año, who was involved in the disappearance of peasant organizer Jonas Burgos, is leading the military operations in the region. The family of “Jessa,” who was raped by a member of the 84th IBPA in Bukidnon, also sought the help of Karapatan.


Karapatan leaders and staff members in the Southern Mindanao region are constantly under attack, as they experience surveillance, threats and harassment from the military. They are tagged by the military as “enemies of the State” and “front organizations of the communists.”


Karapatan attributes these violations to the intensification of military operations, especially in Mindanao where 60% of the total troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are deployed, under the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.