February, 2013

2012 Karapatan Year-end Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Philippines

The almost complete unmasking to the public of a pretentious rule marks the second year of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s presidency.

Yearend Report on HR 2012 

Despite supposedly improving economic statistics, the majority of the people are still mired in poverty reeling from high prices of basic commodities and services, unemployment, unlivable wages, sham land reform, inadequate housing and so on. Even its much touted campaign against poverty is under question as more cases of corruption by people from the Aquino administration surface. No hope can be pinned on this president whose government fails to lighten and instead adds to the burden that the people, especially from the basic sectors, endure.

Noynoy Aquino’s reckless implementation of privatization, liberalization, deregulation and denationalization, all earmarks of neoliberal globalization, proves his puppetry to U.S. imperialism. Just like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Aquino has been anointed to be the U.S. lackey in Asia especially in its current “pivot to Asia-Pacific.” In exchange for Obama’s pat on the head and American military aid,Malacanang welcomes stronger U.S. military presence in the country and perhaps even the possible return of U.S. bases.

No change, impunity prevails under Aquino

As the nation commemorates the 27th anniversary of the People Power 1 uprising, human rights group Karapatan today said that “the Noynoy Aquino government’s commemoration is completely an empty exercise meant as a window-dressing for the administration’s dismal human rights record.” 

AFP should stop weaving a web of lies, release Rolly Panesa now!

“The AFP should stop weaving its absurd lies on Rolly Panesa, to justify its claim to the P5.6M bounty on his head. Tigilan niyo na ang paglulubid ng kwento, tantanan niyo na si Rolly Panesa. Pinagkakitaan niyo na nga yung pagkaaresto at tortyur nung tao,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of rights group Karapatan.

“To this day, almost five months after they got Panesa,  the AFP could neither show proof that Panesa is alleged rebel leader ‘Benjamin Mendoza’ nor repudiate the veracity of the documents submitted by Panesa, as proof that he is not Mendoza,” she said. 

Rolly Panesa 

Karapatan, with Task Force Panesa, composed of church people from different denominations, today held a picket at the Court of Appeals as the spokesperson of the Southern Luzon Command, Col. Generoso  Bolina took the witness stand to defend the AFP’s claim that security guard Rolly Panesa whom they abducted, tortured and jailed, is ‘Benjamin Mendoza’, a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines, with a 5.6 million peso reward. 

“We demand the immediate release of Panesa. This detention is difficult for everyone. It is difficult for Panesa who remains clueless of why he is detained; it is also difficult for the government and the AFP to cook up evidences to prove their claim. The whole case is senseless,” said Palabay. 

Karapatan claims that the government’s desperation to meet Oplan Bayanihan’s 2013 deadline is the motive behind the arrest of innocent civilians like Panesa.  This Oplan Bayanihan deadline also “resulted in an increase in the cases of people who are falsely charged with criminal cases using warrants against John/Jane Does and aliases.” The Department of Justice (DOJ), as early as the 1990’s, issued Circular No. 50, saying that an appropriate description must accompany a particular John/Jane Doe but the practice continues.

Karapatan and Bayan raise alarm on attacks vs activists via series of robberies, surveillance

Human rights group Karapatan and umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), together with members and leaders of several organizations today condemned in strongest terms the series of attacks against people's organizations and partylist groups, disguised as break-ins and robberies. The groups decried what they described as the "rising and systematic forms of state repression and harassment of government critics". They said that the recent incidents were made to appear as common crimes but were actually targeted attacks on activists and their organizations.    

From March 2012 up until last week, Karapatan and Bayan documented twelve(12) cases of break-ins of houses of activists and peace advocates, and offices of progressive organizations; robberies involving items such as laptops, USB/flash drives, video cameras, and the like; and surveillance of known personalities and members of such organizations. 

As early as March 2012, the laptop of UP Manila activist Nikki Gamara was stolen inside the university premises. What seems to be an ordinary case of theft turned out to be more than just that. Three weeks after, her father, Renante Gamara, a peace consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), was illegally arrested. Records show that the laptop of Nikki was stolen a week before a warrant based on trumped-up charges was issued against her father.

There was also a series of break-ins in offices of Gabriela Women's Party (June 13, 2012), Health Alliance for Democracy (December 25, 2012), and the offices of Parents Alternative for ECCD Inc. and Salinlahi Alliance for Children's Concerns (January 13, 2013). The most recent incident was the break-in and robbery in the shared office of the chapters of Bayan and Karapatan in the National Capital Region last February 14, 2013. These are all publicly known offices of these organizations. Taken from the offices were desktop computers, laptops, hard disks and similar data storage devices, cameras and cellphones. 

Also victims of robberies were persons involved in the peace process such as Atty. Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (September 22, 2012) , Rey Casambre, Director of the Philippine Peace Center (February 9, 2013) and Rosie Tumbagahon, a staff working at the Joint Secretariat of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the GPH and NDFP (February 9, 2013).     

These incidents are clearly systematic attacks against progressive organizations and individuals, made to appear as isolated cases of common crimes, the groups said. They pointed out that only the military would have the motive and means to carry out these attacks.   

"The usual targets of the perpetrators are data storage devices such as flash disks, hard drives and laptops, cellular phones and cameras. It appears that the intelligence operatives are gathering more data on government critics as a prelude to possibly more attacks, especially during the election season," the groups said.  

ECC to SMI-XStrata a green light to more HRVs

Karapatan welcomes  the Congressional on-site hearing on the case of the Capion massacre especially at this time that the Aquino government has awarded the Environmental Clearance Cetificate to the SMI-Xstrata mining company. “The President’s move sends the clear signal to the foreign mining corporation to  continue the  violations of human rights in the B’laan community which are the cause of the conflict in the once peaceful village,” said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairperson in a media conference in General Santos today. 

Hilao-Enriquez added that, “it is unfortunate that the move also shows the President’s leaning towards the big foreign mining corporation rather than the lives of the indigenous peoples living in the mountain communities rich in natural resources that billions of money cannot buy nor create.”

Karapatan takes note of the “impunity by which these violations are committed jointly by the Aquino government, the mining company, through the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in this instance the Task Force KITACOM. Civilians, specifically members of the Blaan tribe who defend their rights to their land and resources, are the common victims.” 

“We stress the need to immediately pull out military units in the community, as well as the paramilitary groups that are under the AFP’s command,” said Hilao-Enriquez.  

Release detained peace consultants, resume NDFP-GPH peace talks

"The Aquino government should refrain from sabotaging the peace process and should immediately release detained peace consultants," Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said as the group staged a picket protest in front of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).  OPAPP is tasked to “oversee, coordinate and integrate the implementation of the comprehensive peace process.”

Resume Peace Negotiations Free all political prisoners

According to Palabay, the harassment, arrest and detention of peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) through trumped up charges and inclusion in the bounty list of the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) are clear violations of the Joint Agreement on Immunity and Security Guarantees (JASIG), an agreement signed between the GPH and the NDFP in 1995,” added Palabay.  JASIG was signed by both parties in February 24, 1995.


Meanwhile, detained NDFP consultant Ramon Patriarca today started a protest fast until February 26, 2013. Patriarca is currently detained at the AFP Central Command in Camp Lapu-lapu, Cebu City, where he was transferred from the Cebu Provincial Jail in Danao City. Patriarca has been in jail for four years.


Patriarca, through a statement, said the Aquino government "is effectively stalling the peace talk’s regular course, and the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio Economic Reforms (CASER). It continues to violate, with impunity, the 1998 GRP-NDF Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).”  CARHRIHL is the first of the four substantive agenda lined up for discussion between the GPH and the NDFP.


A letter to Tatay**

Dear Tatay,
I am writing you again a letter that I am not sure if you will be able to read.
I guess I am still writing you, even after six years of your disappearance, for my own comfort. I’d like to think that maybe somehow my message will reach you. I would like to imagine that while reading my letter, you'll smile and maybe, just maybe, you'll answer this.
Because I want to tell you that you have a very handsome and healthy grandson. His name is Ron Eliseo. I named him after Nanay, Elizabeth and of course, you, Leo. ELISEO. Do you like his name? Then you'll probably smile and say, "best name."
Eliseo just turned one year old this month. You don't know how much I want you to meet him. I'm sure you'll fall in love with him, too, like so many of his Titos and Titas do. I hope that he grows up to be as smart, compassionate, humble and as happy as his Lolo Leo.
Yet, it pains me that he does not have the chance to meet you. He could have learned so much from you, like I did.
Leo Velasco 

Six years, Tay. Six long years. I have not stopped fighting for justice since then. Together with other families of the desaparecidos, we continue this struggle even if it takes 10, 20, or more years.
I would like to tell you that finally a law criminalizing the act of enforced disappearance was just enacted. Our group, Families of Desaparecidos for Justice,  was a part of the committee that wrote its Implementing Rules and Regulations. Families of victims of enforced disappearances can now file a case in court under this act. And because this is considered as continuing crime, those who were disappeared before the enactment of this law who are still missing can still file a case in court.
I can now work for the prosecution of your abductors, Tatay. I can make all of them rot in jail. But how? I don't know who they are. Witnesses to your abduction are too afraid to be involved. All I know is that you were abducted by the Arroyo government and that this current government is still hiding you.
I do not want keep my hopes high that this law will bring you back home. I know, from what you had taught me, it takes more than an enactment of a law to bring about justice.
I spend this day with pain and sadness because six years ago, the State took you away from us, and we had to live our lives without your hugs, your voice and most of all without you.
I realize, now that I am a parent too, that this society is too violent for Eliseo to grow up in. I cannot bear the idea of him suffering because of the illnesses of this society, yet I know I will not be there to protect him at all times. Like you, I would have to trust that he will learn to have strength and courage to face hardships. And like you and Nanay, we continue to be part of a movement for a real and meaningful change for our children’s and grandchildren's future. Now I understand the choices you took earlier in life and why you held on to those principles.
Take care, Tatay.
There is not a day that I didn't miss you.
Love and kisses,
Aya and Eliseo


**“Tatay” is Leo Velasco, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) who was abducted in Cagayan de Oro City on February 19, 2007, under the Arroyo government. Today, he remains missing, almost three years after Noynoy Aquino assumed presidency. Velasco is among the 11 NDF consultants and staff who were abducted and forcibly disappeared, despite being protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or JASIG signed between the GPH and the NDFP in 1995.   

Geertman's killing is not a simple robbery with homicide, it’s MURDER

"Geertman’s death is state-perpetrated, it is a case of extrajudicial killing," said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, in reaction to the resolution issued by the Office of the City Prosecutor in San Fernando City, Pampanga on the killing of Dutch lay worker, Wilhelm Geertman. 

The resolution on the preliminary investigation finds probable cause to file a Robbery with Homicide, and NOT MURDER charge against respondents Harold L. Dela Cruz, Marvin Marsan, et al.

“The resolution contains a major pitfall, laced with malice, when it disregarded the context and the whole circumstance of Geertman’s killing – that he was targeted by state agents, that he was killed to send a chilling political message, and that it is ultimately the state which stood to benefit from his death. The resolution thus absolves the Aquino government and its state security forces from accountability,” Palabay added. 

Wilhelm Geertman, a lay development worker and anti-mining activist, was slain last July 3, 2012 in San Fernando City, Pampanga, north of Metro Manila. He is a Dutch national who worked more than 40 years in the Philippines, specifically in Baler, Aurora helping farmers and establishing peoples' organizations. He was the Executive Director of Alay-Bayan Luzon, an NGO on disaster response, when he was gunned down.

"Had Geertman been the usual visiting foreigner, the case of robbery with homicide would have been appropriate, but he was not. Geertman was an activist. He fought against destructive mining, against landgrabbing and other projects that displaced the peasants and indigenous peoples in Aurora. He received threats and was a victim of red-tagging by the military prior to his death. His killers could not only be mere petty criminals," Palabay said. 

"This is similar to the case of former Supreme Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Indipendiente, who was murdered in 2006 at the Bishop's residence in Tarlac. The authorities also dismissed the case as robbery, citing that his DVD player was stolen," Palabay said. "But everyone knew of  Bishop Ramento's involvement in, and support to the struggle of Hacienda Luisita farm workers, and that  caused his 'neutralization,'" Palabay cited. 

"We call on Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to look into this case and come out with an accurate finding on the killing of Geertman. We stand by our belief that it is politically motivated murder," Palabay ended.

Statement of Desaparecidos on the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 and its IRR

The Families of Desaparecidos for Justice look forward to the day without enforced disappearances.

Yesterday, February 12, 2013, Desaparecidos co-signed the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the newly-enacted law called, the "Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012." We participated in the crafting of the IRR, after long years of advocacy and lobby work for the enactment of the law, because we view this engagement as part of the over-all enduring struggle for justice and human rights of victims and relatives, human rights advocates, and the Filipino people.

The Philippine government, through the law, officially recognized the criminal nature of the act of enforced disappearance – that enforced disappearance is a crime against persons, and that the perpetrators should be criminally liable and must be put to jail. Most importantly, the law’s acknowledgement that the said crime can only be perpetuated by State agents is an official admission and recognition that indeed, the State is most responsible in the commission of the crime of enforced disappearance. The law likewise recognizes that it is the State's responsibility to provide compensation, restitution and rehabilitation to victims of enforced disappearances and their families.

Since Marcos’ Martial Law and the series of administrations after it, including the present Noynoy Aquino government, such crime was and is being committed with impunity, with much brazenness and with full use of government resources against the very people whom government has supposedly sworn to protect.

After thousands of disappearances, anguish and immeasurable pain we bear as we waged a resolute, determined struggle for justice for our loved ones, finally, the country's recognition of this heinous crime proved us, families of the disappeared who fought and are still fighting, the correctness of our struggle for justice and human rights. 

We commend progressive legislators led by Bayan Muna Reps. Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares, and allies in Congress who stood with us against those who tried to deny the State’s responsibility on this heinous crime by twisting the definition of enforced disappearances. Our progressive legislators took a hard stand in asserting that it is the State which has the obligation, authority, and machinery to protect the rights of its people.

But by using these machinery and authority to commit enforced disappearance to maintain the powers-that-be, the gravity of this act is incomparably heavier than those who committed the same but are private civilians or non-state agents. It is well that these sound and grounded arguments prevailed over those of some legislators posturing as human rights crusaders who would have wanted to dilute the State’s role and responsibility and defeat the whole purpose and principle of the measure.

Our organization, Desaparecidos, is determined to stand for this principle: that enforced disappearances is a systematic act and is perpetrated by State actors.

Karapatan challenges 2013 candidates to bring in human rights agenda into their campaigns

Human rights should be an election issue, said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, “because the 2013 election is happening amid increasing human rights violations under the three-year old Aquino and on the last year of Oplan Bayanihan’s first phase.” 

“Let not the election ruckus drown the violations of human rights under the Aquino government. The candidates should speak on the Aquino government’s human rights record so the voting public would know where they stand, as far as the promotion and protection of human rights is concerned.” 

Majority of the candidates in the senatorial elections are from rich political clans, and some have been directly or indirectly involved in human rights violations such as the massacre of peasants, the violation of workers’ rights or have promoted programs and projects that cause or will result to the displacement of people from their communities. 

“There is no ‘matuwid na daan’ without respecting the people’s rights. Candidates, should first and foremost speak on the Aquino government counterinsurgency program, the Oplan Bayanihan, which had resulted to gross abuses and human rights violations against the Filipino people. Will the candidates work on junking Oplan Bayanihan?” Palabay added.  

Karapatan had repeatedly called for the end of the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan and is again putting forward such concern in the 2013 elections. Among those listed in the human rights agenda for the 2013 election, based on its 2012 4th Congress resolution, are: 

  • The end to the government’s practice of extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and detention based on trumped up criminal charges, torture and other forms of human rights violations. 
  • An end to militarization and the immediate pullout of military troops from rural and urban communities, including the use of schools, Churches and other civilian facilities for military purposes. 
  • Dismantling of paramilitary forces such as the CAFGU and SCAA through the revocation of Executive Order 546 and other similar policies. 
  • The release of all political prisoners especially the elderly and those who have ailments. In line with this, Karapatan likewise puts forward the immediate release of all NDFP consultations based on earlier commitment by the Aquino government, for the immediate resumption of the peace negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP. 
  • An end to forced eviction and demolition of urban poor communities in favour of the government’s program of Public-Private Partnership (PPP). 
While Karapatan lined up the HR agenda for 2013, Palabay added that, “we have not forgotten that the Aquino government still owes the Filipino people for failing to hold accountable the Gloria Arroyo government for its rights violations, for the arrest of Gen. Jovito Palparan and for promoting Arroyo’s generals such Segovia, Ano, among others.” ###


4th Capion killed, B’laan families evacuate as military operations intensify in areas occupied by Xstrata-SMI mines

Karapatan calls for the immediate pull out of the Task Force KITACOM (Kiblawan, Tampakan, Columbio, Malungon) of the 39th and 27th IB-PA and the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) from civilian communities, as it expresses its condemnation on the killing of Kitari Capion and the forcible evacuation of some 150 residents in Baranggay Kimlawis, Kiblawan, Davao del Sur. 

“We view the recent military operation as another violation of the B'laan’s right to their ancestral lands, as if the incursion of the Xstrata Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) is not enough to wipe out the B’laan tribe," said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan. 

Kitari Capion was killed during a military operation on January 29, three months after her sister-in-law Juvy Capion and her two sons were massacred. 

Initial reports from the said community indicated forced evacuation of the B’laan tribe which started on February 1, after Kitari’s death and, after military operations resumed in the B’laan ancestral lands occupied by the Xstrata-SMI Mining Corporation. 

Members of the B’laan tribe opposed to the incursion of the Xstrata-SMI operation have employed "pangayaw", traditionally a “war” waged by the tribes against intruders into their defined territory but is now waged against the mining company as a way of defending their ancestral land rights. 

“The military operation is meant to protect the interests of the mining company by silencing dissent in the community,” added Palabay.  

Kitari is the fourth member of the Capion clan who was killed by state forces under the Noynoy Aquino government. Kitari is the younger brother of Daguil, whose wife and two children were killed by elements of the 27th Infantry Battalion in October last year. 

Karapatan calls on govt to immediately release Acosta, file charges vs. 34th IB

With DOJ’s Resolution to withdraw information  

With the recent findings and resolution of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw information against detained poet-artist Ericson Acosta,  “it is in incumbent upon the Aquino government to file charges against the members of the 34th IB for violations of RA 7438, rights of persons arrested, detained or under custodial investigation,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan. 

Karapatan said Ericson Acosta's case shows the all-too-familiar violations committed by Aquino’s Armed Forces of the Philippines against activists and ordinary folks they encounter in the course of their “counterinsurgency” campaign: warrantless arrest; the right to be informed why he was arrested; denial of the right to counsel and to inform his family; prolonged interrogation and torture; planted evidence; detention in a military camp, among other violations.  

“Acosta’s experience and plight showcase the situation of the 430 political prisoners in the country who were falsely accused of committing various criminal acts.  In December 2012 alone, 28 people were arbitrarily arrested by the AFP based on trumped up criminal charges,” Palabay noted.

Karapatan cited the case of Maricon Montajes, a UP student, who was arrested in June 3, 2010 by elements of the 743rd Squadron of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) while photo-documenting the plight of the peasantry at Brgy. Mabayabas, Taysan, Batangas. Montajes was charged with Illegal Possession of Firearms and Ammunitions and Illegal Possession of Explosives. She is currently detained at the Batangas Provincial Jail.