Arrest of Gabriela leader in Cordillera shows Duterte admin’s contempt for women human rights defenders – Karapatan

Karapatan denounced the arrest of indigenous woman human rights defender Beatrice “Betty” Belen, a member of the advisory council of Gabriela’s chapter in Cordillera, yesterday, October 25, at 4 a.m., in her home at Uma, Lubuagan, Kalinga, after the series of false red-tagging statements issued by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) against the women’s organization and its celebrity supporters. 

According to the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance and the Cordillera People’s Alliance, a composite team from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police and the 503rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army (IBPA) searched houses in barangays Western Uma and Lower Uma. Among the homes searched were that of Belen’s. Betty, her husband and two grandchildren were led outside their home when the search was conducted at their residence. After the search reportedly resulted in seizure of firearms and explosives, Betty was arrested and brought to the Kalinga Police Provincial Office. 

During the past few months of the pandemic, while Belen and members of Innabuyog - Gabriela were conducting relief work among communities in Kalinga, soldiers from the 503rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army were going around the communities saying that Belen and members of Innabuyog, Cordillera People’s Alliance and Timpuyog ti Mannalon iti Kalinga (TMK, or Peasant Association in Kalinga) are front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. In 2012, Belen led a people’s action and several women’s activities opposing the Chevron Energy company’s geothermal power project in Kalinga, citing detrimental effects of the said project to lives and health of the community members, especially women and children. 

“The recent arrest of Beatrice Belen is a very clear example on the dangers of red-tagging, resulting in violations to the right to life, liberty and security of human rights defenders, including indigenous women human rights defenders who are fighting for their communities’ land, resources and rights. Like other activists who were arrested on questionable legal bases, Belen has asserted that those allegedly seized in her home were not hers nor of any member of her family,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. 

Belen, Karapatan said, is the most recent among Gabriela’s regional leaders who have been arrested on “fabricated charges.” 

On July 7, 2020, Gabriela - Bicol chapter secretary general Jen Nagrampa was arrested on trumped up charges of murder. She was eventually released, after the judge remanded the charges to the Provincial Prosecution Office in Camarines Sur for preliminary investigation.  

On October 31, 2019, Gabriela - Metro Manila spokesperson Cora Agovida and her husband, Mickael Tan Bartolome, were arrested by operatives of the CIDG and the Metro Manila Police District (MPD) who forcefully entered their home, using a search warrant. The couple were arrested in the presence of their two children, ages 1 year, 6 months old and 10 years old. Fabricated charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives were also filed against them. 

On May 31, 2018, businesswoman and Gabriela Women’s Party volunteer Nerita Castro was arrested on fabricated charges of murder, attempted and frustrated murder, arson and human trafficking. De Castro was a human rights advocate and previously worked with the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines and the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Tandag in Surigao del Sur. 

Karapatan documentation indicates that there are 102 women political prisoners, most if not all are women human rights defenders, who are languishing in various jails and detention centers in the country. 

“The Duterte administration’s contempt for women human rights defenders, both publicly-known personalities such as journalist Maria Ressa and Senator Leila de Lima and those who work in communities, are being shown through its harmful and sexist rhetoric, including red-tagging, and through judicial harassment by way of trumped-up charges. We call on all women who uphold women’s rights and human rights to resist these attempts to silence women and derail their work for social justice and human rights issues. We call for the release of Belen and all women political prisoners in the country,” Palabay ended.