Karapatan urges SC: grant the petition for review of amparo and habeas data amid worsening attacks on rights defenders

Human rights watchdog Karapatan called on the Supreme Court anew to grant the petition for review of the petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data as they filed a manifestation today on the assassination of human rights and health worker Zara Alvarez, who was supposed to stand as a witness in the petition, amid the successive threats and worsening attacks against human rights workers. Their legal counsels from the National Union of People’s Lawyers assisted them in the filing of the manifestation.

“Zara has been ruthlessly killed while waiting for the decision on our petition which has languished in courts for more than a year already. The delays are literally killing us! While the Court of Appeals outrageously dismissed our petition, the State’s targeted attacks against human rights workers from Karapatan have continued and worsened — and we fear that these threats will precede worse, if not deadly forms of human rights violations against us. What more proof do they need that these attacks are threats to our lives, security and liberty?” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay asked.

The manifestation filed before the high court stated that “[f]or the past years, the rampant red-tagging and terrorist-labelling of human rights defenders in the Philippines has led to their harassment, incarceration on false charges or even killings.” Alvarez was gunned down by an unidentified assailant in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental on August 17, 2020 following years of threats, imprisonment, and harassment from State forces.

Alvarez is 13th human rights worker from Karapatan to be killed under the Duterte administration and the second intended witness in the petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data who was killed following Ryan Hubilla, who was also gunned down on June 15, 2019, mere days before the initial hearing of the petition before the Court of Appeals. Her killing came just a week after the brutal torture and killing of peace advocate Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis. 

From July 1, 2016 until August 17, 2020, Karapatan has documented 328 killings in line with the government’s counterinsurgency program, including 185 slain human rights defenders and activists fighting for social causes. At least five human rights workers of Karapatan — Rosario Tabanao, Teresita Naul, Alexander Philip Abinguna, Engr. Jennefer Aguhob, and Proceso Quiatchon — were arrested and detained on trumped-up and malicious charges. Seven of Karapatan’s national officers are facing baseless perjury charges, which are seen as retaliatory actions for its writ of amparo petition and engagement with the United Nations Human Rights Council. Online attacks, including cyber attacks on its website, were also documented against its human rights workers. 

Palabay said that “various forms of threat and harassment have hounded Karapatan days before and immediately after Zara’s murder in an apparent bloodied warning that we’re next if we don’t stop our human rights work. The goal is to terrorize and silence us.” Mere hours after Alvarez’ killing, Karapatan – Negros Secretary General Clarizza Singson received a death threat on Facebook, which was followed by a liquidation list sent via text message to Karapatan - Southern Tagalog and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers on August 22; the list included Alvarez, Singson, and eight other activists in Negros. Yesterday afternoon, August 31, Karapatan – Negros Deputy Secretary General Juluis Dagatan also received a death threat through another text message.

In August, human rights workers from Karapatan from other regions have also reported various forms of attacks and threats. Last August 13, mere days before Alvarez was killed, the proliferation of terror-tagging “hit list” posters bearing the images, names, and organizations of nine known progressive leaders in Southern Mindanao, including Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region Secretary General Jay Apiag, were documented in Davao City. Similar posters were also documented in Iloilo City last Thursday, August 27, this time including Karapatan Vice Chairperson Reylan Vergara.

On August 23, the 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army included Mar Xavier Ampongan of Karapatan – Camarines Sur in a chart maliciously tagging him and other progressive leaders in the province as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Around 7:20 p.m. last Sunday, August 30, Karapatan – Batangas Secretary General Ruperta Enriquez and her son received from an unidentified man pretending to deliver a package from Shoppee a written note with cash worth 250 pesos as well as two numbers, the name of a certain “Jerome,” and three “options,” with a warning that, if she does not “cooperate,” her name will be included in a “terror list” and “alam mo na ang mangyayari sa’yo” (“you know what will happen to you”). Recently, the sycophants of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict have rabidly tagged Karapatan as a “legal front” and accused Alvarez and Echanis as members of the New People’s Army.

“Karapatan condemns the successive threats in the past weeks against our human rights workers. The threats against human rights defenders in the country are escalating into more terrifying forms and have already killed many of our colleagues. We will not take these threats sitting down. We are also calling the attention of the Commission on Human Rights, human rights lawyers and advocates, the United Nations human rights mechanisms, and the international community on these threats under this worsening climate of impunity in the Philippines,” Palabay stated.

“For the sake of all slain human rights defenders activists who have been killed, we strongly urge the Supreme Court to stand with human rights defenders, victims of human rights violations, and the people in putting a stop to these threats, harassment and killings. We call on the Supreme Court to annul the decision of the Court of Appeals and grant our amparo and habeas data petition now. We cannot let this murderous crackdown continue!” she ended.