Filipina rights defenders to UNSR Irene Khan: Support our plight amidst attacks on freedom of expression and human rights

February 1, 2024

“We hope that UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan will support our calls to achieve justice and push back against attacks on freedom of expression, press freedom, and human rights in the country.”

Tanggol Bayi, a network of women human rights defenders in the Philippines, made the statement as they expressed recognition of Khan’s efforts to meet and speak with women human rights defenders, press freedom advocates, political prisoners and activists who are exercising their right to freedom of expression and belief, most of them are at the receiving end of repression, red-tagging, and different forms of threats that come from State security forces.

“No amount of cover up and whitewash from the Marcos Jr. administration can hide the reality that the Philippines remains a dangerous place for women human rights defenders. Government policies and our situation, including what we experience as forms of gender-based violence, clearly show how the previous and current government has deliberately attacked women defenders in the course of our advocacy and work for the advancement of human rights in the Philippines,” said Atty. Maria Sol Taule, Tanggol Bayi convenor.

Taule also thanked Khan on the communication she and five other UN Special Rapporteurs sent to the Philippine government last year which included the spate of red-tagging, death threats and persecution she endured as a human rights lawyer.

Tanggol Bayi was among the organizations that submitted a report to UN SR Khan, along with Karapatan, which recommended “a stop to threats and red-tagging against human rights defenders, journalists, artists, members of the academe, among others, and to hold accountable those who continue to incite violence and disseminate false information on individuals and groups.”

They also called for “the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC, a stop to judicial harassment and reprisal suits against human rights defenders and journalists; the repeal of Republic Acts 10168 (Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012) and 11479 (Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020); and the enactment of the Human Rights Defenders Protection law.”

“Such policies directly undermine the rights of women defenders in the Philippines to freedom of association, free expression, to uphold and defend women’s rights and human rights, among others,” Taule said.

Taule said that UNSR had information on these attacks when she visited Frenchie Mae Cumpio in Tacloban City Jail, and when she met abduction survivors Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro.

“We share Khan’s reactions on Cumpio’s continued detention, and believe that it was just her right to express her disappointment. Instead of being onion-skinned, those who continue to detain Cumpio and other women human rights defenders should be ashamed of how they prolong their incarceration and yet, have the gall to further threaten Cumpio. It is never okay to make women human rights defenders and press freedom advocates rot in jail!” Taule exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Tanggol Bayi also scored the recent resolution of the Department of Justice to file charges of grave oral defamation against Tamano and Castro, joining the stand of rights groups and green activists that this is but a form of judicial harassment against the two, for courageously speaking the truth.

Taule also reiterated that aside from the rampant red-tagging, the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency program have become a deadly and dangerous combination for women human rights defenders and the Filipino people in the Philippines.

A number of imprisoned women human rights defenders and their families, namely Amanda Echanis, Julieta Gomez, Niezel Velasco, and Myles Albasin, expressed their appreciation to UN SR Khan on her visit, in high hopes that their calls for freedom will be heard.

Meanwhile, Gomez and Velasco, currently detained at the Camp Karingal Female Dormitory in Quezon City due to fabricated charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, echoed the call to include recommendations to abolish the NTF-ELCAC and the repeal of the terror law. Both are women HRDs and advocates of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Echanis, a writer, poet and peasant women’s rights advocate who is currently detained in Tuguegarao City Jail, also said that she continues to hope their plight as women political prisoners be tackled, because “there are people like her who also choose to believe in hope.”

“From women HR defenders in the Philippines to a fellow WHRD, to UNSR Khan, we fervently hope that by the end of your official visit, the plight and appeals of women HRDs in the Philippines shall be heard. On our part, we shall continue to rise and assert our rights and freedoms, together with the Filipino people,” Taule said. #