Karapatan: Marcos Jr.’s counter-insurgency program violates freedom of expression, opinion

“The Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration’s counter-insurgency program violates the Filipino people’s freedom of expression and opinion,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, in a meeting yesterday, January 23, 2024, of human rights and people’s organizations with UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan.

Together with other groups representing human rights defenders, artists, alternative media, members of the academe, Karapatan’s #FightToExpress campaign kicked off last week, and continues with actions and events that seeks to dialogue with Ms. Khan on issues concerning the violations of people’s rights and basic freedoms.

“The Marcos Jr. administration’s whole of nation approach is a militarist policy that has put in danger the lives of vocal critics and rights advocates, as it promotes a climate of impunity. It has resulted in extrajudicial killings, illegal and arbitrary arrests, judicial harassment and threats against activists and communities,” said Palabay.

Karapatan said that from the Duterte to current Marcos Jr. administration, it documented 529 civilians, including 226 human rights defenders, killed in the administrations’ counter-insurgency campaigns. The group also said that fifteen human rights workers of Karapatan, including Zara Alvarez of Negros, were killed, emphasizing that not one State agent has been made accountable for these extrajudicial killings. Karapatan also cited its documentation of 800 political prisoners (as of December 2023) who are victims of trumped up criminal charges driven by the said campaign.

Yesterday, a protest action in front of the Department of Justice was conducted by Altermidya, calling for the release of detained community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio. Cumpio, who was arrested and detained with Karapatan human rights worker Alexander Philip Abinguna and three others, has been in prison for almost four years, after being unjustly arrested on trumped up charges.

“At the core of the government’s denial of the freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the right to press freedom and the people’s right to information, is a wanton state policy of repression, censorship, and suppressing dissent. As long as this is the framework of the Marcos Jr. government, we will continue to experience a de facto kind of martial law, with the former dictator’s namesake at the helm,” Palabay said.

Karapatan called on Ms. Khan to visit Cumpio and Abinguna in Leyte. “The policy of filing trumped up charges against journalists, activists, and freedom of expression advocates, shows the weaponization of the justice system to put journalists and rights advocates like Cumpio and Abinguna in jail for their exercise of their rights,” Palabay said.

Karapatan has criticized statements made by the executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS), Paul Gutierrez, in his column that Cumpio is in jail due to her “active role in the local terrorist group of communists.”

According to Karapatan, the majority of cases or incidents that were presented in the submissions done by at least 40 different organizations in the #FightToExpress network overwhelmingly show the whole range of attacks done in the Philippines, primarily implemented by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), and are aggravated by the existence of laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Law.

For its part, the submission of Karapatan and Tanggol Bayi focused on “laws, policies and practices that impact on the right to freedom of opinion and expression of the general public, people’s organizations and human rights defenders,” stating in their submission that “the government’s counter-insurgency programs has resulted in extrajudicial killings of civilians, including human rights defenders.”

*Copies of the 40 submissions are available upon request.