Urgent appeal for action against the arbitrary and baseless filing of anti-terrorism cases against Southern Tagalog activists

Photo by Aaron Favila/Associated Press

Dear friends and colleagues,

Greetings of peace!

On July 3, 2020, the Philippine congress passed RA 11479 (An Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Penalize Terrorism) otherwise known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA). With a total of 37 petitions filed questioning its constitutionality, it has gone down in history as the most challenged piece of legislation in the Philippines.

Since the law was enacted, State authorities have weaponized and brandished it to suppress and persecute human rights defenders. The Southern Tagalog region, in particular, has had the most number of human rights defenders and other political activists victimized by this law.

As of July 2023, up to 13 human rights defenders from Southern Tagalog are facing trumped-up criminal complaints citing violations under the ATA. The most prominent cases are those of Rev. Glofie Baluntong, Hailey Pecayo, Kenneth Rementilla and Jasmin Rubio.

Rev. Glofie Baluntong, ecumenical leader, human rights advocate

Rev. Glofie Baluntong, a former Superintendent of the Oriental Mindoro-Romblon-Marinduque District of the United Methodist Church (UMC), was a deaconess for 24 years when she decided to present herself as a candidate for ordination in 2014.

Assigned to the province of Oriental Mindoro, Reverend Baluntong communes with the Mangyan indigenous group by conducting humanitarian work in their most vulnerable communities.

She works with the ecumenical community and human rights groups, and helps in promoting human rights through education, practical ministry pf providing sanctuary, and documenting cases of human rights violations. She leads the church in doing relevant Christian Education ministries, carrying out contextualized mission and evangelism, creative and meaningful liturgies, and implementing sound stewardship of church resources.

Since 2019, Reverend Baluntong has experienced a series of harassments from State authorities as a result of her service to the community. Not a few times did men in military uniform frequent the church premises and “attend” church services. The harassment against Rev. Glofie Baluntong became more apparent when she was questioned for her humanitarian work and accused by the 203rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army of having connections to the CPP-NPA.

On August 18, 2021, Reverend Baluntong, along with others, was baselessly and maliciously charged with a trumped-up case of attempted murder involving an incident that occurred on March 25, 2021 at 3 p.m. On that date and time, Reverend Baluntong was elsewhere and was seen publicly providing necrological services to one of the church members. Through the support of individuals and organizations, and the church, she was able to post her bail amounting Php 120,000.00.

On August 5, 2022, however, she received a subpoena requiring her to answer another criminal case, this time, for alleged violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The new charge is based on the same allegations used as basis to indict her for attempted murder. But this time, the case is non-bailable.

Hailey Pecayo, paralegal, human rights worker, Tanggol Batangan spokesperson

At 19, Hailey Pecayo is a young human rights worker and peasant advocate who serves as the spokesperson of Tanggol Batangan, a provincial alliance of human rights advocates, volunteers and professionals providing legal assistance and support for victims of human rights violations in the province of Batangas. 

At her young age, she has already witnessed the deplorable conditions of peasants in Batangas, as she assisted them as a paralegal in their agrarian cases related to landlessness and landgrabbing in the province. 

Pecayo has led fact-finding and humanitarian missions in Southern Tagalog. In July 2022, she was among those who responded to reports on the alleged killings by the 59th IBPA of nine-year-old Kyllene Casao and 50-year-old farmer Maximino Digno in Batangas. It is these activities related to Pecayo’s human rights work that triggered the recent criminal complaints filed against her in a prosecutor’s office in Laguna by soldiers of the 59th IBPA.

The complaints alleged that Pecayo violated the Anti-Terrorism Act and International Humanitarian Law and committed attempted murder. Pecayo asserts that the complaints are based on fabricated testimonies of soldiers and so-called rebel surrenderees and are meant to derail her work as a human rights defender. 

Jasmin Rubia, women and children’s rights advocate

At 24, Jasmin Rubia is a young women’s rights activist and a paralegal. She has been advocating for the rights and protection of women and children since she was 18. 

Rubia was a college student when she got involved with and became a coordinator of Girls for Peace, a network that gathered and mobilized girls and young women in the campaign for human rights and just peace. Rubia led campaigns against the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility and mandatory military training for students, which have dire implications on the rights and safety of women and girls. 

Rubia is also a member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and has worked with ecumenical and lay leaders in their ministry for poor communities. 

As Secretary General of the Mothers and Children for the Protection of Human Rights, she has led several independent human rights investigations and extended humanitarian support to women and girls who are victims of violence. One of these cases is that of nine-year- old Kyllene Casao, who was reportedly killed in Batangas by soldiers of the 59th IB. Angered, the soldiers have filed criminal complaints against Rubia in a prosecutor’s office in Rizal province, including one for violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act. 

Kenneth Rementilla, regional coordinator of Anakbayan Southern Tagalog, paralegal 

Kenneth Rementilla, 24, is a youth activist, cultural worker and  human rights advocate. 

Rementilla is a Development Communication student at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, where he became an editor of the UPLB Perspective, the campus student publication, creating multi-media content for the said paper. He became president of the UP Film Circle in UPLB, which had actively advocated for free expression. 

During the pandemic, despite restrictions on mobility, he was able to mobilize students to air their grievances regarding the militarist approach of the Duterte administration in addressing people’s concerns during the public health emergency. 

As coordinator of youth group Anakbayan in Southern Tagalog, Rementilla participated in several independent human rights investigations and extended humanitarian support for victims of human rights violations, including nine-year-old Kyllene Casao. He is Rubia’s co-accused in the ATA case filed in a prosecutor’s office in Rizal province.

The following human rights defenders are also facing criminal complaints/charges for alleged violations of the ATA: Political prisoner Fe Serrano, United Church of Christ of the Philippines pastor Rev. Edwin Egar, local government officials Ronald Ramos and Pedrito Vasquez, and peasants Liezel Murillo, Fe and Allen Marinas, Sherlito Casidsid and Miguel Mangera. 

The filing of anti-terrorism cases against these human rights defenders brings to the fore the crucial issues raised by Karapatan and other human rights organizations against the Anti-Terrorism Act, particularly the weaponization of this draconian law against political dissenters and human rights workers and advocates in the Philippines, the law’s vague and overly broad definition of terrorist acts and the latter’s dire implications on the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association, warrantless arrests and arbitrary detention, among others.

We call on all our allies, especially human rights activists, peasant and indigenous peoples rights advocates, church people and all freedom-loving peoples here and abroad to support Rev. Glofie Baluntong, Hailey Pecayo, Kenneth Rementilla, Jasmin Rubio and other Southern Tagalog activists and stand with them against the intensified harassment and persecution of human rights defenders who are fighting injustice, inequality and impunity and the weaponization of the law in the Philippines. 

We urgently appeal for your support and solidarity by:

1. Writing letters and statements supporting the human rights defenders arbitrarily accused of terrorism and to send the letters and statements to the following:

Mr. Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., President of the Republic of the Philippines
Fax: +632 742-1641 / 929-3968 / +632 87368621
Email: op@president.gov.ph / pcc@malacanang.gov.ph or send a message through http://president.gov.ph/contact-us/

Eduardo Año
National Security Adviser and Director General of the National Security Council
East Avenue corner V. Luna Road, Quezon City, Philippines
Email: publicaffairs@nsc.gov.ph 

Mr. Jesus Crispin C. Remulla, Secretary, Department of Justice of the Philippines
Fax: +632 521-1614 / +632 85262618
Email: communications@doj.gov.ph / osecmig@gmail.com

Atty. Richard Palpal-latoc
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
Email: ocrpp@chr.gov.ph 

2.   Issuing statements of solidarity for the Southern Tagalog human rights defenders to be circulated to the public and media circles, and calling on the Philippine government to drop the unjust and trumped-up terrorism charges against them and to repeal Republic Act 11479, (An Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Penalize Terrorism), otherwise known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 which is being weaponized and brandished to suppress dissent, persecute and curtail the movements and activities of human rights defenders and other political activists.

3. Publish these in your websites, social media platforms, among others, using the following calls: 

Drop the unjust terrorism charges against human rights defenders!
Junk the Anti-Terrorism Law! 

Please send us a copy of your email to the above-named officials, to our address below:

Karapatan Alliance Philippines
2/F Erythrina Bldg., #1 Maaralin cor Matatag Sts., Brgy. Central, Diliman, Quezon City 1100 PHILIPPINES 
Telefax: (+632) 435 4146 
Email: publicinfo@karapatan.org 
Website: www.karapatan.org