Harassment of int’l factfinding mission members shows intent of Duterte regime to cover-up human rights violations

“Harassment and other attacks against human rights defenders during factfinding missions show the intent of the government to cover-up human rights violations. We condemn the recent harassment of international factfinding mission delegates, who were investigating the massacre of eight Lumad leaders in Brgy. Ned, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

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The said international factfinding mission, spearheaded by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines and the Mindanaoans for Civil Liberties, is being conducted to investigate the reports on human rights violations in Mindanao, with the implementation of martial law and counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan.

According to initial reports, the delegates, including five foreign human rights observers, were on their way to General Santos City, when they were held at a police-manned checkpoint at Brgy. Palian, Tupi, South Cotabato. All participants were ordered to show their identification cards, including that of the five foreign rights advocates. The IDs issued by the Bureau of Immigration for two foreign church workers of the United Methodist Church were confiscated by police. The two are currently escorted to Bureau of Immigration Region 12 field office in General Santos City reportedly for “verification.” Police personnel who accosted the mission delegates did not present any written document to specify reasons for their actions.   

Also recently, on February 19, other participants to the said mission were denied entry to the Lumad communities in Brgy. Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur by soldiers from the 75th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army. The ten mission delegates, four were human rights observers from abroad, were accompanied by Lianga councilor Sammy Dollano and Friends of the Lumad in Caraga chairperson Bishop Modesto Villasanta. The mission was supposedly scheduled to look into the plight of Lumad communities who evacuated due to military operations.

Philippine-based human rights workers who have launched similar independent factfinding missions have been similarly harassed and threatened in the past few months. On November 29, members of a factfinding mission in Bayawan, Negros Oriental were shot at by armed goons of landlords, resulting in the death of Karapatan Negros Oriental coordinator Elisa Badayos and peasant activist Eleuterio Moises. On November 20, nine peasant activists who joined the quick reaction mission led by the Batangas Human Rights Alliance-Karapatan were illegally arrested and detained in Nasugbu, Batangas.

“We call on the Duterte administration to respect the rights of human rights defenders, including our right to conduct independent investigations into reports of human rights abuses, and the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity, which is being exercised by foreign human rights advocates in the conduct of international factfinding and solidarity missions in the Philippines. We demand that State security forces cease all forms of harassment and attacks against groups and individuals who support communities plagued by the Duterte administration’s violations of people’s rights,” Palabay concluded.

Reference:  Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, 0917-3162831

                   Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580