No respite in attacks against human rights defenders

"Following verbal assault and open threats against human rights defenders by the President himself, several human rights defenders and other leaders belonging to people’s organizations have been targeted by State security forces. This is but a desperate attempt to silence them and derail their work. Such attacks are not new, but they have escalated following State policies that only embolden the police and the military to commit violations with impunity," said Karapatan secretary general on the recent spate of harassment against human rights defenders.

Palabay cited the recent arrest of three peasant activists in Iloilo and threats against Karapatan-Panay’s secretary general, Reylan Vergara, and chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy, Dr. Darby Santiago.

Around 5:45am today, August 22, 2017, at least 14 members of the Iloilo Provincial Police Office and the Regional Mobile Group raided the houses of peasant activists Rolando Gumban, his son Jeremy Gumban and son-in-law Jun Roy Diane - all members of farmers group Pamanggas-KMP - at Sitio Labigan (within the 700-hectare Sanson Estate) in Brgy. Libertad, Sara, Iloilo. The three were arrested and are now detained at the Sara police station; charges against them are still unknown. Members of Pamanggas were interrogated on their names, addresses, and what organization is Pamanggas affiliated to. Their bags and personal belongings were searched, and notebooks and their IDs were photographed.

Prior to the incident, Pamanggas, Anakpawis and Sanson Estate farmers have been campaigning to regain access of the lands they have tilled for decades. These farmers were victims and dislocated due to the failure of implementation of genuine agrarian reform. Only during the term of Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael "Ka Paeng" Mariano were they able to see justice in their campaign. Last June, farmers started their Bungkalan campaign to compensate the hunger they are experiencing due to dislocation from their farm starting September 2016.

On August 15, 2017, three intelligence personnel of the Philippine National Police went to the house of a relative of Reylan Vergara, secretary general of Karapatan-Panay. Vergara’s relatives were told that checkpoints and sea patrols all over Iloilo are on the look-out fort him. Vergara, a known human rights activist in the Panay Island, has been at the forefront of exposing rights violations against peasant and indigenous communities. He has helped provide legal assistance to victims and their kin, among other activities to promote people’s rights in the Panay region.

On August 20, 2017, Dr. Darby Santiago, chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy, received yet another death threat via text message. The text message read "Ingat ka. Dumadami atraso mo" from mobile number 09322374703. A few years back, Dr. Santiago received a similar text message which read "Isang bala ka lang, ingat ka doc." Dr. Santiago has been vocal about hospital budget cuts and decreased budget for preventive health programs for 2018.

Dr. Darby Santiago is an ophthalmologist who specializes in retinal surgery and serves thousands of patients all around the Philippines. He is the first retina surgeon of the Ilocos Cordillera Region for the past 11 years. Dr. Santiago is also an academic professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and De La Salle University College of Medicine.

Karapatan recently submitted its position paper supporting the passage of House Bill 1617, or the Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Bill authored by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate. "Such measures are not only overdue, but increasingly becoming imperative. The political climate is not only indicative of continuing impunity, but direct, open, and brutal violations against those who raise genuine opposition against the current direction of the Duterte regime," added Palabay.

"The AFP and PNP’s human rights record boasts a bloody track of killings and other forms of violations. Not only should there be measures to protect human rights defenders, but the Duterte regime should immediately put a stop to fascist policies that enable these rights abuses, foremost among these is the counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan which specifically targets rights defenders and labels them as "enemies of the State," concluded Palabay.

 

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