Stop the harassment of human rights workers and activists – Karapatan

Karapatan decried recent incidents of harassment against its human rights workers by suspected military agents as “desperate acts of cowards in uniform,” after receiving reports on the attempted break-in of the residence of one its officers in the Cordillera region and dissemination of false propaganda materials against human rights defenders, including Karapatan staff and officers, in Cagayan Valley.  

On March 30, 2018, suspected military agents attempted to enter the home of Audrey Beltran, member of the Karapatan National Council and Vice Chairperson of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), a regional chapter of Karapatan. 

In a Facebook post, Beltran said her family “heard loud thuds that alarmed us.” She added “I was still awake at that time so I went to check whether some things fell in our kitchen where the sound came from. I was shocked to see that the kitchen door was open and that two locks have already been destroyed. Someone was pushing the door from the outside. I hurriedly took my phone and called up Station 5 of the Baguio City Police Office and also took effort to close the door without allowing whoever it was outside to get hold of me. After I was able to close the door, I heard faint footsteps of a person hurrying away from the door.” 

“The attempt to break in to our house seemed planned and precise by the pieces of information we were able to gather. We could not discount it as just a mere case of burglary as it coincided with the harassment against our office, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance at #55 Ferguson Road, a day before the attempted break-in to our house,” she stated. 

On top of handling other cases of human rights violations in the Cordillera, CHRA is also assisting human rights defenders named in the Justice Department petition proscribing the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist organizations. The names of at least 60 human rights defenders were listed in the petition, including that of Karapatan National Executive Committee member Elisa Tita Lubi, two other officers of the Batangas Human Rights Alliance-Karapatan, and UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

On April 2, flyers containing false and dangerous propaganda that incite and justify violence against ten human rights defenders in Cagayan Valley, including Karapatan staff and officers, were purportedly distributed by the military and its agents in Isabela. The rights activists were tagged as “minions of godless communists” and “terrorists.” 

“The more insidious motives of all this red-tagging and demonizing is to prevent the intelligent discussion of issues, and worse, to justify witch-hunting and physical attacks against activists and the communities they work with,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“This incident also comes with the repeated public pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte inciting State-sponsored violence against Karapatan and other people’s organizations,” she added. Since October 2017, Duterte has threatened to “go after” Karapatan and other progressive organizations at least six times, prompting the human rights alliance to file a complaint to UN independent experts on March 1, 2018.

The organization conducts monitoring and documentation work on human rights violations in the Philippines and provides services for victims of rights violations and their kin as part of their advocacy for human and people’s rights. 

Palabay said Karapatan’s human rights workers in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Southern Tagalog, Negros, Panay, Central Visayas, Caraga, Socsksargends, and the Southern Mindanao region have been reporting several cases of surveillance, harassment and threats by State security forces since last year. They also face fabricated charges filed by the military and police. The organization’s Negros Oriental coordinator, Elisa Badayos, was killed on November 28, 2017 during a fact finding mission. Since 2001, there have been at least forty (40) human rights workers of Karapatan killed by State forces. 

“Instead of addressing complaints of human rights violations, the Armed Forces of the Philippines shoots and harasses the messengers in its sorry attempts to silence and deter the work of the organization. These cowardly acts have reached new lows under the Duterte administration. As Elisa Tita Lubi said in a statement, human rights attackers should back off and they should keep their hands off human rights defenders, their families and communities,” Palabay concluded.

Reference: Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, 0917-3162831

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580