CIVICUS protests to Marcos over ‘judicial harassment’, ‘terrorist’ label on human rights activists

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"Activism is not terrorism" . . . five Filipino indigenous peoples’ leaders and advocates have been branded as "terrorist" individuals and their property and funds have been frozen. Image: CIVICUS

Asia Pacific Report

A global alliance of civil society organisations has protested to Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr in an open letter over the “judicial harassment” of human rights defenders and the designation of five indigenous rights activists as “terrorists“.

CIVICUS, representing some 15,000 members in 75 countries, says the harassment is putting the defenders “at great risk”.

It has also condemned the “draconian” Republic Act No. 11479 — the Anti-Terrorism Act — for its “weaponisation’ against political dissent and human rights work and advocacy in the Philippines.

The CIVICUS open letter said there were “dire implications on the rights to due process and against warrantless arrests, among others”.

The letter called on the Philippine authorities to:

  • Immediately end the judicial harassment against 10 human rights defenders by withdrawing the petition in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 84;
  • Repeal Resolution No. 35 (2022) designating the six human rights defenders as terrorist individuals and unfreeze their property and funds immediately and unconditionally;
  • Drop all charges under the ATA against activists in the Southern Tagalog region; and
  • Halt all forms of intimidation and attacks on human rights defenders, ensure an enabling environment for human rights defenders and enact a law for their protection.

The full letter states:

President of the Republic of the Philippines
Malacañang Palace Compound
P. Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila
The Philippines.

Dear President Marcos, Jr.,

Philippines: Halt harassment against human rights defenders

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society worldwide. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has over 15,000 members in 175 countries.

We are writing to you regarding a number of cases where human rights defenders are facing judicial harassment or have been designated as terrorists, putting them at great risk.

Judicial harassment against previously acquitted human rights defenders
CIVICUS is concerned about renewed judicial harassment against ten human rights defenders that had been previously acquitted for perjury. In March 2023, a petition was filed by prosecutors from the Quezon City Office of the Prosecutor, with General Esperon and current NSA General Eduardo Ano seeking a review of a lower court’s decision against the ten human rights defenders. They include Karapatan National Council members Elisa Tita Lubi, Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Dr. Edita Burgos, Jose Mari Callueng and Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol as well as Joan May Salvador and Gertrudes Libang of GABRIELA and Sr Elenita Belardo of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP).

The petition also includes the judge that presided over the case Judge Aimee Marie B. Alcera. They alleged that Judge Alcera committed “grave abuse of discretion” in acquitting the defenders. The petition is now pending before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 84 Presiding Judge Luisito Galvez Cortez, who has asked the respondents to comment on Esperon’s motion this July and has scheduled a hearing on 29 August 2023.

Human rights defenders designated as terrorists
CIVICUS is also concerned that on 7 June 2023, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) signed Resolution No. 41 (2022) designating five indigenous peoples’ leaders and advocates – Sarah Abellon Alikes, Jennifer R. Awingan, Windel Bolinget, Stephen Tauli, and May Casilao – as terrorist individuals. The resolution also freezes their property and funds, including related accounts.

The four indigenous peoples’ human rights defenders – Alikes, Awingan, Bolinget and Tauli — are leaders of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA). May Casilao has been active in Panalipdan! Mindanao (Defend Mindanao), a Mindanao-wide interfaith network of various sectoral organizations and individuals focused on providing education on, and conducting campaigns against, threats to the environment and people of the island, especially the Lumad. Previously, on 7 December 2022, the ATC signed Resolution No. 35 (2022) designating indigenous peoples’ rights defender Ma. Natividad “Doc Naty” Castro, former National Council member of Karapatan and a community-based health worker, as a “terrorist individual.”

The arbitrary and baseless designation of these human rights defenders highlights the concerns of human rights organizations against Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act, particularly on the weaponization of the draconian law against political dissent and human rights work and advocacy in the Philippines and the dire implications on the rights to due process and against warrantless arrests, among others.

Anti-terrorism law deployed against activists in the Southern Tagalog region
We are also concerned about reports that the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) has been deployed to suppress and persecute human rights defenders in the Southern Tagalog region, which has the most number of human rights defenders and other political activists criminalised by this law. As of July 2023, up to 13 human rights defenders from Southern Tagalog face trumped-up criminal complaints citing violations under the ATA. Among those targeted include Rev. Glofie Baluntong, Hailey Pecayo, Kenneth Rementilla and Jasmin Rubio.

International human rights obligations
The Philippines government has made repeated assurances to other states that it will protect human rights defenders including most recently during its Universal Periodic Review in November 2022. However, the cases above highlight that an ongoing and unchanging pattern of the government targeting human rights defenders.

These actions are also inconsistent with Philippines’ international human rights obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Philippines ratified in 1986. These include obligations to respect and protect fundamental freedoms which are also guaranteed in the Philippines Constitution. The Philippines government also has an obligation to protect human rights defenders as provided for in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to prevent any reprisals against them for their activism.

Therefore, we call on the Philippines authorities to:

  • Immediately end the judicial harassment against the ten human rights defenders by withdrawing the petition in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 84;
  • Repeal Resolution No. 35 (2022) designating the six human rights defenders as terrorist individuals and unfreeze their property and funds immediately and unconditionally;Drop all charges under the ATA against activists in the Southern Tagalog region;
  • Halt all forms of intimidation and attacks on human rights defenders, ensure an enabling environment for human rights defenders and enact a law for their protection.

We urge your government to look into these concerns as a matter of priority and we hope to hear from you regarding our inquiries as soon as possible.

Regards,

Sincerely,

David Kode
Advocacy & Campaigns Lead
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Cc: Eduardo Año, National Security Adviser and Director General of the National Security Council
Jesus Crispin C. Remulla, Secretary, Department of Justice of the Philippines
Atty. Richard Palpal-latoc, Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines

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