Australian Chapter: Australian Council of Trade Unions; Maritime Union of Australia, Victorian Branch; SEARCH Foundation; Philippines Australia Union Link; Action for Peace & Development in the Philippines, Migrante Australia
September 4, 2015,
H E Benigno Simeon Aquino III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
JP Laurel St., San Miguel
Withdraw trumped up criminal charges against 22 church leaders, human rights workers and victims of human rights violations in Mindanao
The Australian Chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines calls on your government to withdraw false criminal charges against 22 human rights victims, human rights workers and other leaders of people’s organizations assisting victims of military atrocities in Davao and Sarangani provinces in Mindanao.
According to the KARAPATAN report, on June 17, 2015, PO2 Jegz Bryan L. Salutan of the Philippine National Police-Alabel and Pfc. Charlito B. Tunggak of the 73rd Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA) filed charges against leaders of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), progressive people’s organizations and human rights groups for attempted murder, violation of Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act and violation of Republic Act 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and other Crimes Against Humanity.
Those charged were Ryan Lariba, Secretary General of Bayan-Socsksargen; Rev. Allen Bill Veloso, Chairperson of Karapatan-Socsksargen; Pastor Sadrach Sabella, Secretary General of Karapatan Socsksargen; Pastor Roger Rafalez of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines-Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR); Bert Padayao, Chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Socsksargen; Anelfa Gemilo, Chairperson of Kaluhhamin (a Lumad organization), Lorna Mora, Secretary General of Kaluhhamin and 15 others, including victims of human rights violations, two staff members of CLANS (Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services) and members of Lumad community organization.
The 22 individuals were charged with attempted murder in relation to an encounter between members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and 73rd IBPA in Brgy. Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani. They were also charged with violation of Republic Act 7610 in relation to the evacuation of more than 400 Blaan who fled their homes when the military conducted combat operations in their communities and human rights violations were committed against them. lmost the same individuals were also charged at the Malapatan Municipal police station on May 28, 2015 with a certain pastor Mendoza Masalon as complainant.
Two other criminal charges were earlier filed against the evacuees and other human rights victims, including Brgy. Upper Suyan resident and torture victim Ruben Wating.
It is an outrage that the individuals who were criminally charged were those who assisted the evacuees and those who participated in a fact-finding mission in Sitio Akbual, Brgy. Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani province on April 27-29, 2015. The mission investigated the human rights abuses committed by elements of the 73rd IBPA against the Blaan tribe.
Almost 150 elements of the 73rd IBPA conducted military operations on March 27 – April 10, 2015, affecting some 358 families or 1,800 individuals who became victims of abuses and human rights violations. The team documented military atrocities in the Blaan villages – among them were torture, aerial bombings, indiscriminate firing, and food blockade.
After the fact-finding team departed, continued indiscriminate firing prompted some 441 villagers on May 18 to seek shelter in nearby villages, and they eventually decided to go to General Santos City. The evacuees were assisted by groups like Karapatan, Kaluhhamin, Clans and Bayan-Socsksargen, providing them food and medicine. The evacuees, 200 of them children, were brought to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Compound. Elements of the 73rd IBPA frequently visited them at the compound.
From May 23 to June 10, there was a series of “dialogues” between the evacuees and representatives of the local government and the 73rd IBPA. The government and AFP representatives scolded the evacuees and urged them to go home, ignoring the evacuees’ demand for a military pull-out. In one of the dialogues, 2nd Lt. Faith Sela accused the evacuees of participating in the ambush of members of the 73rd IBPA.
On June 13, the evacuees decided to return to their communities but delayed when they heard of some 300 soldiers still in the community. The following day, however, they went home.
Evacuees and torture victims face four trumped-up criminal charges
Farmer Ruben Wating, a resident of Sitio Akboal, was tortured on April 5, 2015, by soldiers of the 73rd IBPA during their military operations in civilian communities in Brgy. Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani Province. He now faces four false criminal charges.
A certain “Gober,” said to be the Commanding Officer of the Reconnaissance Company of the 73rd IBPA, two soldiers named Ricky Sotal and Toto Sukal, and one unnamed member of the PNP-Malapatan went to the house of Ruben Wating. Soldiers accused Wating of being among the NPA members they encountered three days before. When Wating disputed their claim, the soldiers forced him to drink two gallons of “tuba” or coconut wine with them. At 9 pm, after they finished the wine, they brought Wating to a nearby creek where he was tortured – kicked in the neck, clipped his left thumbnail with pliers while another punched the right side of Wating’s limb. A soldier pulled a .45 cal. and aimed at Wating’s forehead. He was ordered to drop to the ground and when he did, the soldiers repeatedly stepped on Wating’s legs on to his back. Later, they instructed him to stand up and run. He refused to do so for fear that the soldiers would shoot him.
The soldiers then brought Wating to a neighbor’s house where he was again punched and his hands smashed with a bamboo stick. After some time, the soldiers allowed Wating to go home but first hit his back with a belt. That night, six soldiers slept over at Wating’s house.
Wating is included in the false charges filed by Pastor Mendoza A. Masalon on May 28, 2015 against leaders of progressive people’s organization for violation of Sec. 3 (b) and 10(a) of RA7610 (Special Protection of children against abuse, exploitation and discrimination act) and, Article 142 (inciting to sedition) of the Revised Penal Code.
He is also included in the false charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention filed on May 29, 2015 at the Regional Trial Court Branch 38 of Alabel, Sarangani Province, with a corresponding warrant of arrest and Information. Also charged was another victim of human rights violations, a Manobo sitio leader Dambong Dagit of Sitio Akboal.
On June 8, 2015, a subpoena for frustrated murder and violation of RA 9851 was again issued against Ruben Wating and his neighbors in Sitio Akboal, Malapatan, including Borning Manganyong and Alfredo Manganyong, and village chairman, Arman Teo, and Makasdalu-Sitio Akboal Chairperson Lorencio Teo. The complainant was Pfc. Anthony Detablan.
Another attempted murder case and violation of RA 7610 and RA 9851 was filed against Wating at the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, Alabel, Sarangani Province.
Evacuees Borning Manganyong, Alfredo Manganyong, Bulahing Masalon, Nestor Masalon, Armand Teo, and Lorencio Teo and leaders of people’s organizations such as Ryan Lariba of Bayan, Pastor Sadrach Sabella of Karapatan et al were again included in the complaint filed by P02 Jegz Bryan Laure Salutan and Pfc. Charlito Busan Tunggak on June 17, 2015.
In Davao City, similar trumped up charges were filed against leaders of people’s organizations and human rights workers who assisted evacuees from the provinces of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon who sought shelter at the UCCP Compound in Davao City, also because of military operations in the tribal villages.
Excellency, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we urge you to:
1. Withdraw all trumped-up criminal charges against leaders of people’s organizations and human rights groups assisting victims of human rights violations;
2. Immediately pull-out military troops from Blaan communities;
3. Create an independent body to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by members of the 73rd IBPA against the Blaan tribe;
4. Respect and observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it is a signatory and party to all the major Human Rights instruments;
5. Junk Oplan Bayanihan, the government’s counterinsurgency program that has victimized countless Filipinos.
Finally we call on your administration and all its institutions to uphold the basic human rights of the citizens whom you have sworn to serve.
For human rights and peace,
Global Council, ICHRP
Ret. Lt. Gen. Voltaire T. Gazmin, Secretary, Department of National Defense, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Atty. Leila De Lima, Secretary, Department of Justice, Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Hon. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Hon Ms Julie Bishop MHR email@example.com