October 24, 2019

Hon Michelle Bachelet

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

E-mail: registry@ohchr.org

Strongest protest at shooting of Filipino teacher union leader in classroom

Dear Excellency,

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines was launched at a conference in Quezon City, the Philippines in July 2013. ICHRP has over 90 member organisations outside the Philippines.

We call your urgent attention to the shooting of an exemplary teacher and union leader, Ms Zhaydee Cabañelez, at around 8am on October 15, 2019. Four masked gunmen shot her multiple times in front of school children in Dalit Elementary School, Valencia City, Bukidnon, in Mindanao. This was an utterly brazen expression of the impunity of security forces in the Philippines of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Ms Cabañelez was the 2016 Outstanding Teacher awardee in her barangay and is also actively involved in campaigning for the welfare of teachers through her union, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.

Despite multiple wounds, Ms Cabañelez has survived and is under intensive care to save her life.

The Philippines military have excused this attack by saying that Ms Cabañelez is the daughter of a New People’s Army officer. In fact, her parents are both active members of the peasant organization KASAMA Bukidnon, and they have been consistently red-tagged by the military. Clearly, her parents are also targets for assassination.

The attempted murder of Ms Cabañelez is against international humanitarian law, as is any assertion that families of combatants can be held hostage or attacked to force armed combatants to surrender. The Duterte government is working incessantly to blur the lines between combatant and civilian.

The attempted murder of Ms Cabañelez is part of a wider campaign of repression against the Alliance of Concerned Teachers. On October 16, 2019, ACT – Bulacan provincial coordinator Ms Digna Mateo was nabbed during a joint operation conducted by the Bulacan Provincial Intelligence Branch, together with the intelligence units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and police personnel of Meycauayan City and Marilao. The operatives were onboard three vans and arrested Mateo at around 1:45pm at the Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Marilao, Bulacan, on the island of Luzon. The police and the military are citing a trumped-up murder charge against Mateo. She was brought to Camp Alejo Santos in Malolos City and was paraded to the media as an arrested member of the New People’s Army; her arrest follows reports of her being tailed by a riding-in-tandem a week earlier as she was on her way after campaigning for the election of the ACT – Central Luzon union as the sole and exclusive negotiating agent in the region.

These attacks came immediately after the celebration on October 5 of World Teachers Day when thousands of teachers marched for PhP30,000 basic pay. ACT and its members have suffered months of police profiling and red-tagging, as well as threats and harassment.

On October 7, 2019, at around 9 in the morning, five armed soldiers of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion took pictures of teachers and students while the latter were conducting classes in the Lumad school Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS). This was the latest in a series of harassment against teachers of TRIFPSS. The same military unit had forcibly entered the teachers’ cottage on September 28 and interrogated teachers for half an hour, also forcing the teachers to give a master list of students.

Martial Law in Mindanao has allowed the worsening harassment against teachers and indigenous schools. At a nation-wide level, President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 institutionalises a “whole-of-nation approach” in combatting “communist insurgency”, intensifying the repression of legal organisations such as trade unions and farmer organisations and the Lumad schools and their teachers and students..

ICHRP calls on the United Nations Human Rights Council to pursue its special investigation of the human rights abuses taking place in the Philippines, to call on the Philippine government to establish an independent investigation of the attempted murder of Ms Zhaydee Cabañelez, to immediately release Ms Digna Mateo, and to withdraw Martial Law in Mindanao and Executive Order 70.


Peter Murphy, Chairperson, Global Council,

International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines

Cc: Mr Antonio Guterres, United Nations; UN Special Rapporteur on EJK; DFAT Desk; Senator Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs; Senator Penny Wong; Senator Richard Di Natale, Andrew Wilkie MHR; Julia Dean; Ret Gen Carlito G Galvez Jr, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process; Ret Maj Gen Delfin Lorenzana, Secretary, Dept of Defence; Mr Menardo Guevarra, Secretary, Department of Justice; Mr. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights.

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