Filipino rights defenders urge UNHRC to take decisive action on attacks vs human rights defenders in PH

Press Statement
19 September 2023

Beverly Longid, +63 920 919 1820
Clemente Bautista: +639171372930
Heads of Delegation, Philippine UPR Watch

Filipino rights defenders urge UNHRC to take decisive action on attacks vs human rights defenders in PH
As the world commemorates the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Philippine Universal Periodic Review (PUPR) Watch delegation to the 54th UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session raised alarm over the escalating attacks against human rights defenders and activists in the Philippines under the Marcos Jr. government.
Ph UPR Watch will urgently raise with country missions and special rapporteurs the release of two young women environment defenders, Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, who have just declared today in a press conference that they have been abducted by state forces. “The express and direct statements from Jhed and Jonila that they have been abducted should end once and for all the government’s roadshow of rebel surrenderees. The government’s duplicity and fascism have been exposed. We must take steps to rescue and protect them from the NTF-ELCAC,” said Clemente Bautista, of Kalikasan, a network member of PUPR Watch. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has been tagging human rights and environmental defenders as terrorists, abducting and forcing them to present themselves as rebel surrenderees. Dyan Gumanao, a regional coordinator of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers — herself a survivor of enforced disappearance — expressed her concerns about the rising number of abductions and enforced disappearances in the Philippines. At a solidarity action at the Broken Chair in Geneva on September 18, 2023, Gumanao told an assembly, “As human rights defenders, we continue to face different threats. But we made it a commitment that these attacks will not make us cower in fear nor silence us.”

Watch Dyan speak here in this video

According to data from Karapatan, there have been approximately 10 recorded cases of enforced disappearances in just 15 months of the Marcos Jr.-Duterte administration. This includes the disappearance of IP Rights advocates Bazoo de Jesus and Dexter Capuyan on April 28 and the recent abduction of two young women environment defenders, Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, on September 2. Beverly Longid of KATRIBU and Ph UPR Watch noted that the current administration has exacerbated the situation by using the anti-terror law to stifle dissent and silence the growing dissatisfaction of the Filipino people due to the worsening economic crises.”Even the assertion of the right to self-determination of our national minorities and to defend their ancestral domains, natural resources from the encroachment of big mining and energy corporations are now unjustly classified as acts of terrorism,” Longid added.
Dr. Natividad Castro, a community-based health worker, and indigenous leaders Windel Bolinget, Steve Tauli, Sarah Abellon Alikes, and Jennifer Awingan have been arbitrarily designated as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council without due process and on baseless accusations. Additionally, up to 15 human rights defenders in the Southern Tagalog region are facing criminal charges under the Anti-Terrorism Law and Anti-Terrorist Financing.
Bishop Malzar Labuntog, the General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, expressed grave concern on the ongoing attacks on churches and church workers, with their grassroots missions being unfairly linked to acts of terrorism. “As church workers, we simply aim to address the gaps in providing proper services to our indigenous communities and remote areas. However, through the use and abuse of Anti-Terror Law, we have faced sanctions such as freezing of bank accounts and potential civil forfeiture of our properties geared towards helping those poorest of communities,” Bishop Labuntog lamented. Atty. Kristina Conti of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers urged the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly to take action on red-tagging and terrorist tagging conducted by the NTF-ELCAC, and individuals Lorraine Badoy-Partosa, Ret. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr., and Jeffrey Celiz.
The Ph UPR Watch renewed its call on the United Nations and its relevant bodies to take immediate action to address human rights violations. The group urges the UN to adopt a resolution mandating the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to directly monitor and report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, and invites special rapporteurs to undertake official visits to see for themselves what is happening in the Philippines. #
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