Release arrested Filipino peasant leaders and rights advocates, stop the attacks in the Philippines

Police and military personnel raided provincial offices of progressive organizations in Negros Occidental, an island in the Central Philippines, and arrested peasant leaders and human rights advocates. (Photo: Glazyl Masculino)

We express our solidarity with fellow land and people’s rights advocates in the Philippines in urging the government to immediately release and stop the persecution of 57 community leaders arrested by local police and military. We strongly condemn as a blatant violation of human rights the mass arrests of activists, including peasant leaders as well as several minors, carried out by Philippine state forces.

Last October 31, the military and police raided the offices of Filipino organizations that promote the rights of rural communities to land and resources. The simultaneous raids happened in the province of Negros Occidental (around 710 kilometers south of Manila), a longtime hotspot of agrarian disputes in the country.

Among those arrested were leaders and members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines or KMP) and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW). These groups have been vigorously campaigning to dismantle landlord and corporate monopoly over vast tracts of agricultural lands in Negros. They demand land distribution in favor of landless farmers and farmworkers.

For their work, they were routinely vilified and tagged as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) to justify the violent attacks against them.

We note that the recent arrests came amid a reign of terror and impunity gripping the Philippines, especially Negros. There is an obvious campaign that systematically targets groups critical of government policies, including on rural development and agrarian reform. These include the use of court-issued search warrants along with the alleged planting of firearms and explosives as evidence to legitimize police and military operations.

Recovered, for instance, during the Negros mass arrests were several firearms and grenades, which the victims supposedly kept in their offices. The offices were also allegedly used to train armed insurgents. We find these claims absurd, to say the least, as these offices are too public to be used for such activities. It is also hard to ignore how the same modus operandi is present in all police and military operations in Negros and elsewhere in the country that led to the arrests and even killings of activists.

There is clearly a methodical scheme to attack legitimate farmers’ organizations and land rights defenders. The apparent reason is the counterinsurgency campaign of the Philippine government against armed revolutionaries that for five decades have supported the struggle of land-starved and impoverished rural communities.

We respectfully remind the Philippine government to spare unarmed civilians and to show due regard for their human rights. We join the campaign for a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict by addressing what fuels it in the Philippine countryside – the abject landlessness and poverty of rural peoples. Resorting to trumped-up charges and mass arrests and extrajudicial killings will only further aggravate social unrest. From Asia to Latin America, we saw how state violence and repression failed to end civil wars and actually prolonged them.

We support the calls to immediately release and stop the harassment of the arrested activists who have long helped advance our campaign against land grabbing and land-related human rights violations in the Philippines and the region. They are vulnerable enough to violence without legal persecution making it even more daunting for them to work unencumbered by fear for their life. The government crackdown on them serves only to subdue the sectors they help mobilize against everyday injustices.

The above statement is endorsed by the following organizations:

Regional and Global Organizations:

  1. PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP)
  2. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
  3. Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)
  4. Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)
  5. Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC)
  6. Coalition of Agricultural Workers International (CAWI)
  7. European Network for Justice and Peace in the Philippines
  8. GRAIN
  9. Youth for Food Sovereignty (YFS)

National Organizations:

  1. Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA), Indonesia
  2. ALGA: Rural Women’s Association, Kyrgyzstan
  3. Andhra Pradesh Vyavsaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU), India
  4. Badabon Sangho, Bangladesh
  5. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), Cambodia
  6. Caritas Nepal, Nepal
  7. Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Mongolia
  8. Centre for Sustainable Rural Development (SRD), Vietnam
  9. Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), Cambodia
  10. Community Care for Emergency Response and Rehabilitation (CCERR), Myanmar
  11. Ethnic Concern (EC), Myanmar
  12. Farmer Affairs Network (FAN), Myanmar
  13. Feminist League, Kazakhstan
  14. Front Mahasiswa Nasional (FMN), Indonesia
  15. Gendev Centre for Research and Innovation, India
  16. Institute for National and Democracy Studies (INDIES), Indonesia
  17. Intal Globalize Solidarity, Belgium
  18. Karnataka Vyavsaya Vruthidarula Union (KVVU), India
  19. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Philippines
  20. National Agricultural Workers Forum (NAWF), India
  21. National Campaign for Diversity and Harmony (NCDH), India
  22. National Centre for Labour (NCL), India
  23. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), Sri Lanka
  24. National Indigenous Women Forum, Nepal
  25. North South Initiative (NSI), Malaysia
  26. Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), Pakistan
  27. Pemuda Baru Indonesia (Pembaru), Indonesia
  28. People’s Democracy Movement of Thailand (PDMT), Thailand
  29. Ponlok Khmer (PKH), Cambodia
  30. Praja Abhilasha Network, Sri Lanka
  31. Public Foundation JIPAR, Kyrgyzstan
  32. RITES (Regional Initiative for Tribal Empowerment and Solidarity) Forum, India
  33. Roots for Equity (RFE), Pakistan
  34. Rural Women Liberation Movement (RWLM), India
  35. Rural Workers’ Movement (RWM), India
  36. Sabokohan Lumad Women, Philippines
  37. Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project, Thailand
  38. Serikat Perimpuan Indonesia (SERUNI), Indonesia
  39. Sisterhood Network, India
  40. Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED), India
  41. Society for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of Sarawak (SCRIPS), Malaysia
  42. Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT), Thailand
  43. State Alliance of People Movement (SAPM), India
  44. Struggle to Economize the Future Development (SEFE), Cameroon
  45. Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement (TNDWM), India
  46. Tamil Nadu Women Farmers Rights Front (TWFRF), India
  47. Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum (TNWF), India
  48. Telengana Vyavsaya Vruthidarula Union (TVVU), India
  49. Women Coalition for Change (WCC), India
  50. Zambia Social Forum (ZAMSOF), Zambia