PENANG, Malaysia — We express our support for an on-the-ground and independent probe into the relentless human rights violations in the Philippines, as recommended by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) in its report released on June 4. We also commend the 31 UN human rights experts who endorsed the findings and recommendations of said report.
In particular, we note the urgency of investigating the systemic and flagrant attacks on “land and environmental rights of farmers and indigenous peoples” in the Philippines, which was among the key findings of OHCHR report.
Based on our monitoring of human rights violations related to land conflicts and struggles, the Philippines has been the deadliest place in the world for rural peoples and the advocates of their rights in the last three years.
The situation has fared no better amid the still raging COVID-19 pandemic, when the Duterte administration in the Philippines, like many regimes in the region, has taken advantage of the crisis to further restrict the human rights of the people. From mid-March to end-May, 12 Filipino farmers, indigenous peoples, and land activists have already been killed, while 38 have been arrested and detained, based on reports from human rights and farmers’ groups in the Philippines. This translates to almost one peasant killing and three cases of legal persecution every week during a period when most rural communities are under what local human rights advocates describe as militaristic lockdowns.
As pointed out by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, “the response to COVID-19 has seen the same heavy-handed security approach that appears to have been mainstreamed through the ramped-up drug war and counterinsurgency imperatives”.
The UN human rights experts deplored the lack of accountability for peasant and indigenous killings that have featured prominently among documented violations, especially in the southern and central Philippines. In these regions, private armies or paramilitaries, vigilante groups, and even state forces have been accused of perpetrating extrajudicial killings of peasant leaders and human rights defenders with reprehensible impunity. They also noted how violence arises from both corporate interests and military operations in the Philippine countryside.
Take for instance the most recent incident where combined police and army forces arrested seven Lumad (indigenous people of Mindanao) residents of a village in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental (about 1,360 kilometers south of Manila) following a raid that spuriously turned up high-powered rifles in four of the latter’s homes. Among the arrested was Datu Reynaldo Ayuma, an indigenous leader who has campaigned against large-scale operations by foreign mining and logging firms in their ancestral domain. The other six were evacuees from intensely militarized areas where they had experienced red-tagging and harassment.
What is more disturbing are the continued efforts to further systematize and legitimize these attacks against rural communities that are defending their rights to land and resources, which the OHCHR report described as “worrying new laws and amendments … with the stated aim of strengthening public order and countering terrorism.”
One such example is the Anti-Terrorism Bill which the Philippine government is expected to pass into law soon. The UN experts and various local human rights organizations warn that, contrary to its stated peace-and-order goals, the proposed legislation will only dilute constitutional safeguards and allow the persecution, with even greater impunity, of dissenters, critics, and even advocates for basic sectors like farmers, indigenous people and other rural people.
PANAP has been noting these developments with utmost alarm. We thus join the call for the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines. We believe that such an inquiry could contribute to the process of reversing the environment of impunity in the country, help exact accountability from those behind the human rights atrocities, and bring justice to the victims, their families and the Filipino people. ###
Reference: Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director, email@example.com