Human rights groups in Manila call on UN Human Rights Council over latest killings of 4 activists: 2 HR workers, peasant leader, sectoral leader

Neptali Morada

QUEZON CITY, Philippines – “We are calling on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an urgent investigation into the killings of our colleagues and that of Nonoy Palma. We appeal to the CHR and international bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council to act now on the mad slaughter of the poor and human rights defenders in the country. Alongside this, we will continue to demand justice and accountability. The cause with which our colleagues worked tirelessly for will be ushered forward by many more,” appeals Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

In a span of 3 days, four activists were shot dead; 2 in Sorsogon; 1 in Naga City, Camarines Sur; and 1 in Bukidnon.

On Monday, a sectoral leader in the Bicol Region was shot dead in broad daylight while human rights group Karapatan led an indignation action at the Department of National Defense in Quezon City to protest the recent killings of its two human rights workers in Sorsogon and a peasant leader in Bukidnon.

*Just as we were conducting the protest action at the DND, we learned that a good friend and former Bayan Muna Bicol regional coordinator Neptali Morada was killed this morning,” Karapatan announced.

On June 15, at around 8:20 a.m., Karapatan-Sorsogon staff members Ryan Hubilla, 22, and Nelly Bagasala, 69, were killed by gunmen at the corner of Phase 2, Seabreeze Subdivision, Brgy. Cabid-an, Sorsogon City, Sorsogon. The two were on a tricycle as they were on their way to retrieve Ryan’s cellphone, which he inadvertently left in a van they used last Friday as they assisted three political prisoners who were released on the same day. According to initial reports of Karapatan-Sorsogon, numerous suspected military intelligence agents have been following the released detainees, their lawyers, and paralegals of Karapatan-Sorsogon from prison. The driver of the other van used by released detainees was reportedly accosted by suspected soldiers.

Before the killing of Hubilla and Bagasala, Karapatan-Sorsogon human rights workers and the detainees’ lawyer were subjected to periodic surveillance by elements of the military intelligence company under the AFP 903rd Brigade based in Sorsogon. On April 21, at 10 p.m., four Karapatan human rights workers, including Hubilla, were tailed by men onboard a gray pick-up vehicle and a black motorcycle. Both vehicles had no license plates. This happened after they escorted Atty. Bart Rayco of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-Albay. They all visited Rayco’s clients who were political prisoners at the police station in Cabid-an.

Yesterday, June 16, 2019, at around 8:00 a.m., peasant leader Nonoy Palma, a member of KASAMA-Bukidnon from Sitio Malabago, Brgy. Halapitan, San Fernando, Bukidnon, was shot dead outside his house. According to initial reports from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Northern Mindanao, three (3) men onboard a motorcycle shot Palma, with one of them identified as a member of Alamara, a paramilitary group. KASAMA-Bukidnon is the provincial chapter of KMP.

“We have every reason to believe that those who killed Hubilla, Bagasala and Palma are the death squads of the Duterte administration in the AFP. They were killed because they are staunch human rights defenders who dare expose the current government’s transgressions on the rights and welfare of the people. They are seen as impediments to this murderous government’s reign of terror in rural areas,” said Palabay.

According to Karapatan, with the killing of Hubilla and Bagasala, at least sixty of its human rights workers have been killed since 2001. Under the Duterte administration, there have been 145 human rights defenders killed, as of March 2019. Among the Karapatan rights workers killed under Duterte were Karapatan Central Visayas coordinator Elisa Badayos, paralegal Mariam Acob, human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos, and Escalante City councilor Bernardino Patigas.

Palabay recalled that in a speech in 2017, Duterte himself stated that he will behead human rights advocates critical of his war on drugs. “Since then up to February 2018, Duterte, in his speeches, has tagged Karapatan as among the legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines, as he ordered his soldiers to kill the communists and to bomb communities and Lumad schools. There is a barrage of threats and dangerous rhetoric coming from Duterte, and this is supported and actualized by threads of repressive policies that link to each other, creating an even perilous environment for rights defenders. The rampant attacks against defenders is indicative that Duterte’s words have triggered the bullet that killed many of our colleagues,” she said.

“The attacks on human rights defenders are justified by them “demonizing” us, by an orchestrated PR stunt to make human rights and its advocates the enemy. The Duterte government’s spokespersons and military generals took turns in slandering us, even using this smear campaign to justify their junkets in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brussels and Geneva. Thus, they are most accountable for the killings of human rights workers and for ordering and inciting violence upon us,” she stated.

Karapatan primarily attributes these violations against human rights defenders to the government’s implementation of counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, including in regions such as Bicol, Eastern Visayas and Negros where Memorandum No. 32 is being implemented and in Mindanao where martial law is enforced.

“These are also direct reprisals on human rights defenders’ efforts to assist victims of human rights violations and their kin. The climate of impunity engendered by these military campaigns, coupled by Duterte’s sham drug war, have brought an intensified climate of impunity in the Philippines, as what can be illustrated by these recent cases,” Palabay said. []


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