New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines Denounce the Harassment and Intimidation of Human Right Defenders!

unnamed3

Press Statement
March 24, 2015

Reference: Yoko Liriano, Education Coordinator, NYCHRP, nychrp@gmail.com

New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines Denounce the Harassment and Intimidation of Human Right Defenders!

As a New York City-based human rights organization, the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP) is gravely concerned for fellow human rights defenders in Ifugao province who have alerted us that they are in grave danger and fear for their lives. NYCHRP calls for an immediate stop to the Philippine military-led political vilification and harassment of human rights activists and indigenous peoples’ advocates in the Cordillera region in the Philippines.

Due to the continuation of Operation Plan Bayanihan, the counter-insurgency program enacted by the Philippine government and designed after U.S. counterinsurgency plans, activists are unfairly and dangerously “red-baited” simply for bringing services to far-flung communities of peasant farmers and indigenous peoples whom the Philippine government has historically neglected. We have received accounts from members of the communities in Ifugao province detailing political vilification, surveillance, and harassment targeted at people who are community leaders and human rights defenders of the Ifugao people. There have been online accusations and postering campaigns in said communities including photos dishonestly labeling activists as members of the revolutionary armed group New People’s Army (NPA). This is an unjust and malicious attempt by state-sanctioned human rights violators to justify the targeting and killing of these activists who are waging an unwavering legal battle for rural and indigenous peoples’ basic needs.

The vilification materials also lump almost all progressive party lists, peoples’ organizations, and non-government organizations working and serving the province of Ifugao as communist fronts. Included among the wrongfully tagged are IPM (Ifugao Peasant Movement) members and staff such as Nestor Peralta, Claudine Anayo, Billy Karty, Ben Calingayan, and – a personal friend of NYCHRP’s – Brandon Lee.

Brandon Lee is an Asian-American activist from the San Francisco Bay Area. He was a long-time active member of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) at San Francisco State University. He moved to the Philippines despite not being of Filipino descent because throughout his years of activism in the United States, he became committed to advocating for the basic needs for rural and indigenous communities in Ifugao province, where he had visited on international solidarity trips. In addition, Brandon has been a dedicated friend and ally of NYCHRP’s work to defend human rights in the Philippines from abroad.

This harassment campaign against Brandon and his colleagues is reminiscent of the 2009 case of Melissa Roxas, a Filipino-American activist who, while conducting a medical survey in La Paz, Tarlac, was abducted, illegally detained, and tortured for 6 days by the Philippine military. Since the onslaught of harassment and vilification of the activists, she said, “I am deeply concerned and disturbed over the continuing and vicious attacks on human rights activists. [Aquino’s] administration’s counter-insurgency policy, Oplan Bayanihan, deliberately associates human rights defenders, activists and civilians as members or supporters of the revolutionary armed group New Peoples Army (NPA) and branded as ‘enemies of the State’ or ‘terrorists.’ [The Aquino] administration uses this as justification for illegal arrests based on trumped up charges, even extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.”

The killing of community members who are participating in legal aboveground organizations has been a violent pattern to quell dissent from, and destroy progress built by, the most marginalized communities of Philippine society. The Philippine government has resorted to deliberate attacks against its people to maintain the status quo for the Philippine elite. The former Arroyo administration has a depressing track record of more than 2,200+ extra-judicial killings and the current Aquino administration is following in the same direction with more than 200+ political killings to date. These kinds of actions must stop. It is a violation of human rights, and bypasses people’s right to due process by law.

Not only do these illegitimate accusations harm the people being targeted, they also have the communities that the activists serve, because these activists and organizations are bringing much needed social services to the communities they are working in, social services which the Aquino administration neglects to provide. It is a systematic attack on the poorest sectors of Philippine society.

NYCHRP believes that this is not only an issue for those living in the Philippines to address but one for the global community to address. NYCHRP is appealing to the international human rights community to put pressure on the Aquino administration to push forth an independent investigation of the surveillance and threats to life against our fellow human rights workers and community members in the Cordillera region, particularly in Ifugao province; to withdraw its counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, due to its insufficiency leading to the deaths of innocent unarmed civilians and activists; and, lastly, to resume the peace negotiations between the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as a means to achieve just and lasting peace instead of resorting to constant harassment, illegal detention, and extra-judicial killings, which are in direct violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

In defense of the just work that Brandon Lee and his colleagues are committed to, please join NYCHRP in responding to the action alert called for by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), and voice these demands to the Philippine government themselves! The action alert may be found here: http://bit.ly/1xLZbcN.

#DefendHumanRightsDefenders
#ActivismIsNotACrime
#JunkOplanBayanihan
#AquinoResign