Welcome to the AMP Newsletter!
This month newsletter was written and edited under a specific challenge, as most of the news coverage was related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This didn’t spare the coverage about the state of human rights in the Philippines. Philippine media reported on the state of calamity and the quarantine Duterte put Luzon under, on human rights groups worrying about militarized health checkpoints using riffles M-16 instead of clinical thermometers to combat the virus, the demand to release political prisoners in order for them to keep healthy and last but not least, Duterte’s disturbing order to shot supposed violators of the curfew.
READ:Human rights amid the Coronavirus crisis in the Philippines
President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels on March 18. The ceasefire took effect March 19 and will last until April 15, 2020, Malacañang said. Exiled José Maria Sison from CPP said there is still need for clarifications. He added that without such, the ceasefire announcement by Malacañang Palace is “premature, if not insincere and false.”
READ:Ceasefire in times of Corona
Read also: State of press freedom in the Philippines - The ABS-CBN franchise renewal, Maria Ressa and the possibility of a media shutdown
International human rights work continued in March, when the 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, took place. Following the judicial harassment against ten members of Karapatan, the church-based Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), the women’s rights organization Gabriela and several human rights organizations, including UN experts, have called on the authorities in the Philippines to put an end to all acts of ongoing harassment against human rights defenders.
READ:Judicial harassment against members of Human Rights Organizations continues
March has also been the month of the International Woman’s Day. The Asian Federation against Involuntary Dissapearances (AFAD) celebrated March 8 reflecting the burden of women family members of ED victims. The Comission of Human Rights (CHR) in the Philippines reflected on the patriarch state of a society, where men are treated way more favorably and females live in a daily struggle against gender-based violence, sexual harassment and insufficient health care services addressed to women’s needs.
While this short article describes aspects of the state of gender inequality in the Philippines, please feel free to reflect the state of patriarchy and gender inequality of your own social surrounding.
READ:AFAD and CHR reflect on status of women’s rights in the Philippines on International Women’s Day
Human rights amid the Coronavirus crisis in the Philippines
In March, President Rodrigo Duterte declared a state of calamity in the Philippines, as cases of the novel coronavirus in the country continued to rise, by signing Proclamation No. 929 on March 16 and publishing it the following day, on March 17. Duterte placed the country under a state of calamity for 6 months, "unless earlier lifted or extended as circumstances may warrant." The proclamation also officially declared enhanced community quarantine over the entire island of Luzon as of March 17, suspending all public activities, except for frontline services and some private sector enterprises, barring public gatherings of course – the occasion must come in handy at this point - and intensifying troop deployment to enforce travel restrictions. Duterte also suspended operation Oplan Tokhang in order to “shift the focus towards combating the spread of the novel coronavirus”, as Metro Manila police chief Debold Sinas stated. Before the President's proclamation, at least 8 local government units in Luzon had already declared a state of calamity in their respective jurisdictions. Human rights group urged to release all political prisoners and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has declared that countries must release their vulnerable prisoners at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Truly shocking even though barely surprising is Duterte’s order to police and military to shoot those who he calls troublemakers “during the government’s lockdown” and his threat to “leftists” to order them detained until the end of the COVID outbreak if they would “go around causing trouble”. Even though Oplan Tokhang is officially suspended for the time being, one should not underestimate the ongoing drug war these days, because there is no rest from fear or threat: The Philippine National Police reported a total of 17,039 individuals wo have been arrested nationwide for supposed violations of measures against the pandemic from March 17 to 29, 2020. Human rights group claimed that this kind of punitive State policy disproportionately targets the poor. Also, extrajuridical killings continue and red-tagging of the political opposition, critics of the government and the civil society has not been revoked.
Human rights group Karapatan criticized the enhanced community quarantine being implemented in the entire Luzon island. Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor said that the first two days of the general community quarantine in the capital already exposed lapses in what he called as government’s militarist solution against COVID-19. Karapatan is gravely alarmed by the implications of the heightened deployment of uniformed personnel and worries, that police officials and government agencies could dismiss human rights concerns in the implementation of measures such as curfews and warrantless arrests of so-called violator of the quarantine. Clamor asserted that health checkpoints should be of a medical nature: “Why does it seem that personnel manning the checkpoints are fully armed with M-16 rifles instead of functioning thermal guns, personal protective equipment, and disinfection facilities?”.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) also expressed concerns on the deployment of the police and military as the Philippine government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the group, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s assurance that individuals cannot be arrested for violating curfews unless they assault, slander or bribe law enforcement agents is not reassuring at all: “An increased military and police presence, and a lack of transparency in their operations, will only lead to the further abrogation of people’s fundamental rights,” the group said in a statement and called on the government to prioritize a public health approach and evidence-based response over a police and military-enforced community quarantine, through investing in public health services, and ensuring access to medical services, particularly to the most vulnerable groups. The group also pushed for clear and concrete guidelines on the community quarantine, including guidelines for the security sector and accountability for any abuse of power through a safe complaint mechanism. “Asserting people’s right to health amid this pandemic should be foremost of our concerns. Upholding the rights to life and to security should and does not compromise other basic rights and civil liberties,” Clamor said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine NGOs do not stand alone with their concerns. NGOs worldwide fear or already observed violations of Human Rights amid the Corona pandemic regarding the protection of civil and social rights. The United Nations reminded States to respect human rights at all times. They emphasized that measures to contain Corona should not be abused to suppress human rights and that declarations of state of emergency, whether for health or security reasons, have clear guidance from international law. Citizens in the Philippines nowadays not only have to fear an infection with COVID-19 but also have to cope with a weak health system and the fear of an arbitrary government that uses the pandemic as an excuse to implement more extensive violence and suppression.
Ceasefire in times of Corona
On March 18 President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as state forces were sent to man borders and enforce guidelines of the Luzon-wide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The unilateral ceasefire took effect on March 19 and will last until April 15, 2020, a state official said. Media reports quoted Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo saying that the President ordered the Department of National Defense, Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to "cease and desist from carrying out offensive military and police operations during the ceasefire period". The intention is unimpeded provision of public health, movement of health workers and medical supplies to communities and to people in need of immediate medical attention, Panelo said.
Chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison responded that so far, there has been no agreement for a reciprocal ceasefire in regard to efforts in containing the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic between the NDFP and the Philippine government: there is still need for clarifications. Sison added that without such understanding, the ceasefire announcement by Malacañang Palace is “premature, if not insincere and false”.
The ABS-CBN franchise renewal, Maria Ressa and the possibility of a media shutdown
The state of ABS-CBN Corporation franchise renewal still remains uncertain as of May 4, when it expires after 25 years in place. To this day, the bills to renew ABS-CBN's franchise for another 25 years remain pending in Congress. On February 20, the Speaker of the Congress, Alan Peter Cayetano – about whom is said the he himself has grudges against the country's biggest media network – announced that the House would probably begin hearing the bills not before May or the first week of August. As this situation creates a lack of capacity to act for the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the same institution asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to weigh in on whether ABS-CBN can continue operating after its franchise lapses on May 4 and congressional hearings are still pending. Government agencies use to seek legal opinions of the DOJ if they need clarification. While opinions are non-binding, they carry weight. On February 24, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra informed the Senate, that Congress may authorize the NTC to give ABS-CBN the provisional permit to continue operating after the lapse of its franchise. The Congress followed this advice and almost three weeks ago, on March 11, the NTC has agreed to issue a provisional authority to allow broadcast giant ABS-CBN to operate until the end of the 18th Congress, which means during the legislative period of the current administration. As for the state of press freedom, this might mean a short-term relief, but not a sign for a general improvement or an all-clear. Duterte has repeatedly pledged to stop the broadcast operations of ABS-CBN and expressed anger over its reporting during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Other media outlets closed ranks and rallied in support of ABS-CBN. The news website Rappler finishes a statement with the following words: “The Duterte administration, through Calida, is resorting to legal gymnastics to push their own agenda of silencing critical media. We stand with our colleagues at ABS-CBN and share the hope that they will weather this and come out even stronger”. ABS-CBN is not the only media player that fears for its freedom. Since the summer of 2016, reporters at Rappler have to deal with disturbance and disparaging remarks organized by the Duterte administration. Rappler and its worldwide known founder and editor Maria Ressa are committed to exposing corruption, propaganda and brutality of Duterte and work in constant fear of a shutdown themselves, as Ressa said in an interview on February 26 with The Guardian. Regime-led prosecutions are pending against Rappler, for allegations ranging from tax offences to foreign ownership. Maria Ressa herself has been arrested and bailed various times in the past year. April 3 was the announced date, when Ressa should learn the outcome of a libel trial brought against her. The case arose from an article written and published on Rappler in May 2012, criticizing links between politician and business. One of the protagonists, businessman Keng, filed a case before the Manila court in February 2019, demanding P50 million in damages for cyber libel. While the article was published in 2012, the complaint was only lodged in 2017, ordinarily way beyond the one-year prescriptive period of ordinary libel in the Revised Penal Code (RPC). To be able to charge Ressa and Santos, the DOJ extended the period during which an individual can file a cyber libel complaint to 12 years after publication. Until Friday afternoon, there was no public update regarding the outcome of the libel trial. No matter the decision of the court, press freedom continues at stake in the Philippines.
Judicial harassment against members of Human Rights Organizations continues
Following the judicial harassment against ten members of Karapatan, the church-based Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), the women’s rights organisation Gabriela and several human rights organizations, including UN experts, have called on the authorities in the Philippines to put an end to all acts of harassment against human rights defenders. At the 43rd UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, eight independence UN experts sent a communication to Duterte raising concern on “the statements made by high-level officials threatening human rights organizations and accusing them of having ties with the communist movement.” Philippine jurisprudence defines red-tagging as “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy... by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State.’” Among the incidents the UN experts raised in the letter are rape and death threats against Palabay, the arrest of the 62 activists following raids in their offices and residence in Bacolod City, filing of the Philippine Department of Justice of a petition proscribing the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as ‘terrorist organizations’ where rights workers were tagged, as well as the abduction of Karapatan Southern Mindanao secretary general Honey Mae Suazo. In their letter, the UN experts said red-tagging and actions of the State, “may have a chilling effect on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the country.”
Quezon City Prosecutor Vimar Barcellano granted a motion for reconsideration filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon with regard to a perjury complaint he initially lodgeg on July 2nd in 2019 against the ten leaders of Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela. The complaint had initially been dismissed for “lack of probably cause and/ or insufficiency of evidence”. Mr. Esperon alleged that the ten defendants committed perjury by stating that the RMP was a registered non-governmental organisation at the Securities and Exchange Commission in a petition for a writ of amparo (protection order) and habeas data (access to information) filed by Karapatan, RMP, and Gabriela before the Supreme Court in May 2019, with the aim to seek legal protection against threats and harassment by government officials. The Philippine Court of Appeals denied the petition in June 2019. On March 3, 2020, nine out of the ten defenders posted bail before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 37, while Ms. Palabay posted bail upon her return from Geneva, Switzerland, where she was conducting advocacy work at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Since President Duterte took power in June 2016, human rights defenders have faced relentless vilification and red-tagging, and have been repeatedly subjected to trumped-up charges and lengthy pre-trial arbitrary detention, with the aim to discredit their legitimate work and to silence all critical voices.
Nowadays, even appealing a court in order to obtain protection, which is as such established in the Philippine law through the Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data, can make you a target once you are a Human Rights defender.
AFAD and CHR reflect on status of women’s rights in the Philippines on International Women’s Day
Enforced disappearances (ED) take on a woman’s face. Under this statement, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 by remembering the struggle of women family members of ED victims. “These women who bear the burden of having a loved one disappeared are the icons of brave resistance and struggle for survival in the face of overwhelming psychological, social, cultural, and economic challenges “, says a two-pager that refers to ED and women’s burden in several Asian countries. The short report states that philippine women continue play a crucial role in the struggle against ED and other forms of political repression meanwhile President Duterte depreciates women and women human rights defenders through misogynistic speeches and policies.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in the Philippines said that gender equality remains a huge concern. Under the call for equality, CHR celebrated International Woman’s Day to work on visions for girls and women in a society where men are treated more favorably. “To achieve genuine equality, the roots of patriarchy and misogyny must also be addressed so we can put an end to sexual harassment and violence against women and girls. Health care services that respond to women’s needs must also be provided to truly champion their ownership of their body,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia added.
Although women icons are public figures in the economy, politics, media and art, women are still depreciated by misogynisty in society and one in four women experiences physical, emotional or sexual abuse from her husband or partner. Leni Robredo states that her being a woman has made her a target for malicious criticism and that Gender Equality is vital for a well-developed society.
Artistic director of community theater in Bohol shot dead
 25-year-old activist and artistic director Marlon Maldos of community theater group “Bol-anong Artista nga may Diwang Dagohoy” (Bansiwag) was shot to death by unidentified assailants in Cortes town on the morning of March 17. He was known as a cultural worker, social activist and gifted dancer, trainer and choreographer. He and his family had been red-tagged by members of the Army’s 47th Infantry Battalion, as the news platform Bulatlat said. Human rights groups, farmers and other activits condemned the murder of Maldos as the youngest extrajudicial killing. Maldos seemed to be the target, since witnesses observed that gunmen, who shot him and his companions of a motorcycle, turned to him and aimed at him from a short distance, while he was already lying on the floor. In a statement, progressive group Hugpong sa Mag-uumang Bol-anon (Humabol) said agents of state forces were behind the killing of Maldos. “At a time when the country is under a health emergency and all efforts should be directed towards controlling the spread of COVID-19, fascist agents of this fascist government are on a rampage, harassing, and killing farmers, land rights activists, and cultural workers,” the statement said. Humabol said Maldos and his family had been the subject of constant red-tagging, vilification, and harassment. “He has been unfairly and baselessly linked to the revolutionary underground movement even if he was plainly out in the open, participating in rallies calling for genuine land reform, and organizing theater arts workshops,” the group said and added: “We demand swift justice for Marlon. We demand to end impunity. We demand that these senseless killings be solved, and perpetrators be brought to face the court of law, and punished accordingly”.
Aktionsbündnis Menschenrechte - Philippinen
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The news articles available in this review are collected from national and international newspapers.
The Aktionsbündnis Menschenrechte - Philippinen (AMP) advocates the sustainable improvement of the human rights situation in the Philippines.
Members are: Amnesty International Germany, Bread for the World – Protestant Development Service, MISEREOR, Missio Munich, philippinenbüro e.V., the International Peace Observers Network (IPON) and the United Evangelical Mission (UEM).
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