Many had a genuine hope and pervasive expectation that the newly crowned regime under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte would become a highly reinvigorated political reformation, and as an institutional breakthrough in tackling the ‘much-said about’ challenges, inter alia; the ceaseless armed conflict, the massive human rights violations, the tenacity of injustice, the burgeoning poverty and, social insecurity in the country. In lieu of such anticipations and to the odds of resorting to the instantly demanded peace, justice, rule of law, and social equity, it has become a common nuisance – not anymore a privy – that the situation has remained unchanged as the current government has continued its neglect in resolving the problems, and instead, side-stepping the demands of the people.
In mid of flow of such a social and political instability, are human rights defenders and political activities who have been suffering from the most atrocious violations as primary targets of extra-judicial killings, intimidations, harassments, and arbitrary detentions allegedly orchestrated by government forces of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and its affiliates. The norm – for the virtuous, moral, righteous, honour, and grace of all involved – should have been that the government owes to ensure special protection and respect the multi-ventured rights of these activists as they could serve as unbreakable bridges and catalysts in all ‘government –public’ dialogues, which is an irreplaceable conduit towards peace and national unity. Paradoxically though, it has become an inexorable fact, particularly in the conflicting zones of Mindanao, that Human Rights Defenders are being beleaguered and subjected to arbitrary killings and threats and extortions to their personal and family life in the course of their work.
Human Rights Matter (HRM), as an international human rights organization established with a firm stand against such inexplicable human rights abuses, is deeply shocked and profoundly concerned by the recent news about the killing of four activists and indigenous leaders – Venie Diamante, Veronico Delamente, Alexander Ceballos, and Wencislao Pacquiao – in the month of January 2017 alone.
Alexander Ceballos – the regional council member and district area coordinator of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) – was gunned down by two unnamed assailants, and the subsequently delivered death threats to his family. This crime of extra-judicial killing of activist Ceballos was attributed to the Dela Cruz family – a political clan that has controlled the town of Salvador Benedicto since a while ago, and claimed to have direct affiliation to members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and reportedly claimed as a mastermind behind the repeatedly perpetrated crimes of harassments against leaders of NFSW and farmers. Such a brutal act against the Ceballos family does not seem to end with the killing of Mr. Ceballos as it emerged that Quilina Ceballoshas, repeatedly, been receiving death threatening text messages revealing the inevitable fate of her two sons and herself as the next targets for the upcoming killings.
Human Rights Matter strongly condemns all these and related indefensible barbarities against the life and security of defenceless human rights defenders and local activists. We firmly oppose the government’s reluctance, unwillingness or incapability of discharging its natural obligation to restrain impunity through swift investigative measures and mechanisms to bring the perpetrators of the crimes into justice.
As delayed justice amounts to denial, Human Rights Matter urges the government of the Philippines to take the following immediate actions:
- To instantaneously establish an independent investigative body and reconnoitre the separate incidents of the crimes.
- To prosecute and bring to justice of the alleged perpetrators.
- To stop targeting human rights defenders and leaders of social organizations. To protect human rights defenders, whether individuals, groups, organs of the society, addressing economic, social and cultural rights of the people.
- To halt the ongoing land grabbing and the continuing harassment, killings, intimidations and other human rights violations against farmers and peasant organizations.
- To immediately quash and suspend the so called ‘counter-insurgency programs’ which is serving a pretext in targeting innocent human rights activists and local leaders.
- To move towards the advancement of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) which is deemed to have a step-forward in unfolding and addressing landlessness in the countryside.
- To pursue and be abide by its commitments under the Comprehensive Agreements on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which includes but not limited to the right to freedom of thought and expression, freedom of consciousness, political and religious rights, and the right not to be punished in the exercise of the rights.
- To practically implement and respect all its human rights obligations emanating from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all the Conventions to which the country is a state party.