The World Council of Churches (WCC) together with the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (Ecuvoice) sponsored a side event in Geneva, Switzerland on the Philippine human rights situation, entitled “War vs. the Poor and Indigenous Peoples: Duterte and Human Rights Council.” Joining human rights defenders, church leaders and victims of human rights abuses from the Philippines were representatives from the missions at the UN Human Rights Council, international NGOs and human rights organizations from the Philippines.
The side event was held at Palais Des Nations during the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Peter Prove and Jennifer Philpot-Nissen of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the WCC served as moderators for the event.
Among the panelists who shared their real life stories was Marissa Lazaro, a mother whose son was slain in 2017.
“There is a large-scale murder of the poor,” said Marissa Lazaro.
“The police killed my son, Christopher. He is not a drug user. He is innocent,” she added. Just like the many other mothers who lost their loved ones from the Duterte government’s murderous war on drugs, Marissa continues to be strong amidst grief.
Lazaro is a member of Rise Up for Life and Rights’ (Rise Up), a network of families of victims of the government’s war on drugs. Her son, Christoper, was killed in a police anti-drug operations in 2017 after authorities claimed he refused arrest and fought back. She later found Christopher dead in a morgue in Bulacan, with nine (9) fatal bullet wounds in his body.
“The war on drugs is a sham,” Lazaro said. “We come to the United Nations Human Rights Council seeking help in putting a stop to the large-scale murder of poor people in the Philippines,” she added.
The UN HRC passed a resolution in July 2019 on human rights violations in the Philippines.
Attacks against indigenous people
“While urban poor communities are experiencing bloodbath through anti-narcotics police operations, our tribal communities endure long-term militarization,” said Bishop Antonio Ablon, a Mindanaoan and a long-time advocate of indigenous people’s rights.
“The Lumad people in Mindanao have long been ravaged by the government’s counter-insurgency war,” Ablon said. “The government brands them as communist-terrorists and wages war against them to force them off their ancestral land and hand it on to giant mining companies,” he added.
Ablon, a Bishop of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, himself is a victim of red-tagging and other threats on Mindanao.
Ablon called for support for the Lumad people’s right to their ancestral land against corporate plunder and militarization. “The violence Lumad people suffer at the hands of military is wrong and immoral, we must take it as our own collective responsibility to defend them and uphold their rights,” he added.
Villification, killings of human rights defenders
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General and head of Ecuvoice delegation, said that the government’s war on drugs and counter-insurgency operations only resulted to the death of innocent civilians. “These are state instruments of an all-out war against the poor,” Palabay said.
Palabay lamented how those who defend human rights equally suffer vicious attacks. She noted that at least 155 human rights defenders across the country have been killed under the Duterte administration, including Karapatan human rights workers.
Supporting Palabay’s claim was Budi Tjahjono of the international NGO Franciscans International. “There is an exponential increase in the number of attacks against human rights defenders in the Philippines,” he observed. Tjahjono was part of a WCC delegation to the Philippines that met with human rights victims and defenders in August 2019.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur, on the Rights of Indigenous People, likewise graced the event and remarked how the government has criminalized the work of human rights defenders.
Corpuz has been implicated by the Philippine government as having links with the communist movement in the country. Her name was included in the government’s proscription list of terrorists which together names other political activists and critics of the government.
“Faith-based human rights defenders are not immune to state attacks,” said Ablon in his testimony.
Ablon cited the case of Catholic bishops and priests who were charged with sedition. “The government has been using the legal system as an instrument of reprisal even against church workers,” Ablon commented.
PH gov’t a lie machine
The Philippine government, however, belied committing human rights violations and accused rights organizations of discrediting its efforts instead. In a statement posted online on September 16, National Commission on Indigenous People’s (NCIP) Allen Capuyan lambasted human rights organizations lobbying at the UNHRC as “spewing lies and deception.”
Ecuvoice said that by accusing human rights defenders as terrorists, it is the government that has been manufacturing lies. “The government is a big lie machine producing false accusations and trumped up charges against rights defenders, peace advocates and political activists to deflect issues concerning state accountability on human rights violations in the Philippines,” said Palabay.
Palabay said that the Philippine government should instead cooperate with the UNHRC’s action on the human rights situation in the country. “The government has taken no concrete actions to carry out investigations into the killings of the poor and human rights defenders. It even continues to use the legal and judicial systems as tools of reprisals, while concocting repressive laws to silence dissent and restrict people’s rights,” Palabay.
“We will persevere in demanding accountability from the Philippine government for the human rights violations and atrocities it has committed,” Palabay concluded. #