An international grassroots movement of rural peoples is calling the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and its independent experts over the spike of state-perpetrated human rights violations targeting peasant leaders and advocates of the rural sector in the Philippines amid the country’s national elections.
According to the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), the Philippine government is cracking down on progressive groups supportive of the opposition party in the pretense of its “anti-terrorism” and “war on drugs” campaign.
“We strongly condemn the worsening attacks on farmers and rural peoples advocates in the country, which strikingly increased since the election season started at the onset of this year. These should be reflected in the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines in the 41st session of the UNHRC slated in November,” said Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of the PCFS.
The Coalition issued the statement after authorities on March 10 apprehended nine members and volunteers of Anakpawis Party-list in a fisherfolk community in Bacoor, Cavite in the guise of drug operations. Joel “Ka Bong” Salabania, Vice-Chairperson of Anakpawis Party-list Cavite Chapter was beaten and shot, threatened to be killed. The others were reportedly manhandled and held at gunpoint.
The group is known to oppose the Manila Bay Reclamation project that will hit the area, which will displace fishing villages.
PCFS also cited the following cases:
- The harassment and red-tagging against a mercy outreach in communities of Gonzaga, Cagayan on February 28, following the aerial bombing and strafing on January 29 and February 4, 2022. The delegation included Agnes Mesina, Makabayan Coalition coordinator in Cagayan Valley, who was illegally detained for a few hours based on a dismissed trumped-up charge, and Anakpawis Party-list’s fourth nominee Isabelo Adviento. The local National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, police, and military reportedly conducted the operation.
- The massacre of New Bataan 5 on February 24. Military elements massacred volunteer teachers of indigenous Lumad bakwit (forcefully evacuated) Chad Booc and Gelejurain Ngujo II, community health worker Elegyn Balonga, and accompanying drivers Robert Aragon, and Tirso Añar while on their way home from a community visit in New Bataan, Davao de Oro. The press release from the Armed Forces of the Philippines alleged that they are members of the New People’s Army and were killed during an encounter, but witnesses and Booc’s autopsy attest that it was a massacre.
- The brutal assault against farmers and volunteers in Tungkong Mangga, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan on January 28. Several guards of the Araneta Properties, Inc. opened fire for at least ten minutes at the delegation investigating an illegal demolition of farmers’ houses in the area. The Araneta Properties, Inc. is owned by Gregorio Araneta, brother-in-law of presidentiable and dictator-son Bongbong Marcos. Farmers in San Jose del Monte have been fighting against the landgrabbing of the Aranetas for decades.
Mallari pointed out that Duterte is wielding these fascist attacks at the tail-end of its term to back the candidacy of Duterte’s allies, particularly Marcos and running mate Sara Duterte, his daughter. She said their win will assure him of immunity from accountability.
“These back-to-back incidents demonstrate the worsening impunity in the Philippines and the urgency of international intervention in the country’s human rights situation,” Mallari said. “A year since the ‘Bloody Sunday’ massacre, we only witness similar cases happening at a greater rate—and worse, amid rising prices, fail pandemic response, and absent land reform.”
Mallari was referring to the brutal murder of nine and the illegal arrest of six activists during a synchronized police and military operation in the Southern Tagalog region, which marked its first anniversary on March 7. Justice for the victims remains elusive to date.
“How dare the Duterte administration insist that the country’s ‘justice system is working’ when it even institutionalized these fascist attacks. These farmers’ killings are not just a mere phenomenon, as the ‘intent to kill’ is always established in many of these cases,” Mallari added.
Across the Philippines, at least 300 farmers were killed amid land conflicts in the past five years alone. The country was consistently named the “most dangerous country for land activists” in the past three years by watchdog Global Witness. Human rights groups have been drawing light on farmer killings in the country in the last five years.
“We call on the UNHRC and its independent experts to look into these latest cases and uphold the 2020 UNHRC resolution to investigate these human rights violations. We also call on the International Criminal Court to include these cases in its investigation,” Mallari said.
“We are one with the Filipino peasants in demanding justice and accountability for these attacks and killings. The fight for food, land, and rights will not be gunned down!” Mallari ended. ###