Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie
Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie is a well-known human rights defender from Jolo, Sulu, in the Southern Philippines. He was the head of the regional bureau of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) in Sulu and founder of the local human rights group Bawgbug. Between 2004 and 2006, Tulawie was a member of the municipal council of the provincial capital Jolo and co-founder of the Concerned Citizens of Sulu, a citizens’ organization that campaigns for the democratization of local politics, transparency in government, and the preservation of civil rights of people living in Sulu.
His campaigns uncovered numerous human rights abuses and violations on the part of the local government in Sulu, among them mass rapes of women and girls committed by the sons of prominent politicians and their paramilitary protection forces and the unconstitutional declarations of states of emergency by the provincial governor Abdulsakar Tan.
Tulawie was accused of masterminding a bomb attack against provincial governor Tan on May 13, 2009, even though there was no evidence to support this suspicion. On the contrary, several witnesses testified that he was not in the area at the time of the attack.
Although two of the three incriminating witnesses in the end withdrew their statements and admitted that they had been forced into giving false testimony, an indictment was ultimately issued against him. Tulawie went into hiding when he saw no chance of a fair and independent trial in Sulu in the political sphere of influence of the governor. Over the following three years he was on the run, in constant fear for his family and of an impending arrest. During this time, Tulawie applied to the Supreme Court to have the legal proceedings transferred to Davao City as neutral ground. On June 13, 2011, the Supreme Court decreed that the proceedings should be transferred on the grounds that Tulawie’s life and that of his family would be in permanent danger should the case be heard in Sulu. On January 14, 2012, Tulawie was finally arrested and detained in Davao City.
Presumably on a directive from the provincial governor Tan, however, the court in Sulu tried to contravene the decree of the Supreme Court and bring Tulawie back to Sulu in a cloak-and-dagger operation. Only an intervention by local human rights organizations could prevent the unlawful relocation to Sulu at the last minute. Governor Tan applied for the trial to be moved from Davao City to Manila on the grounds that Davao was “enemy territory” for him. This proposal was accepted, even though according to several reports a transfer to Manila would mean that Tulawie’s life would be in danger from imprisoned contract killers.
Finally, it became known that the last remaining witness against Tulawie, a confessed member of the Islamist terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, had himself been released from prison in the context of a rehabilitation program. It is suspected that this was done as a reward for his obliging testimony and at the directive of Tan.
After over three years in prison, a court in Manila acquitted human rights defender Tulawie of all charges against him. The fact that, despite these irregularities and weak evidence, it took many years to reach an acquittal emphasizes the lack of independence of the Philippine judicial system. The criminalization case of Tulawie is a classic example of how human rights defenders become victims of human rights violations themselves. The masterminds behind the false accusations take advantage of the dysfunctional judicial system with its lengthy trials. Even those accused on the most spurious charges often spend several years in prison. In the Philippines, fabricated charges, like the ones against Tulawie, are therefore used strategically by politicians and the military to silence human rights defenders.
On May 8, 2017, Tulawie was facing another fabricated charge. He was accused of being the mastermind behind the kidnapping of the German journalist Andreas Lorenz. Lorenz was abducted himself in 2000 while reporting for the magazine Der Spiegel on the Sidapan hostage crisis and the kidnapping of the German family Wallert by members of the Abu Sayyaf group.
During Lorenz’s kidnapping, Tulawie facilitated contact between the hostages and international journalists. Two of these journalists, Olaf Ihlau and David McIntyre, who worked with Tulawie during this time however maintain that he was not involved in the kidnapping and testified to his innocence. Prosecutor Annie Ledesma did not only ignore this exculpatory evidence when she filed charges against Tulawie. She also did so despite an evident conflict of interest since Tulawie had previously filed administrative charges against her.
In 2012 and 2013, as well as in 2017, the AMP sent letters of appeal to the Philippine government, demanding the launching of an immediate and impartial investigation into the circumstances that led to the criminalization of Tulawie as well as the dropping of all fabricated charges.
Download (PDF): Response letter from the EU-Delegation in Manila 2012
Download (PDF): AMP Letter of Appeal to the Philippine Supreme Court 2012
Update: February 2, 2023
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