Cordillera: Intensified political persecution of activists

Human rights groups such as Karapatan and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance opposed a resolution (No. 2023-04) passed in April 2023 by the Kalinga Provincial Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC). According to the memorandum issued June 13, 2023, by the Department of Interior and Local Government of the Cordillera Region, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations must first obtain a permit from the provincial government before carrying out planned activities in the community.

According to PTF-ELCAC, the resolution was drafted based on reports from the local government and individuals regarding alleged “suspicious consultations conducted” by NGOs. The resolution also lists “Sectoral Front Organisations,” meaning socalled terror organizations, which include numerous human rights organisations from the Cordillera region. Human rights groups condemned the resolution as a “red-tagging” attack (falsely accusing them of being supporters of the communist insurgency) in order to weaken their human rights work.

Karapatan criticized that the resolution not only violates international laws and human rights, but also increases the threat level of the activists behind the organisations and attacks the principles of freedom of association. Karapatan and the Cordillera Women’s Education, Action Research Center (CWEARC) called on the Kalinga provincial government to revise the resolution to prevent even greater harm to human rights organisations.

In addition, on July 10, 2023, the Anti-Terrorism Council announced the official designation of six human rights defenders, who also work for previously by the government designated as alleged “terrorist organizations”, also as “terrorists” under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020. The resolution dated June 7, 2023, concerns namely Sarah Alikes, Jennifer Awingan, Windel Bolinget, Stephen Tauli, Jovenico Tangbawan, and May Vargas-Casilao. The ATA has previously been strongly criticised for being extremely vague in its definition of “terrorist” and for being able to do so without presenting concrete evidence. This can have serious consequences for those who have especially been unjustly criminalised, as they can be detained under the ATA without a warrant for up to 24 days and have their bank accounts frozen.

Moreover, 24 activists from the Cordillera region filed another petition for protection to the Supreme Court in June 2023. This so-called Writ of Amparo petition was already dismissed in October 2022 and April 2023 respectively. The injunction is a legal remedy for persons whose right to life, liberty, and security is violated by a government official. The protection petition relates to military officers who falsely accused the human rights activists of abduction. The NTF-ELCAC said in this regard that they are ready to formulate a necessary response.

Following the dropped 2018 murder charges against leading activists of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), CPA Chair Windel Bolinget, who was also implicated in the case, filed a civil law suit against two police officers involved in the 2018 charges and a witness on June 23, 2023. Bolinget sees the counter-charge as a political statement, calling on law enforcement agencies to “observe due process and the rule of law.” The fabricated murder charges against Bolinget and other CPA activists were dropped in 2021 due to lack of evidence.


Photo © Raffy Lerma

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