Two peasant and youth rights activists, Michael Cedrick Casaño and Patricia Nicole Cierva, are the latest reported victims of enforced disappearances in Cagayan province. According to local community reports, Philippine Army soldiers allegedly abducted the activists on May 18, 2023, in Gonzaga town, emphasized human rights group Karapatan Cagayan Valley. The soldiers reportedly took the activists into custody as part of an offensive against the communist rebel group (New People’s Army/NPA). Increased military operations against the NPA in Cagayan have been conducted since February 2023.
What is more, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) launched in May 2023 an investigation into the April 28 abductions of two activists Gene Roz Jamil De Jesus and Dexter Capuyan. The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance suspects that both activists were taken into custody by government forces. De Jesus, 27, is information and communications officer for the Philippine Task Force on Indigenous Peoples Rights (TFIP). Capuyan, 56, is a member of the Bontoc-Kankanaey-Ibaloi community and an indigenous rights activist in La Trinidad, Benguet. The military accuses Capuyan of being a high-ranking NPA officer.
A witness stated that several men who introduced themselves as Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) personnel took the two activists in separate vehicles into custody. To the CHR, the involvement of the CIDG was denied by several law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies in Rizal. The TFIP called on the CIDG to release Capuyan and de Jesus as well as to ensure that the two “are accorded their human rights and rights to due process through legal and judicial means.”
Enforced disappearances have a historical continuity in the Philippines. The practice underlies a pattern of political repression that was used as early as during the Marcos Sr. dictatorship in 926 cases, often involving torture. Many of the victims who disappeared today are activists or journalists. Their cases are often dropped without ensuring justice or even legitimized through so-called “red-tagging” (i.e. falsely accusing them of supporting the communist insurgency).
Other activists facing fabricated charges in the Cordillera have been recently acquitted. The Abra Regional Court dropped charges of rebellion against a journalist and six activists and development workers who had been classified by the military as communist rebels.
Charges against Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) president Windel Bolinget, CPA leaders Jennifer Awingan and Stephen Tauli, development workers Sarah Abellon and Florence Kang, peasant rights activist Lucia Lourdes Jimenez, and journalist Niño Joseph Oconer were dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence. Bolinget stressed that this pattern of repeated harassment through lawsuits accusing them of supporting the communist insurgency is baseless and hopes for an end to fabricated charges against activists.
Photo © Raffy Lerma