International rights groups have called on the Philippine government “to cease all forms of intimidation and attacks” against human rights defenders in the country.
In a statement issued on August 22, some 42 organizations urged authorities “to ensure an enabling environment” for all human rights workers and allow them “to continue their essential work without fear of reprisals”.
The groups also condemned the alleged “renewed judicial harassment” against 10 human rights workers, including church workers, filed by retired army general Hermogenes Esperon.
In 2019, Esperon, who was then National Security Adviser, filed perjury charges against the 10 rights workers after they sought legal protection from the Supreme Court. The charges were dismissed on January 9, 2023.
Last month, Esperon filed a petition for certiorari as he assailed the decision to acquit the human rights workers.
The 10 individuals who were charged are Elisa Tita Lubi, Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Edita Burgos, Jose Mari Callueng, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol, Joan May Salvador, Gertrudes Libang, and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines coordinator Sr. Elenita Belardo.
“Such aggressive crackdown on defenders not only violates their fundamental freedoms but also hinders their crucial work in protecting and promoting human rights for all,” the groups said.
The groups also decried the “continuous weaponization of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA),” which they said aimed to “suppress and persecute” human rights defenders.
According to Karapatan, at least 13 rights workers in the Southern Tagalog region alone are facing trumped-up criminal complaints for alleged violations of the ATA.
“Using the ATA to criminalize human rights workers adds to the long list of harassment orchestrated by the Philippine Government to delegitimize the work of human rights defenders and organizations,” the groups said.
The groups also denounced the “enduring red-tagging and other forms of harassment” against rights workers, adding that these state-sanctioned acts further exacerbate “the challenges they face in carrying out their vital work”.
“Such violations against defenders are in stark contrast with the Philippine Government’s international human rights commitment being a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the groups said.
List of organizations that signed the statement:
- Amnesty International
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
- Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
- Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw (Balaod Mindanaw)
- Bir Duino
- Bytes for All
- Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
- Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)
- Centre for the Sustainable Use of Natural and Social Resources (CSNR)
- CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
- Civil Society and Human Rights Network – Afghanistan
- Community Resource Centre (CRC)
- Defence of Human Rights
- Forum for Dignity Initiatives
- Front Line Defenders
- Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)
- Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI)
- INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
- Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC)
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net)
- International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
- Jagriti Child and Youth Concern Nepal (JCYCN)
- Karnali Integrated Rural Development and Research Center (KIRDARC)
- Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
- Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
- Law and Society Trust (LST)
- Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA)
- National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)
- People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
- People’s Empowerment Foundation (PEF)
- People’s Watch
- Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
- Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism (Dakila)
- Progressive Voice
- Public Association “Dignity”
- Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU)
- The Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PHILRIGHTS)
- Think Centre
- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders