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UN expert bats for disbanding of ‘anti-communist’ task force, repeal of Anti-Terrorism Act

Disband the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and revoke the Anti-Terrorism Act.

These are among the recommendations of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change Ian Fry who just concluded his visit to the Philippines.

Fry ended his 10-day visit to the country and presented his interim report in a press conference on Nov. 15, Wednesday at the UN House in Mandaluyong City.

Fry cited the rights violations committed against the indigenous peoples’ groups, environmental human rights defenders, and members of other civil society organizations, who, he said, have been carrying out campaigns opposing unsustainable land reclamation, hydroelectric dams, deforestation, and mining.

“They told me horrific stories of how they have been treated. I have listed in my recommendations to disband the NTF-ELCAC because it is clear that it’s operating beyond its original mandate,” Fry said during the press conference.

In his dialogues with these groups, Fry received several complaints against the NTF-ELCAC and how advocates were being intimidated for opposing “development projects.”

Fry noted that the NTF-ELCAC has been operating beyond its mandate and with impunity.

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He said that the systematic red-tagging of environmental human rights defenders and indigenous peoples is a “clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and right to life.”

He added that “it is evident that the NTF-ELCAC is using its powers to protect key economic interests in the country.”

“This has nothing to do with anti-terrorism or anti-communism. The military’s gross overreaction to people trying to defend their right to a safe, clean healthy, and sustainable environment is totally unacceptable. The NTF-ELCAC should be disbanded,” Fry said.

Fry’s initial report also mentioned that the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is recognized by the UN General Assembly and is included in the Philippine Constitution.

Fry also recommended that the government revoke the ATA after hearing stories of church people and humanitarian workers who were designated as terrorists, and funds being held due to the terrorist designation. He said these actions were “totally unreasonable.”

“The government needs to create a clean slate around its approach to anti-terrorism and revise laws to make them appropriate for the circumstances that are occurring now. And not to use the laws to harass, vilify, and kill environmental human rights defenders,” Fry said at the press conference.

Indigenous peoples driven out from their lands

In his dialogue with indigenous groups, Fry said the groups gave accounts of how they were being driven out of their lands due to large dams. He also cited the aerial bombings of ancestral lands by the military with some “apparently using phosphorus in a number of indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands.”

Fry also met with representatives from the Tumandok tribe and heard about their struggle against the Jalaur Mega Dam Project. He also cited the case of Tumandok tribe leaders who were killed on December 30, 2020, and others who are still in jail for trumped-up charges.

“Their only ‘crime’ was that they had protested against the construction of the Jalaur Mega Dam Project. These people are stewards of their ancestral lands and primary custodians of the environment. They have no interest in terrorism or communism,” said Fry, adding that at present, no one has been held accountable for the killing of the nine Tumandok.

Fry said it is critical that the killing of the nine members of the Tumandok tribe is properly investigated by an independent body and that those responsible are brought to justice.

“It is also critical that those relatives of those who were executed are properly compensated for their loss, even if the loss of a loved one cannot be properly compensated for,” Fry said.

During his visit, Fry also met with several government agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Justice as well as officials from the Climate Change Commission, among others.

Other communities that the UN Special Rapporteur visited are the Baseco compound in Tondo, Manila, Manila City Hall, Valenzuela as well as Tacloban City, Baybay, and Abuyog in Leyte where he looked into the effects of super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

Fry will present a comprehensive report of his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2024.

“This year represents the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration enshrines the right to life and states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. I call on the Philippine government to respect this right and establish a truth reconciliation process to investigate the unlawful killings by the military, hold those accountable for these killings and provide reparations for those who suffered,” Fry said. 

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