HomeNewsIndigenous Peoples groups decry trumped-up charges, terrorist designations 

Indigenous Peoples groups decry trumped-up charges, terrorist designations 

Indigenous rights groups, led by Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, demanded the release of political detainees Julieta Gomez and Niezel Velasco during a protest rally on June 7.

The mobilization coincided with a court hearing for the two Indigenous Peoples rights defenders, who have been held on charges that advocates deem fabricated.

Julieta Gomez and Niezel Velasco were arrested in July 2021 during a raid on their residences in Quezon City. Initially charged with murder and multiple attempted homicides, these charges were later dismissed. 

However, the pair remain in custody under new charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. 

Complicating Velasco’s case, prosecutors are pursuing charges under an assumed identity, alleging Velasco and Mary Jane Velasco are the same, a claim contested by defense advocates.

“The nearly three-year incarceration of Julieta and Niezel is a clear attempt to suppress their advocacy,” said Beverly Longid, National Convenor for Katribu. 

The protest also marked the first anniversary of the designation of four leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council. 

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These designations have been criticized as unjust and a tool used to hinder the advocacy work for the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Cordillera region.

“The terrorist labels on CPA leaders must be revoked,” Longid said. “Such actions violate the rights of these leaders and jeopardize their work in defending our lands and cultural heritage.”

Longid linked the plights of Gomez, Velasco, and the CPA leaders to broader issues, including land grabbing, environmental degradation, and militarization, all of which pose significant threats to Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines.

Longid described the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as providing a “broad framework” that facilitates human rights abuses under the guise of national security. 

“It is imperative that this law be scrutinized and amended to prevent its misuse against lawful advocacy and dissent,” she said. 

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