There are initiatives that will force government officials to seriously reconsider doing something illegal or unethical
MANILA, Philippines - "Dear President Aquino, I am Erita Capion, sister of Daguil Capion, a target of your armed forces. I believe you must have already known the merciless killing of my sister-in law, Juvy Capion and her two sons, Jordan and Mark John, both minor, by 13 soldiers of the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army."
This was how Capion greeted the commander-in-chief on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day in an open letter that circulated in the Internet as she joined thousands of protesters who marched to the historic street of Mendiola in Manila on December 10.
"Stop the alarming increase of human rights violations in our communities by immediately pulling out all military contingents in Bong Mal and other indigenous communities," Capion, who came all the way from a remote village in Tampakan, South Cotabato, demanded in her letter.
About 13 Philippine soldiers are undergoing court martial proceedings for killing the wife and two sons of Daguil, an anti-mining Blaan leader in Mindanao on October 18.
Alarming rights violations
The plight of indigenous peoples highlighted the human rights situation in the Philippines as the world commemorated the 64th anniversary of Human Rights Day.
"Alarmingly, we still have problems with the indigenous peoples, so they are the ones who are really getting hit. And much of this has to do with mining operations," Commission on Human Rights chair Loretta Ann Rosales told Rappler, echoing Capion's concern.
Under the Aquino government, the military has been accused of committing 92 human rights violations, while the police allegedly perpetrated 235, according to Rosales.
Comparing the number of violations committed under the Aquino government with that of its predecessor, Rosales said “it has declined but we were not able to provide the protection that is needed for the poor and vulnerable people.”
"Mas nagiging pronounced na yung incidents ng namamatay na katutubo kasi in decline na yung sa cases ng political activists (Incidents involving killings of indigenous peoples are more pronounced now because killings of political activists have declined)," Rosales explained.
Karapatan Secretary General Crisitina Palabay said militant groups have particularly documented 129 cases of extrajudicial killings of which 69 are farmers and 25, indigenous peoples.
Rosales said she could not confirm the figures but said authorities are doing something about the cases that the CHR has raised.
"Yung binigay naming listahan sa military at sa kapulisan, they're paying attention to it (The military and the police are paying attention to the list of human rights violations we submitted to them)," Rosales said.
Rosales also disclosed that the Department of Justice formed a technical working group to look into the list of extrajudicial killings allegedly committed under the Aquino government.
Activists claimed that many human rights violations were specifically committed against environmental activists, a trend which the CHR had earlier affirmed.
"Most of those killed in Mindanao, for instance, are anti-mining activists and Lumad leaders who defend their land and the environment against the intrusion of big foreign mining corporations," Palabay said.
In her letter, Capion also asked the Aquino government to hold mining companies she believed violated the rights of her fellow indigenous peoples and farmers accountable.
"Show us that your administration genuinely upholds human rights by investigating the practices, business ethics and human rights records of SMI-Xstrata and all other large-scale mining companies," Capion wrote.
Capion said he Blaan tribe has long been opposing mining interests in their ancestral land. She asserted that her tribe did not give any free, prior and informed consent to Sagittarius Mines Inc (SMI).
The relatives of other human rights victims linked arms with Capion during the Human Rights Day rally. They included the widows of slain indigenous peoples' leaders Gilbert Paborada, Jimmy Liguyon, Rudy Dejos, Ramon Batoy, and anti-megadam activist Margarito Cabal.
Hundreds of displaced persons from Mindanao and Southern Tagalog also joined Monday's march, the culmination of a week-long protest action dubbed "Manilakbayan (Journey to Manila): Mindanao People's Mobilization for Land, the Environment, and Human Rights."
(Indigenous peoples and advocates of their rights held a week-long protest action in Manila dubbed as Manilakbayan. Video documentation by Youtube user TheShawmish) - Rappler.com