PH 2nd highest in killings of human rights defenders – watchdog

Bea Orante

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PH 2nd highest in killings of human rights defenders – watchdog
The Philippines is second to Colombia and the highest outside the Americas in human rights defenders killings

MANILA, Philippines – At 31 reported killings in 2015, the Philippines has one of the worst track records in the killing of human rights defenders (HRD) worldwide, according to a recent report. (READ: Extrajudicial killings remain unprosecuted in PH)

The report from Front Line Defenders, or the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, found 25 countries where HRDs were killed. The global total for 2015 was 156 HRDs killed.

The 31 killings in the Philippines make up almost 60% of the 52 reported in Asia and the Pacific. 

The Philippines is second to Colombia and the highest outside the Americas. (READ: Things to know: Human rights in the Philippines)

Front Line Defenders defined HRDs as “people who, individually or collectively, work peacefully on behalf of others to promote and defend internationally recognized human rights.” 

Community leaders, journalists, lawyers, trade unionists, students, or members of human rights organizations are considered HRDs. 

Aside from killings, the report analyzed the other trends in what they called the “repression of human rights defenders.” 

Sobering trends 

According to the report, judicial harassment has intensified in the Philippines. They cited the case of Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie, a former councilor in Jolo who was conducting research into human rights violations in Jolo. 

Tulawie was arrested in 2012 for his alleged involvement in the two failed assassination attempts against then Governor Abdusakur Mahail Tan. The report said he was cleared after more than 3 years in detention.

In the Asia-Pacific region, other offenses include: 

  • Physical assaults by police, plain-clothes agents, or unidentified “thugs”
  • Impunity for attacks
  • Restrictions to movement and the access to the Internet and social media 

Worldwide, the targeting of family members, travel bans, and government surveillance are among the actions governments and other groups are taking against HRDs. 

Lumad killings 

In the list of HRDs killed were Lumad leaders, Dionel Campos, Juvello Sinzo, Emerito Samarca, and Lito Abion. (READ: UN experts on Lumad killings: Unacceptable, deplorable)

Samarca was the executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV). The school provides Lumad children basic and technical education.

Campos was a community leader and chairperson of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alansa sa Sumusunod (MAPASU), an indigenous peoples (IP) organization. He was killed after armed men shot him and his cousin.

Armed men were also behind the death of Lito Abion of Tagdumahan, a Lumad grassroots organization.  (READ: TIMELINE: Attacks on the Lumad of Mindanao)

The report said 45% of killings worldwide are the result of the “defence of the environmental, land, and indigenous peoples’ rights.” Front Line Defenders said the figures are higher in the Philippines at 90%.

The group put the blame on “Oplan Bayanihan” for the spate of killings in Mindanao. Members of the Lumad community protesting the attacks claimed their leaders were targeted for their resistance to mining groups. 

The Lumad, a collective term for the IP groups in Mindanao, have made these killings the center of their protests. During the Manilakbayan protests in 2015, they asked the government to hold their killers responsible. 

Weak reaction 

Front Line Defenders criticized governments for the weak response to the issue.  

“While lip-service is frequently paid at an international level to human rights norms and the crucial work of HRDs, it has rarely been accompanied by the practical action necessary to support these same HRDs,” the group said.

During the 2015 International Human Rights Day, the Commission of Human Rights of the Philippines said: “We need to face the reality of continuing intimidation, harassment, false charges, as well as illegal and arbitrary detention against human rights defenders.”

As human rights become an increasingly pressing problem for national and international governments, concerned groups are still wondering if they can move past rhetoric. –

Human Rights on Cardboard image via ShutterStock.

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