Ilocos Sur board backs removal of environmental activist from DOJ’s “terrorist list”

By PAOLA ESPIRITU
www.nordis.net

VIGAN CITY — Provincial legislators passed a resolution calling on the Department of Justice to remove one of its constituents named in the proscription petition to declare the communist-led rebels as terrorist.

The Sangguniang Bayan of Ilocos Sur, during its regular session on Tuesday, November 27 passed a resolution “urging the government of the Republic of the Philippines to drop the terrorist tag against Sherwin De Vera.”

The resolution stated De Vera as a “publicly known environmental and human rights advocate” locally and in other regions in Northern Luzon.

It also recognized him and his group, Ilocos Network for the Environment (Defend Ilocos) for their “significant role in the campaign against destructive mining and quarrying activities, solid waste manegment issues and natural resources conservation efforts” in Ilocos Sur.

“Whereas, the above mentioned individual is known to this body personally, not as a terrorist but a passionate environmental advocate and leader of progressive groups since his college days in the University of Northern Philippines,” said the resolution.

The legislators also cited his notable contributions, working with the province and government agencies with regards to environmental issues.

They also expressed concern that his inclusion in the DOJ’s petition “posed threat to his life, his family and friends, and has put constraint in his chance to further contribute to the provincial government’s environmental protection program and projects.”

Filed on April 16 by SP member Christopher Baterina and endorsed for approval by the Committee on Justice and Human Rights chaired by SPM Pablito Sanidad, Jr, the resolution underwent thorough discussion in the board. The body also required De Vera to write a letter in support of the resolution and appear before them for further discussion on his situation.

DRAFT RESOLUTION. The resolution filed by SPM Christopher Baterina in April and endorsed by SPM Atty Pablito Sanidad, Jr. as chair of Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Both officials said the document was approved without amendments. (Photo from Defend Ilocos Facebook account)

Gratitude and commendations

Defend Ilocos expressed gratitude and commended the officials for the resolution.
The group said the approval of the resolution “affirms that dissent and activism are not crimes but an integral part of democracy.”

“The action taken by the body reflects how the Provincial Government of Ilocos Sur values the participation of its people and respects different perspectives on social issues,” said Defend Ilocos’ statement signed by Philippine Independent Church Bishop Vermilion Tagalog, who heads the network.

In a separate statement posted on his Facebook account, De Vera thanked the legislators supporting him and “expressing their concern” over DOJ terrorist-tagged.

He also expressed his hope that Governor Ryan Singson will approve the resolution.

“While it is quite self-serving, I think it is important to point that the passage of the resolution is the right thing to do. Emphasizing this is part of giving recognition to the SPIS for standing for truth, justice and human rights,” he said.

Threat remains

“However, this positive development does not diminish our concern for the safety of Sherwin and other members of our network,” the bishop said.

He explained that smear campaigns, harassment and intimidation against Defend Ilocos by military and police forces continue. The clergy views the incidents as preparation “to stage more violent attacks” against their members and leaders.

“We hope the board will also look into the continuing practice of government security offices of vilifying, maliciously tagging and filing trumped-up charges against environment and human rights defenders as armed rebels, putting their lives and families at risk,” urged Tagalog.

He also recommended the “crafting human rights defender’s protection and anti-villification ordinance” and to call the attention of the PNP and military to be more prudent in their reporting and accusations against activist.”# nordis.net

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