By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — On Easter Sunday, Brandon Lee with his family, friends and colleagues in the Philippines and United States had a seminar through the internet, or a “webinar”, to discuss the dangers he and his colleagues are now facing due to the vilification campaign launched against them by agents of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Lee is among the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM) members and Ifugao human rights workers being accused of being supporters and members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
The IPM members and staff tagged as members of NPA are: Nestor Peralta, Claudine Panayo, Billy Karty and Ben Calingayan. Active barangay officials and local members of people’s organizations are also vilified, including: Edwin Bumolyad, barangay captain of Montabiong, Lagawe; Nonoy Bangtiwen, a member of the barangay council of Tulludan, Tinoc; and Dick Tangid, a member of the barangay council of Tupaya, Lagawe and the current vice chairperson of IPM; Ricardo Mayumi; and Engr. James Tayaban, among others.
Vilification, according to human rights defenders, is the deliberate labelling of activists as members or supporters of the NPA, or enemies of the state; this leads to other forms of human rights violations. In the IPM experience, like the experience of other progressive organizations, vilification aims to justify any attack against activists.
A case in this point is the killing of William Bugatti, who was gunned down on board his motorcyle while on his way home along the Ifugao provincial highway in the evening of March 25, 2014. Before his death, Bugatti was listed by the 2012 target list of the 86th IB of the Philippine Army where he was labeled as “utak ng NPA”.
Brandon disclosed during the webinar that he took on some of the work that Bugatti left behind, which includes extending assistance to the two political prisoners languishing at the Ifugao Provincial Jail in Kiangan, Ifugao.
The prisoners are Reneboy Abiva, an employee of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and Virgilio Corpuz, a coordinator of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytors Nationwide (Piston) both from the Cagayan Valley Region. Both are in jail for being accused as members of the NPA by the Philippine Army.
Brandon’s mother Louise spoke during the said webinar and expressed fear for her son’s and colleagues’ security. “These fabricated accusations is placing my son and his colleagues’ life in danger,” she said.
Louise reiterated that Brandon being born and raised in San Francisco was educated with the American ideals of democracy, equality and social justice. “He was raised with a sense of right and wrong, and will not sit silent when faced with injustice or violation of human rights,” she said.
She added that Brandon being a US citizen can just leave anytime but his Filipino colleagues does not have the same option. “On one hand, I am proud of the work he is doing and fully support his decision to remain the in the Philippines. However, on the other hand, as a mother, I pray for his safety and to live free from defamation and libel while advocating for the basic needs for rural and indigenous communities in Ifugao province and the Cordillera Mountain region,” she added.
Rhonda Ramiro, vice chairperson of Bayan-USA, also spoke during the webinar and disclosed that her group will raise Brandon’s case among many other cases of human rights violations against the Filipino people during the International People’s Tribunal (IPT), to be staged in Washington D.C. some time in July.
Ramiro said the IPT aims to hold the Philippine government accountable to international laws, especially to those that the country adhered to and signed, for the continuing cases of human rights and internatinal humanitarian law violations against the Filipino people. # nordis.net