BY SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — Speaking before his colleagues, Senator Patrick Leahy, of the Democratic Party and the most senior member of the assembly, expressed his concern on the terrorist tagging of indigenous and human rights defenders in the country. His speech, delivered on June 4 underscored the threat and hardships brought by the Department of Justice’s inclusion of activists in the terrorist proscription petition against the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.
“The problem with this ‘terrorist list’ is that the government is apparently using it to persecute people who have nothing to do with terrorism, but who have engaged in legitimate, peaceful dissent and protests in opposition to government policies that threaten their way of life,” said Leahy.
The senator acknowledged that some of those named in the petition are “are known and respected nationally and internationally for their consistent, lawful efforts to protect human rights for the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in the Philippines.”
He mentioned that two of the high profile individuals included in the list – Vicky Tauli-Corpuz and Joan Carling were fortunate being out of the country “compared to those targeted leaders who remain in the country.”
“By criminalizing their work, and including these activists on an official “terrorist list,” the administration of President Duterte is endangering the lives of these and other human rights defenders and community leaders,” he added.
The American lawmaker called on the Philippine government to defend the rights and ensure the safety of indigenous leaders and human rights activist instead of tagging them as terrorist.
Leahy views the ‘terrorist list’ as a “misuse of the justice system” to silence dissent and undermine internationally guaranteed rights of the people. He also emphasized that criminalizing activist defending human rights “reverses progress the country has made, and threatens the functioning of civil society which is fundamental to any democracy.”
In statement sent to the media on June 7, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance expressed their gratitude for the senator’s “call to stop the political persecution and the unjust terrorist proscription of indigenous rights activists in the Philippines.”
“We are fortunate to have our voices heard inside the halls of the US Senate through Sen. Leahy’s efforts. In the same light, we challenge the members of the Philippine Senate and Congress to do the same and fulfill their mandate to represent the voice of the people in legislature, shed light on the perils that confront our human rights defenders, and protect the people from all threats against their democratic rights,” said the statement.
The group underscored that the “terrorist list” favors corporate interest and plunder of the people’s resources.
CPA also noted that the recent support from the US senator and declarations made by the local government of Baguio City, Municipality of Sagada and the provincial leadership of Mountain Province “are testaments to the legitimacy of our cause as indigenous rights activists.”
“We must never allow, even in a stretch of imagination, that fighting for the peoples’ cause and for the country, for indigenous peoples’ rights, genuine development and democracy be labeled as terrorism. What we should strive for is an end to the state terror wrought by the tyrannical Duterte regime,” the militant indigenous group said in closing. # nordis.net