Igorot activist receives international human rights award


BAGUIO CITY — An Igorot activist, labeled by the Philippine government as “terrorist”, is the first Filipino to receive the prestigious Gwangju Prize for Human Rights for defending human rights and promoting democracy from the May 18 Memorial Foundation.

Joanna Patricia Kintanar Cariño accepted the award on May 18 at the organization’s Memorial Culture Center in Gwangju, South Korea.

In her acceptance speech, she said the award is a “vindication” that proves the correctness of her lifelong vocation to defend human rights and promote democracy.

“It is ironic that while the repressive Philippine Duterte regime labels human rights activists such as myself as terrorists, prestigious foreign institutions such as the May 18 Memorial Foundation recognizes my human rights activism as honorable,” she said.

The Department of Justice included her name, along with 600 individuals, in the petition to proscribe the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army as terrorist organizations. After receiving wide condemnation from domestic and international groups, the DOJ trimmed the list from 656 to eight individuals.

According to her, every human rights violation diminishes a person’s humanity, underscoring that to stand up for human rights and to rebel against a repressive and oppressive system is just.

“But we have to prepare ourselves for sacrifice and even death in the struggle against tyrants for people’s democracy and a better world. It is honorable to stand up for democracy and to defend human rights, especially for the less unfortunate and downtrodden,” Cariño said.

She stressed that people should hold on to the lessons of the Gwangju and the Philippine 1986 People Power uprisings that toppled dictatorships in the face of continuing historical revisionism and resurgence of tyranny.

“We should always remember, we should never forget. The people, united, shall never be defeated. Never again to martial law!” she said.

Cariño shared the award with her organizations.

She is a founding member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, serving as treasurer and secretary general in the early years of the organization and now part of the group’s advisory council. She currently co-chairs SANDUGO National Alliance of Moros and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination and heads SELDA-Northern Luzon, an organization of former political detainees.

Her work as human rights defender started while studying at the University of the Philippines Baguio in the 1970s. In 1974, the Marcos dictatorship illegally arrested, detained and tortured her with sister Joji at Camp Olivas for two years. After her release, she returned to her studies and briefly served as an Anthropology and Economics faculty in UP Baguio from 1980 to 1985.

The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights is an award given the May 18 Memorial Foundation to recognize individuals, groups or institutions around the globe that has contributed in promoting human rights, democracy and peace through their work.

According to the foundation, the prize aims to promote the spirit of the May 18 democratization movement in Gwangju.

Now the sixth largest city in South Korea, Gwangju was the site of a historic armed uprising against martial law in May 1980 that stemmed from the violent crackdown of a peaceful demonstration. The government recognized the significance of the people’s resistance and honored those who fought and died in the incident after the restoration of civilian rule in 1987. The survivors established the May 18 Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization.

The Korean Association of Bereaved Families for Democracy was the very first recipient of the Gwangju Prize in 2002. Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi also received the Gwangju Prize in 2004. The organizers stripped her of the award in 2018 for her inaction to the atrocities against Rohingya minority. # nordis.net


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