By SHERWIN DE VERA
VIGAN CITY, Ilocos Sur — On the 71st anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, different organizations, led by farmers and church workers, condemned the deteriorating state of people’s rights in the Ilocos region.
The Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop Exploitation) and the Ilocos Region Ecumenical Council (IREC) expressed concerns and rage for the continuing threats and harassments of its members.
In his homily, UCCP North Luzon-Amburayan Conference Minister Reverend Jun Paplonot said that church workers are not spared from persecution under the Duterte administration. He cited the frequent visits and red-tagging by the military of UCCP pastors and members.
“For as long as peasants have no lands, for as long as workers do not receive just wages, for as long as we are dominated by a foreign nation, there will be no peace,” he said.
According to him, by unleashing violence to the people and government critics, the Duterte administration is veering from the genuine road to peace. He added peace is not merely the absence of dissent and war, contrary to what the government wants the public to believe. The UCCP pastor also challenged the participants to stand up and speak out.
“Masapol a burakentayo ti panagulimek ken buteng ta babaen laeng iti panangited ti timek kadagiti awanan ken panangipeksa kadagiti parikuttayo a magun-od ti pudno a kappia ken demokrasia (We should break the silence and fear because only through providing a voice to those who have none and raising our concerns can we achieve genuine peace and democracy),” he said.
Besides imploring the government to respect and protect human rights, the clergy also acknowledged the role of rights activists in the pursuit of just and lasting peace.
The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Philippine Independence Church (PIC), and Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists Church) officiated the ecumenical service.
De facto martial law
Mary Ann Gabayan, secretary-general of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA), also discussed the state of human rights in the region.
She said threats and harassments against activists intensified with the issuance of Executive Order 70 institutionalizing the “whole-of-nation approach” and creating task forces against communists rebels.
According to her, from August 2017 to June 2019, IHRA documented 79 cases of human rights violations in the region. Most of the victims are farmers from the militarized municipalities of the Second District of Ilocos Sur.
Gabayan stressed that the overarching power of the military provided under the directive allowed a de facto martial law to exist. She said EO 70 weaponized the entire bureaucracy to silence dissent.
She pointed out the local governments have actually lost their authority when it comes to the program of the military. The Constitutional guarantee that civilian authority should always reign supreme over the military no longer applies under EO 70 in militarized municipalities.
By our own strength
Meanwhile, Stop Exploitation chairperson Antonino Pugyao said their petitions and dialogues facilitated by Ilocos Sur Governor Ryan Singson did not deter the military from harassing and red-tagging their leaders and members.
“Daytoy ti mangipakita nga awan ti manamnamatayo kadagiti opisial a saan a nakasagana a mangtakder kadagiti constituentsda. Isunga ti laeng pagsangirantayo ket ti panagkaykaysa ken bukodtayo a pigsa,” he said.
The Stop Exploitation chair explained that while they welcome the willingness of the governor to facilitate the talks, Singson failed to stand by them against the red-tagging of the military.
He said that despite years of working with the provincial government to solve farmers’ concerns, the governor did not bother to ask the military to show a concrete proof of their accusations.
The 81st IB accused Stop Exploitation and its affiliate, Timputog ti Mannalon ti Karayan Buaya as “communist fronts” to recruit red fighters for the New People’s Army.
“Imbes nga agsardeng, kimarkaro ri pamutbuteng ti 81st IB kadagiti kameng ti Stop Exploitation kalpasan kadagiti dialogues iti laksid ti kinuna ti gobernador nga respetaren koma dagiti militar ti trabaho ti Stop Exploitation,” he said.
Pugyao underscored that they should continue their action to support Stop Exploitation members who choose to remain silent for fear of reprisal from state forces. He said it is their task to inspire those stricken by doubt to rise above it and continue the struggle.
Pursue genuine peace
In the protest in front of the Ilocos Provincial Hall, The Right Rev. Emelyn Dacuycuy, read the statement of the Philippine Independent Church (PIC) on the UDHR anniversary.
The church called on the people “to raise grave concerns on the alarming reality of human rights violations in the country and seek ways to arrest the situation.”
According to the statement, with the declining observance of human rights under the present government, “there is the need to revisit the principles upon which these universal, basic and fundamental rights of human persons established.”
“We understand human dignity to thrive and flourish only within the environment of genuine peace, which constitutes human life and living enjoying full rights and justice,” the PIC said.
To achieve the proper condition for humans to thrive and enjoy their rights, the PIC said the Duterte administration must resume the peace negotiations. The statement said that only through the peace process could both parties to the conflict address the root cause of social injustice. # nordis.net