By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — Activists groups in the city asked the Office of Mayor Benjamin Magalong to issue an executive order to protect human rights defenders, journalists, and government critics from the “vilification and red-tagging by state forces and institutions.”
On December 19, the Tongtongan ti Umili (Tongtongan) with its allied organizations had a dialogue with Engineer Philip Puzon, about the matter. The group said that while they welcome the mayor’s pronouncement that activists are safe in the city, they remain concern about their safety.
“The unfounded, malicious and irresponsible terrorist accusations pose serious threats to the lives of activists, their security, and liberty,” the groups said. According to them, red-tagging and vilification of activists “are obviously meant to harass and intimidate them.”
Tongtongan chairperson Geraldine Cacho also requested the mayor to certify the ordinance protecting human rights defenders against attacks and vilification. The city council forwarded the proposed measure titled Human Rights Defenders Ordinance, to the Committee on Laws, Human Rights, and Justice “for study, comments and recommendation” during its regular session on November 18.
“I hope you understand the urgency because it is really difficult to be an activist in these times. While others are enjoying the holidays, there is the danger of harassments, surveillance, and killings. Kaya, we are very assertive about this dialogue,” said writer and activist Luchie Maranan.
Tongtongan is the local formation of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in Metro Baguio. On November 5, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) named CPA as a “communist terrorist group front organizations” during the hearing on AFP Modernization at House of Representatives.
In February 2018, the Department of Justice also included former and current leaders of the organization in the terrorist proscription petition against the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. The Philippine National Police in May 2018 also ordered the Regional Intelligence Unit to submit dossiers of CPA leaders named in the petition.
Baguio is not safe
The group cited 10 cases of harassment and vilification experienced by Baguio activists, which includes the profiling of members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) by the police. Also mentioned was the Baguio City Police Office red-tagging of youth organizations and death threats received by a student leader and red-tagging of progressive groups in schools and government meetings.
“We came here because we would like to tell the mayor that we are not safe despite assurances and so we would like to make good his word. We have been working with the city government very well; in fact, two of us are an awardee of the city,” said Jeanette Cawiding, regional coordinator of ACT.
CPA Chairperson Windel Bolinget said that the implementation of Executive Order 70 negates the mayor’s statement on the safety of activists.
“The problem is in the actual implementation of EO 70 and in the [Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict], which I think the mayor has already advanced, our organizations are labeled as communist terrorist groups, and therefore we are targets of execution,”
He said the dangers are real since the government is tagging them as “communist terrorist groups” in official government documents and briefings by military and civilian officials.
“So even if the mayor says that activists are safe here, but if the task force ELCAC continues in giving a briefing that our organizations and our names keep on appearing in those briefing we are not really safe, that is the point we want to bring here,” he added.
Guilty until proven innocent
During the dialogue, Puzon said, “…when the mayor said that Baguio City is safe for activists as long as you don’t bring your arms in the city.”
He also told them that activists tagged by the government as “communist terrorists” have to prove that they have no links with the rebels.
According to him, the group should submit a position paper to the mayor explaining that they are “not part of the [Communist Party of the Philippines], of the armed group of the CPP-NPA.”
“Because the CPP-NPA is the armed group, right, and you have the civilian component of the leftist organization. I guess you really have to prove that you are not members of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and you do not present an armed intent,” Magalong’s chief of staff said.
Puzon also claimed that the military has also linked leftist organizations with the communist rebels without providing details.
His statements earned adverse reaction from the group, noting that most of those present are longtime residents of the city.
“Isn’t it the other way around, that the government who is accusing us should be the one to prove their allegations, it is clear in our laws that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” retorted Audrey Beltran of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance.
The group also pointed out that Baguio City stood by their leaders who were accused by the government of being members of CPP-NPA. They also explained that DOJ also removed the CPA members named in the petition to declare the communist rebels as a terrorist after failing to provide sufficient evidence.
Also in the meeting were Gwangju Prize for Human Rights awardee Joanna Cariño, who was also an Outstanding Women Leader (OWL) awardee by the city along with Cawiding. National Union of Journalist in the Philippines-Baguio Benguet chairperson Kathleen Okubo, a recipient of the city’s Distinguished Gintong Tala Luminary Award for Journalism, was also present. # nordis.net