More than a third of stories published by Northern Dispatch in 2019 showed the worsening human rights situation in Northern Luzon. Attacks against the people ranging from red-tagging, filing of trumped-up charges, arrests, and murder of activists intensified in terms of frequency and intensity in Northern Luzon. Also, the outfit did not only cover the attacks against government dissenters but experienced it as well.

On January 30, suspected state agents assassinated Randy Malayao, a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). He also writes a column called Bandillo for the Northern Dispatch that tackles updates on the peace negotiations between the government and the NDFP.

Malayao was sleeping on a Victory bus parked near the CCQ restaurant in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya, when the assassin shot him multiple times. The gunman “boarded the bus and shot him at around 2:30 AM today, January 30,” the Aritao police spot report said. He was on his way home to San Pablo, Isabela.

Instead of following leads towards the arrest of the gunman, the police filed cases against Malayao’s sister and lawyer.

Unlike most of the other NDFP peace consultants, he is not facing any criminal charge. This situation allowed him to move freely around the country to attend activities related to peace negotiations.

Before his death, the Department of Justice (DOJ) named him, together with more than 600 supposed CPP-NPA personalities, in the petition to declare the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations. After admitting that they failed to validate the list provided by the intelligence community, the DOJ later corrected the petition leaving only eight names.

Malayao was also a former political prisoner under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. State forces abducted and tortured him heavily while under their custody. He spent more than four years in different jails in Cagayan and Isabela provinces. The court acquitted him of all charges.

On the other hand, Northern Dispatch Ifugao correspondent and human rights activist Brandon Lee survived an attack. Suspected members of the military shot and critically wounded him on August 6 in front of their home in Tungngod, Lagawe, Ifugao province. He sustained gunshot wounds on his face that exited to his neck, and another bullet entered through his left-back that exited to his middle back. A bullet also remained lodge in his spine.

Aside from writing for Nordis, Lee is also a paralegal volunteer for the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM). Before the incident, soldiers from the 54th Infantry Battalion frequented the IPM office, Lee’s residence, and the houses of Justice and Peace Advocates of Ifugao (JPAI) officers.

In 2015, Lee was among the individuals associated with the IPM who received death threats. The military has him as a rebel recruiter and IPM as a front organization of the CPP-NPA.

Lee is now recuperating in San Francisco, USA.

Red-tagging of activist groups and media outfits critical to the administration intensified with the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and operationalization of Joint Campaign Plan Kapanatagan.

As the election neared, red-tagging and smear campaigns against party-list groups intensified. The PNP openly admitted that they launched a profiling operation against members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and those supporting its party-list. The first reported incident in Northern Luzon happened in Baguio City. Soon after, similar events occurred in the Ilocos region.

In Cagayan, Karapatan said that Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba and the military orchestrated the forced surrender of members of Anakpawis party-list. In Ilocos Sur, Kabataan Party-list filed a complaint to Comelec against the military for campaigning against the Makabayan Bloc party-list. There were also incidents where Anakpawis supporters were told by authorities to refrain from voting the party-list.

In Baguio City, the city police office even spread lies in social media days before the election that Comelec disqualified Makabayan bloc party-lists.

During the workshop of the NTF-ELCAC in Baguio City with the regional offices based in the city, the speaker from the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) tagged Northern Dispatch as the official publication of the communist rebels. Before this incident, the Presidential Communications Operations Office launched a large-scale campaign to discredit the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and other alternative media outfits.

Meanwhile, in Cagayan Valley, while farmers were commemorating the Peasant Month last October, the police and military arrested five peasant organizers. Arrested in separate operations for trumped-up charges were Delia Padilla, Violeta Ricardo, and Cristina Miguel. The three are staff members of Danggayan ti Mannalon iti Cagayan Valley (Danggayan-CV), according to its chairperson Isabelo Adviento. Meanwhile, Reynaldo Busania and Sharon Malubay are working with the Timpuyog ti Mannalon ti Quirino (TMQ). Authorities accused them of being ranking members of the CPP-NPA.

Even before arresting the five organizers, the military and police in the region already tagged Danggayan-CV and TMQ as front organizations of the communist rebels. Karapatan Cagayan Valley reported massive red-tagging and political vilification against members of progressive organizations. In October, Karapatan also documented the shooting and arrest of six Kalinga farmers in Isabela by government soldiers.

Members and leaders of the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop Exploitation) also suffered a similar fate with the deployment of army troopers in the Ilocos Sur villages. According to the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA), Stop Exploitation members and leaders were red-tagged and harassed. State forces also labeled a peasant organization, Timpuyog ti Mannalon ti Karayan Buaya (TUKB) as a CPP-NPA front organization. Soldiers also intruded into one of the meetings of TUKB leaders.

Meanwhile, the military tagged several non-government development institutions in Northern Luzon as CPP-NPA fronts during a congressional hearing on the AFP modernization budget. Among those named was Ilocos Center for Research, Empowerment, and Development (ICRED), Katinnulong Daguiti Umili ti Amianan, Inc. (KADUAMI), Cagayan Valley Disaster Response Center (CVDRC), and the Cordillera Indigenous Law Center (DINTEG).

After the red-tagging incident in Congress, police tried to hamper ICRED from providing service to their partner organizations. In one incident, members of PNP Agoo in La Union harassed fisherfolk who received rehabilitation assistance from the institution.  

State perpetuated atrocities did not spare youth leaders, church workers, and their organizations.

Units of the Philippine Army and the PNP also conducted various education campaigns in schools and universities. In the forums, speakers demonized youth organizations like Anakbayan, Kaba taan Party-list, and their local chapters and affiliates. They discouraged students and youth from joining these organizations.

Police units have also used their official social media accounts to spread disinformation against progressive organizations by sharing memes labeling these groups as CPP-NPA fronts and recruiters. An official of the Philippine Information Agency in Ilocos also shared smear campaign materials against Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago on Facebook. Youth leaders received death threats through text messages and written notes left at the doorstep of their office.

In Ilocos, church workers received unannounced visits from military personnel asking them about their activities. In most cases, the soldiers also inquired about their involvement with progressive groups and people’s issues. One of the clergies who experienced regular visits was Rev. Marcelino Mariano of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Despite welcoming the soldiers and treating them fairly, he was red-tagged and accused of harboring communist rebels. Earlier, the Philippine Independent Church also expressed alarm over the surveillance and harassment of its social action head in Ilocos Norte.

These are stories of attacks against activists and dissenters that filled our news site. Despite their disquieting contents of our reports, the people’s movement held its ground, aware that repression breeds resistance and to fight back is their only choice; but that is for another posting. # nordiss.net

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