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Thank you FRIENDS for visiting my page.  This is my simple way of joining the global chorus for the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs).  My ideas may sound plain yet in the simplicity of its tone is the depth of human desire for respect in the dignity of person… a better world… a flourishing culture of human rights.

This page is a mere sounding board for a lively, fruitful and pluralistic discussions, a platform for opinions, and an arena for constructive dialogues where we may all learn and share thoughts… grand or simple as they may be… on human rights and our fundamental freedoms.

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Email: rgmabunga@gmail.com

Press Conference: CHR human rights protector or violator?

Press Conference: CHR human rights protector or violator?

By Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)[1]

I.          General Overview

President Benigno Aquino III considered 2012 a year of continued resurgence of the economy bolstered with increased confidence in good governance. He took pride in the dramatic leaps the country has taken in the global competitive index of the World Economic Forum; the unprecedented attainment of investment-grade status from the most respected credit ratings agencies in the world; and the astounding 6.8 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2012.[2]

Amidst this enthusiasm, cases of extra-judicial killings (EJK), enforced disappearances, torture, illegal arrests as well as other political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights violations increase halfway into the Aquino administration. What becomes alarming “is the growing number of threats and killings of rights defenders” as observed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, and on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns.[3]

In 2012 alone, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) reported 43 cases of EJK involving 48 victims; 14 cases of Enforced Disappearance involving 17 victims; and, 39 cases of Torture involving 63 victims. There were 65 documented cases of arrest and detention by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines involving 133 individuals. The spate of arrests came after the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of National Defense (DND) announced its Php467 million bounty for some undisclosed list of 235 communist leaders.[4] This list would definitely be used to harass political activists and leaders of peoples’ organizations with or without legal charges and would constitute another institutionalized utter disregard of the right to due process.[5]

In an October 2012 interview with Radio New Zealand, President Aquino brushed aside criticism of his human rights records as simply “leftist propaganda”. He issued Administrative Order (AO) 35 in November “creating the inter-agency committee on extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons”. He promoted military officers charged with cases of human rights violations.[6] Brig. Gen Eduardo Añowas appointed chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). He was among those charged in the abduction and disappearance of Jonas Burgos. Brig. Gen. Aurelio Baladad was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and before him Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia who was assigned to head the Eastern Mindanao Command. Baladad and Segovia were among those charged in the illegal arrest and torture of the Morong 43.[7]

2012 also witnessed positive developments in policy reforms. The President signed into law Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, which is restrained for implementation by the Supreme Court following petitions of unconstitutionality by the Catholic Church; the Compensation for Martial Law Victims Act, early 2013, providing compensation, recognition and acceptance of the historical facts of grave human rights violation during Martial Law; the Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act 288 or the ARMM Human Rights Commission Charter of 2012, an independent regional national human rights institution vested with the powers and mandate of the national Commission on Human Rights within the autonomous region; Republic Act (RA) 101361 or the Kasambahay Law in January 2013, an act instituting polices for the protection and welfare of domestic helpers; the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, an act defining and penalizing enforced or involuntary disappearance;  and the Ratification of the Rome Statute.

A.        A Culture of Impunity Persists: Still No National Human Rights Action Plan

However, until today, President Aquino has never finalized and signed the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP), highlight during the 1stand 2nd Philippine Universal Periodic Review Process (UPR) in 2008 and 2012; a framework that would guide Government’s compliance with its international human rights obligations. It has failed to ensure greater transparency through a general right of access to official information – a Freedom of Information (FOI) law[8]. The right to information is not only on the accessibility of police blotters and military camp records but also of transparency of business plans and records containing also financial reports affecting people, their sources of subsistence and the environment, particularly in areas of extractive industries. The CHRP has neither called to task the Aquino administration on the NHRAP nor determinedly consolidated its reach on the necessity of the FOI as a right and an indispensable component in the fight against corruption through its regional offices, seminars, trainings, lectures, talks and information dissemination.[9]

Though there is a noted decline in terms of statistics, very few have been made to pay for what they have wrongly done. According to the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), “government and the security sector have miserably failed to diligently investigate and appropriately prosecute the past and present violations. The culture of impunity persists.”[10] This culture of impunity in the realm of civil and political rights is rooted in the impunity of economic, social and cultural rights. Most of the reported cases arise from situations of struggle against mining operations, destruction of environment, demolitions of urban poor communities, land and work, and corruption in the bureaucracy. Lately, violations are directed at human rights defenders.

Government’s denial of human rights as a pillar of development and good governance laid down an environment that perpetuates a culture of impunity, emboldens perpetrators, condones and sets out new targets for violations. This is the general backdrop against which the Commission on Human Rights Philippines (CHRP) reported 2012 as a year of considerable achievements with serious human rights challenges. “Despite wide-ranging positive developments such as the passage of major human rights laws, the CHRP continues to grapple with serious human rights challenges like in the face of unabated human rights violations, particularly summary killings.”[11]

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Photo by Human Rights Online PH

For three years, the United Nations has marked the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 in recognition of the fact that “enforced disappearances” have no place in a world that aspires to freedom and justice.

An “enforced disappearance” is defined as “deprivation of liberty outside of the protection of the law by agents of government or of authority through concealment of the victim’s whereabouts.”

Beyond this definition, however, is the immense suffering of families haunted by the fate of the “desaparecidos,” the term used for the disappeared in the Philippines.

In Asia, where most governments hide behind the pretext of law and order and national security, official rhetoric has failed to cover up enforced disappearances.

In Bangladesh, 24 disappeared were documented in 2012. This year, there have already been 14 documented cases, allegedly perpetrated by members of the Rapid Action Battalion, the Police Detective Branch and the Industrial Police.

In Jammu and Kashmir in India’s restive northwest, conflicting statements by different government agencies have become a feature of this issue. There have been more than 8,000 cases of recorded disappearances since 1989, yet successive governments have officially downplayed the number. In 2005, the People’s Democratic Party-led government claimed there were 3,931 such cases. In 2009, the National Conference-led government claimed 3,429 missing and then last year, the same government claimed only 2,305 people had disappeared since 1989.

Whether there has been just one or thousands of victims is of secondary concern. What is essential is an effective mechanism for probing cases of violations, finding victims, easing the burden and suffering of families and for holding governments accountable within a human rights framework.

In Indonesia, the entrenched and successful use of terror during the New Order regime (1965-1998) terrified the populace into not reporting enforced disappearances. Even with the change of government, 414 mostly unsolved cases of missing persons were documented in the restive province of Aceh alone from 1999 to 2005.

The decade-long civil war in Nepal from 1996 claimed 1,378 disappeared. On November 21, 2006, a Comprehensive Peace Accord ended the conflict and promised to clarify the fate of the disappeared within just 60 days.

Yet in December the following year the government was still at the stage of being required to set up a commission of investigation, a call repeated in various political agreements between various parties and factions including a landmark deal in November 2011. Still a commission into disappearances in Nepal has not been set up.

In the Philippines there have been at least 2,214 recorded cases of enforced disappearances, with at least 20 of these committed during the past three years under the current administration of President Benigno Aquino.

There has been progress here, however. After 17 long years of lobbying for an Anti-Enforced Disappearances Act, the law was finally signed off last year, becoming the first of its kind in Asia. But passing a law and enforcing it are two very different things in the Philippines, as in many countries in this region.

 

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HRD PROTECTION MANUALIntroduction

The universality of human rights does not guarantee that it is indeed respected, protected, and fulfilled. On the other hand, cases of human rights violations persist, in the Philippines and all over the world. Hence, there is a need to raise people’s awareness on human rights and how to defend them.

According to the United Nations document Human Rights Defenders: Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights Fact Sheet No. 29,

“Human rights defender” is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders are identified above all by what they do…[1]

 In summary, gathering and disseminating information, advocacy and the mobilization of public opinion are often the most common tools used by human rights defenders in their work…they also provide information to empower or train others. They participate actively in the provision of the material means necessary to make human rights a reality – building shelter, providing food, strengthening development, etc. They work at democratic transformation in order to increase the participation of people in the decision-making that shapes their lives and to strengthen good governance. They also contribute to the improvement of social, political and economic conditions, the reduction of social and political tensions, the building of peace, domestically and internationally, and the nurturing of national and international awareness of human rights.[2]

 Sadly, those who defend human rights are the ones who often face risks and challenges. Human rights defenders have become victims of harassment, arrest and detention, vilification campaigns, sometimes, even torture, or worse, enforced disappearance, or extrajudicial killing. State authorities are the most common perpetrators of violations against human rights defenders.

Who will then defend the defenders in situations when the human rights defenders themselves become targets of attacks?

In recognition of the risks faced by human rights defenders, steps have been made by the United Nations, no less, to guarantee their protection.

The first major step was formally to define the “defence” of human rights as a right in itself and to recognize persons who undertake human rights work as “human rights defenders”. On 9 December 1998, by its resolution 53/144, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (commonly known as the “Declaration on human rights defenders”). The second step was taken in April 2000, when the United Nations Commission on Human Rights asked the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative on human rights defenders to monitor and support the implementation of the Declaration.[3]

Despite positive developments on the protection of human rights defenders, there is a need for human rights defenders themselves to come up with comprehensive and realistic strategies to ensure their protection.

This manual aims to provide human rights defenders with practical knowledge and some effective tools that may be useful for improving their understanding on human rights defender’s security and protection. The manual is intended to help defenders to undertake their own risk assessments and define security rules and procedures which suit their particular situation.

Click to Download Entire Manual/Document:  PROTECTION MANUAL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS


[1] Human Rights Defenders: Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights Fact Sheet No. 29, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations, Geneva, April 2004.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

adil

11 August 2013

 
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina 
Office of the Prime Minister
Gona Bhaban, Old Sangsad Bhaban, Tejgaon
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Email: info@pmo.gov.bd
 
 

 Dear Prime Minister Hasina,

The Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas (HRDP) was informed by the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia) and the ODHIKAR, a prominent human rights organization in Bangladesh, of the arbitrary arrest and detention of Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, secretary of ODHIKAR by forces believed to be members of the Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police.

We know Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan and his advocacies; we know ODHIKAR, its mandates and activities; and, we are worried of Adilur’s situation including that of his organization. As Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) we know by experience the possibilities of more violations under custody including the possibility of torture.  We are aware of the vilification proceedings usually conducted by States to organizations of HRDs to descredit their works.  Let us all be reminded that the United Nations General Assembly including Bangladesh unanimously approved the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998; that, human rights works are not anti- government unless the latter vowed to be despotic.

The nature of arrest without warrant employed by State agents against Mr. Adilur blatantly violated the due process of law.  Bangladesh, being a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2000, should know too well that actions of its agents contravene all the provisions in Article 9 of the said covenant.

We are therefore calling on the Government of Bangladesh to immediately release Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan from custody.  Respect and protect his rights including that of all Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh.

Sincerely,

Renato G. Mabunga, Ph.D.
Chairperson, Human Rights Defenders – Piipinas (HRDP)
 
Copy Furnished:
 
 
Mr. Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir
Minister for Home Affairs
Email: mkalamgir@yahoo.com; minister@mha.gov.bd;
 
Barrister Shafique Ahmed
Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
Email: info@minlaw.gov.bd
 
Mr. Hasan Mahmud Khandaker
Inspector General of Police
Email : ig@police.gov.bd
 
H.E. Mr. Abdul Hannan
Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to the United Nations in Geneva
E-mail: mission.bangladesh@ties.itu.int
 
Prof.  Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman
National Human Rights Commission
Email: nhrc.bd@gmail.com,
 
High Commission of Bangladesh in New Delhi, India
Email: bdhcdelhi@gmail.com
 
Ms. Saartje Baes
Human Rights Defenders (HRD) Programme Officer, FORUM-ASIA

Email: saartje@forum-asia.org

Hear the voices of the oppressed

universal-declaration-of-human-rightsSince 1950, the United Nations has commemorated the historic adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a “common standard of achievement for all people and all nations.”

Ironically, on its 64th anniversary today, millions of people around the world still long to realize at least the most basic of this common standard for humanity: the recognition of the “inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

The continuing uprisings in the Arab world, the protests sweeping major cities and urban centers in Europe, the Americas and Africa, the continuing difficult situations in Asia, all highlight deficiencies of human rights in governance and the non-recognition of peoples’ aspirations for inclusion and a desire for meaningful participation in public affairs that affect their lives.

Public demonstrations and assemblies are deeper than mere assertions of the individual’s civil, political, economic and cultural rights. They are demands to take part in decision-making, an assertion of a sovereign power that is abused by many state leaders.

Instead of settling issues through genuine dialogues and consultations, most governments trample basic freedom of expression, assembly and association in the guise of “national interests and security.”

Lately in Singapore, human rights defenders and bus drivers, He Jun Ling, Gao Yue Qiang, Liu Xiangying and Wang Xian Jie, who were employed by the state-controlled public transport operator SMRT Ltd., were charged in court with “inciting an illegal strike” among their co-workers. They protested against poor living conditions in company dormitories and low wages.

In Myanmar, authorities resorted to old violent methods in a clear attempt to silence growing dissent. Riot police attacked protest camps near the Letpadaung mine, setting camps on fire, burning protesting monks and arresting protest organizers Ko Wai Lu, Daw Shan Ma, Ko Myo Chit, Ko Ye Lin, Daw Naw Ohn Hla and Ko Nyi Nyi.

They were calling for environmental protection and reclaiming their lands that were confiscated by the joint venture of China’s Wanbao Company and the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.  There is continuing ethnic violence in Rakhine state and persecution of Rohingya people.

In the Philippines, extrajudicial executions of human rights defenders and mining activists continue. Armed men believed to be hired goons, or associated with private armies and paramilitary groups, carry out most of the killings. Appalling violations are perpetrated by soldiers acting on behalf of private corporations and/or on mere suspicions.

 

 

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hrd-logo-sample-colored5(HRDP Statement on the 64th Int’l Human Rights Day)

On the occasion of the International Human Rights day on December 10, 2012, the Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas (HRDP) salutes all working women and men in reclaiming the dignity of persons and those who continuously strive towards the achievement of all human rights for all.

Sadly, sixty-four years after the states adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), cases of human rights violations especially against human rights defenders are of an alarming number and must be urgently addressed.

Reports of extra-judicial killings of political activists, predominately those associated with grass-root organizations fighting for land distribution and against mining, have now caused increasing concern. Most of the killings are carried out by unidentified men believed to be hired goons, or associated with private armies and paramilitary groups. But most appallingly, gross violations are perpetrated by soldiers acting on behalf of private corporations and/or on mere suspicions.

Take the case of a family who were killed in Sitio Fayahlob, Barangay Datal Aliong, Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, Mindanao. Juvy Capion and her two sons Jordan and John died due to fatal gunshot wounds found on various parts of their bodies. According to witnesses, members of the Philippine Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion led by 1Lt. Dante Jimenez, trooped towards the scene and strafed the house of the victims using their automatic rifles. Victims were killed instantly. Juvy Capion is from the B’laan tribe who strongly opposes mining operations conducted by SMI/Xtrata within their ancestral land.

Another human rights defender Venecia “Inday” Natingga, 49, was murdered along the highway of Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte around five (5) in the afternoon on June 19, 2012. She was going home riding a motorcycle from the town center when she was killed. She sustained seven (7) gunshot wounds. The most fatal hit her head causing her sudden death. Her family and colleagues believed the killing had something to do with Natingga’s active involvement in helping farmers acquire a small portion of land through agrarian reform. They claimed that previous owners of the Segovia Estate dreadfully contested the Natingga’s efforts.

The same fate befell Datu Jimmy Liguyon, an indigenous chieftain and Dao village captain who was shot dead allegedly by Aldy Salusad, a member of the New Indigenous Peoples’ Army (NIPAR). Liguyon was killed on March 5, 2012 inside his own house in San Fernando, Bukidnon. Before the killing, Jimmy led his community to protest against ongoing militarization of their community. He was also a staunch critic of mining activities in the area.

Repeatedly, HRDP calls on the Aquino government to proactively investigate these cases and punish those responsible. We urge the Philippine government to immediately and urgently adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and safety of human rights defenders in the country and those who work for the welfare of the marginalized.

The acts of violence and other attacks perpetrated against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees that belong to every human being, but undermine the fundamental role human rights defenders play in society.  Violations against HRDs leave all those whom they fight for defenseless.

Our leaders should keep in mind that the work of human rights defenders is essential to the formation of a solid and lasting free society. They must realize that human rights defenders play an important role in the process of pursuing the full attainment of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy.

Myanmar’s parliament was to debate on Monday a proposal to abolish a provision in the 1975 State Protection Act that allows the government to restrict the fundamental rights of people suspected of “endangering state sovereignty and security, public peace and tranquility.”

The proposal is the latest among legislative initiatives that are part of Myanmar’s “reform process,” although freedoms of expression, assembly and association continue to be systematically violated.

The purported legislative reforms, with the enactment of several new laws and the review of existing ones, have largely resulted in new forms of controls and restrictions that are applied selectively.

Myanmar’s reform process has resulted in little, if any, improvement on the respect for fundamental freedoms on the ground. It has become largely an empty showcase to appease the international community.

A fact finding mission conducted by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) from October 24 to 30 discovered that the rights to peaceful assembly and of association of particular groups, including former political prisoners, labor rights activists, student unions, and members of ethnic nationalities, are still being denied.

An array of laws that restrict the fundamental freedoms of the rights to expression, assembly and association, including the Emergency Act, the Unlawful Association Act, and the 1988 law relating to the formation of associations, remain.

The right to freedom of assembly, in particular, has been denied to groups that are considered “sensitive” or threatening to the government.

In the last two months alone, scores of individuals have been arrested for organizing and participating in peaceful assemblies.

In September, 13 leaders, organizers, and participants of peaceful assemblies to mark International Peace Day were summoned and subsequently charged under the 2012 Decree on the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession after their application for a permit was rejected by the government.

Leaders and organizers of peaceful demonstrations, including protest actions against a mining project in the Letpadaung region, are also facing threats and harassment from authorities.

However, some street demonstrations were allowed to proceed, including the anti-Rohingya protest actions of Buddhist monks and university students in Rakhine state.

These double standards in the implementation of the law call into question the universal principles of Buddhism on peace, harmony, wisdom and understanding.

The continued violations of fundamental freedoms and new forms of control expose the empty façade of Myanmar’s reform process. Human rights protection in Myanmar will remain illusory if fundamental freedoms are not properly safeguarded in the current legal reforms.

 

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The landmark signing of an initial peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has reinvigorated hopes of a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict in Mindanao.

The framework peace deal lays the foundations for a “just peace” that should be guided by human values and international standards of good governance, human rights and the dignity of peoples and communities.

The peace deal is supposed to aim at the full development of a nation, nay of a community, guaranteed by the supreme sovereignty of the people.

What can be observed in the “framework agreement” signed by government and rebel peace negotiators this month is the truthful reference to the pains and aspirations of the people of Mindanao and its adjacent islands.

Unfortunately, only well-intentioned individuals, the wounded and those who empathize with the people of Mindanao can fully appreciate, without equivocation, the agreement. It comes out devoid of pretension and political subtlety.

People in Mindanao (and even outsiders), however, should understand that peace is not a political compromise between conflicting parties. Political compromises connote the satisfaction of vested interests of opposing camps.

Peace is a resolution of tensions perpetrated by warring parties. Negotiations should only serve a higher unifying goal. The warring groups stole peace and owe it to the people of Mindanao. Payback time should be now.

The peace process that the MILF and the government went through was a courageous show of rising above human frailties. It was an act of acceptance of the parties’ failures to the masses.

We all should also be reminded that the “framework agreement” is only a legal manifestation of intent. It is not yet “the peace agreement.”

What makes peace is making details work according to agreed principles, and the satisfaction of all requisites in restoring people to a collective dignified existence.

(Click here to read further)

By Dr. Renato G. Mabunga

Guaranteed right and freedom of speech and expression has experienced “black Tuesday” on the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels in the Philippines.  This happened amid the mounting protest against the newly enacted Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or the Republic Act 10175.  This draconian legislation rightly infringes on the Bill of Rights under the Philippine 1987 Constitution; criminalizes netizens’ participation for good governance; and, does away with the concepts of freedom and justice within the moral bounds and teachings of great religions.  Even guardian angels would on Tuesday dare up doubling efforts prodding their charges on impending deluge brought about by this cybercrime law.

The world in general adheres to the right to freedom of opinion and expression.  The Philippines guarantees such right saying, no laws shall be passed abridging it including that of the press and the rights of the people to petition the government for redress and grievances.  This includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

On 5th July this year the United NationsHuman Rights Council (UNHRC) unanimously approved a resolution that internet access and online freedom of expression is a basic human rights.  It declares that all people be allowed to connect to and express themselves freely on the Internet.

The Philippines, a third-term member of the Council, has just turned against the resolution when it signed its country’s cybercrime law on 12th September penalizing anyone from 4 to 12 year imprisonment or a fine of up to 1 million pesos if found violating the provisions of the law or posting defamatory comments on social networking sites such as facebook, tweeter and blogs.  It views online expressions as threats to government power rather than a tool in realizing power for the people and a unique platform in combating inequality, protection and fulfillment of a wide-range of human rights.  Insertions of provisions tantamount to censorship and ground for wanton abuse are contraventions of their avowed commitment to the international laws on human rights.  As the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression opined, the priority of governments should be the facilitation of Internet access for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible.

Today, legislators are scrambling for alibis as Filipino internet users warned of a Martial Law online.  They are carrying silent protests, blackening out their internet profiles, doing offline activities, petitioning the Supreme Court and marching in protest for the repeal of the just enacted cybercrime law for its unconstitutionality.  Guardian angels have a hand on it?  Maybe netizens post as “guardian angels” to other citizens. 

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