Submission by:   Front Line Defenders and Human Rights Defenders – Pilipinas

Related to:              The Philippines UPR Session: 13th Session of UPR, 21 May – 4 June 2012
Submitted:             28 November 2011

1.  The following submission has been prepared jointly by Front Line Defenders – the International Foundation for the protection of Human Rights Defenders, and the Human Rights Defenders – Pilipinas (HRDP) based on research carried out by these organisations and information received from independent human rights defenders in the Philippines from January 2008 to November 2011.

2.  Front Line Defenders (www.frontlinedefenders.org) is an international NGO based in Ireland with special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Front Line Defenders has particular expertise on the issue of security and protection of human rights defenders and works to promote the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by General Assembly resolution 53/144 of 9 December 1998.

3.  HRDP is a membership organisation of individual human rights defenders actively engaging in the promotion, defence, protection and fulfilment of “human rights for all” in the Philippines on various issues including civil, political, economic, social, cultural spheres or in the field of development and peace. It focuses on the protection of human rights defenders.

General trends facing human rights defenders

4.  Ms Margaret Sekkagya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, stated in her report to the 16th session of the Human Rights Council that “the Special Rapporteur remains seriously concerned regarding the persistent challenges faced by human rights defenders in the Philippines”.

5.  The threats against human rights defenders since the last UPR session on the Philippines in April 2008 remains unchanged.   Human rights defenders face extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, threats and intimidations, illegitimate restriction to the rights of freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Human rights defenders working in the field of peasants’ rights, land rights, and indigenous human rights defenders continue to face specific threats. The state security forces, including the military and the police, continue to abuse human rights defenders with impunity. The cases mentioned in this report were not properly investigated by the authorities and the perpetrators remained unpunished.

6.  Human rights defenders disregards of their geographical locations continue to be branded as working as fronts for the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as a way to dismiss their work and legitimate concerns. Defenders, working  specifically in the Southern Mindanao area, have been branded as members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. The security forces have used this rhetoric to implement their “shoot to kill” policy against human rights defenders.

Extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, and impunity

7.  At the first UPR review, the Philippines accepted the recommendation “to completely eliminate torture and extrajudicial killings” (Holy See) and “to intensify its efforts to carry out investigations and prosecutions on extrajudicial killings and punish those responsible” (Switzerland). Despite this commitment, 23 cases of extra-judicial killings were documented from 2008 to 2011, claiming 30 victims.  In the same period, 79 cases of enforced disappearance were reported. Of these, 50 ended with the victim reappearing alive; in five cases the victim was found dead; and 24 remain missing.

8.  The Philippines, despite being a party to international human rights treaties, which impose a duty on the state to investigate alleged violations of the right to life, including extra-judicial killings, has provided human rights defenders with little or no protection. While soldiers, police, and militia members have been implicated in many of these killings, no member of the military active at the time of the killing has been brought to justice.

9.  While different statistics exist relating to the exact number of human rights defenders killed in recent years, human rights lawyers, journalists, union and community leaders, continue to be targeted and extra judicially killed or disappeared with impunity. These cases have not been treated with priority by the government. The authors of these killings are usually unidentified individuals on motorcycles, suspected of having ties with the army, the police and other law enforcement agencies.

10.  Mr Celso Pojas was shot dead on 15 May 2008 outside the offices of the Farmers Association in Davao City (FADC). He was the secretary-general of the FADC and very vocal against militarisation in indigenous communities. He worked to defend the land rights of farmers and indigenous people in the Philippines. The day he was shot, he had planned to travel with members of the FADC and the Peasants Movement in the Philippines (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas -KMP) to Compostella Valley to visit an indigenous farming community which had been forcibly displaced by the military.  In February and March 2008 Pojas campaigned against military operations which had allegedly caused increased human rights violations against indigenous people and farmers in the Compostella Valley Province. Pojas had been under surveillance since December 2007 and had received death threats since March 2008.

11.  Mr James M. Balao is a victim of enforced disappearance since 17 September 2008. He is a member of the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA), an independent group of non-government organisations in Cordillera region which works to promote democracy and protect the rights of indigenous peoples. On the morning of 17 September 2008, Balao left Fairvew, Baguio City to go to his family residence in La Trinidad, Benguet. He did not reach La Trinidad, and his family and associates have been unable to obtain any information regarding his whereabouts since then. Prior to the incident, Balao had reported that he had been under surveillance since June 2008. It is reported that organisations such as CPA may have been categorised by the security forces under Oplan Bantay Laya policy as sectoral fronts for the CPP-NPA.

Arbitrary arrest and torture

12.  Arbitrary arrest and torture in detention have been used to impede and discourage the activities of human rights defenders. The Anti-Torture Act criminalizes torture and introduces mechanisms to prevent torture.   Although it was passed in 2010, non-compliance by law enforcement officials and prosecutors has persisted resulting in the dismissal of cases brought by victims against the alleged perpetrators. While the national police and the military are conducting training on the law, they have yet to disclose the location of secret detention facilities where instances of torture are reported to occur. Furthermore, they have yet to prove that torture is not part of their “standard operating procedure”.  From 2008 to 2011, 105 cases of torture were documented involving with 163 victims.

13.  On 27 May 2009, Mr Rafael Limcumpao, Mr Domingo Alcantara and Mr Archie Bathan were arrested by combined elements of the 303rd Provincial Mobile Group (PMG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP), and 72nd Military Intelligence Company and 3rd Infantry Battalion, both under the command of the 703rd Brigade of the Philippine Army (PA), all armed with automatic rifles and firearms. The three human rights defenders were attending a meeting at the private residence of Patricio Esconde, in Samal, Bataan. The combined police and military personnel raided the residence and ordered the three to lie down on the floor. Bathan tried to escape and ran outside towards the rice fields. He was chased and eventually apprehended after warning shots were fired. Limcumpao, Alcantara and Bathan were then kicked and beaten with rifles while they were being frisked and handcuffed. They were forced separately into two vehicles and taken to the 303rd PMG headquarters in Camp Tolentino, Balanga, Bataan. At no point were they presented with arrest warrants or informed as to why they were being arrested. While at Camp Tolentino, Limcumpao, Alcantara and Bathan were tortured by members of the Police Intelligence Branch (PIB) during interrogation. Bathan was reportedly blindfolded and hit in the face with a solid object. They also used the torture technique called “Russian roulette” and struck his ears with cupped hands several times without warning. Alcantara was punched in the head and chest. Limcumpao was also beaten and suffocated using a thick plastic bag. All three were forced to admit that they were members of the armed group Rebolusyunaryong Hukbong Bayan (RHB) of the Marxist-Leninist Proletarian Party (MLPP). The victims were also forced to submit their fingerprints. The beatings continued until approximately 2am the following day.

Freedom of assembly

14. Philippine law provides for freedom of assembly. In practice however the authorities restrict it and peaceful demonstrations were broken up. Such an infringement to the right of freedom of assembly was observed on 14 June 2011, when private guards employed by the Central Mindanao University (CMU) opened fire and beat protestors who had set up camp outside the university in Dologan, Maramag, Bukidnon in the southern Philippines.

15. Human rights defenders Messrs Billy Jardin, Gregorio Santillan and Larry de Vera received gunshot wounds and Messrs Wenni Loable, José Benemerito and Ms Marilou Portin were seriously injured. The protesters were members of Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus– (BTL) Farmer’s Association and BTL Women’s Association. BTL is an umbrella organisation of three local peasant groups Buffalo,Tamarawa and Limus. They were protesting against the forcible eviction of 800 peasant families from these lands.   Jardin, Santillan and de Vera sustained gunshot wounds and were rushed to the nearest hospital where they awaited surgery to have the bullets removed. It was reported that no one from the authorities helped the human rights defenders while medical care was delayed as they had no means to pay for it.

Death threats and intimidation

16. One other method of hindering and in some cases stopping the work of HRDs in the Philippines is threatening and intimidating them. For HRDs, receiving threats and experiencing intimidation are signs that someone, usually state authorities, is uncomfortable with their work. Threats act as a warning and bring some human rights defenders to stop their work and close offices or face death.

17. On 27 June 2009, Ms Aurora Broquil, Chaiperson of Movement for National Democracy (Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya- KPD) in Central Luzon, Mr Francisco Honra, Secretary-General of the Nuclear Free Bataan Movement (NFBM) and Ms Emily Fajardo, KPD worker organiser and NFBM treasurer, received direct death threat through a text message from anonymous sender alleged that they were members of the Communist Party of the Philipines. At 9.44am, a text message was sent to Broquil’s mobile phone stating “the barrel of our guns will be the last thing that you will see! You, communists who have blood debts in the Filipino people will pay for it!”. A few minute later, around 10am, the same message was sent to Fajardo, while Horna had received it the day before. The next morning, on 28 June, Broquil was alarmed by the unusual presence of two identified men riding in two motorcycles roaming several times near her office in Dolores, city of San Fernando.

18. Following an ongoing campaign of intimidation against members of its staff, namely Ms Emerita Lor, Ms Gloria Jandayan and Ms Julieta Casinillo, the Community-Based Health Services-Northern Mindanao Region (CBHS-NMR) was forced to close its office temporarily. CBHS-NMR works to ensure the delivery of basic services in rural areas and advocates the interrelation of health and human rights. On 2 June 2011, CBHS-NMR decided to close its offices and relocate Lor, Jandayan and Casinillo due to the ongoing harassment and intimidation to which they were subjected. On 1 June 2011, Lor noticed a man loitering near the office of CBHS-NMR from around 9am to 1pm. She recognised the man as the same person who had followed her for a long time on.

12 May 2011 before she was able to get into a taxi. Jandayan and Casinillo identified him as the same man who had approached them as they were working in the Medical Centre. He had asked them about their personal circumstances and those of the patients they were treating. On 31 May 2011 an unidentified caller rang the office of CBHS-NMR and told the Resident Nurse that CBHS-NMR and Emerita Lor should watch out. The caller claimed that CBHS-NMR staff were medics of the New People’s Army (NPA), a rebel group. On the same date of the threatening phone call, Lor reported that she had been trailed by two unidentified men following a community health training. These acts of harassment and intimidation came before a number of phone calls to the CBHS-NMR office beginning April 2011 from unidentified callers inquiring as to the whereabouts of its staff.

Cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

19. The Philippines government has not fully cooperated with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The mandate-holder issued a request to visit the country in November 2008 and has issued a follow-up request on 21  January 2010, however, she has yet to received a positive response from the government.

20. According to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders to the 16th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in February 2011, the authorities has not replied to 22 urgent appeals and letters of allegations concerning the safety of 215 human rights defenders at risk that the mandate-holder had transmitted to the government from 21 January 2004 to 29 November 2010.

21. The Special Rapporteur and former Special Representative of the Secretary General have continued to raise their concerns regarding the situation of human rights defenders in the country. The Special Rapporteur stated in her reports to the 10th, 13th, and 16th session of the HRC in May 2009, February 2010, and February 2011 that she remains seriously concerned of the challenges faced by Filipino human rights defenders and expressed the need to “strengthen the dialogue with the authorities on the worrying situation of human rights defenders in the Philippines” through her country visit.

Development since the previous UPR Cycle

22. In the first UPR cycle, the Philippines accepted a recommendation from Canada to “[e]nsure that members of the security forces are trained on human rights and on their responsibility to protect human rights and human rights defenders”. The Philippines has not made a mid-term report to the Human Rights Council regarding the progress of its implementation, despite a recommendation in this sense. The absence of such report makes it difficult for relevant stakeholders to monitor any progress.

23. Philippine authorities indicated to Front Line Defenders and HRDP that the Philippine National Police (PNP) has implemented its human rights development programme which included creating 1,740 positions of Human Rights Desk Officers to mainstream human rights in all its stations throughout the country; training 474 police personnel through human rights seminars; and inspecting 1,381 detention facilities. However, besides any possible other concerns, the PNP programme does not seem to include a specific focus on human rights defenders and their right to promote and protect human rights. The information provided in this submission shows how human rights principles and standards are yet to be integrated in the work of military and security personnel, as evidenced by the persistence of a militarist approach towards insurgency problems, vilification campaign against HRDs and the frequent use of torture to extract information.

24. Front Line Defenders and Human Rights Defenders – Pilipinas call upon the UN to urge the Philippine authorities to prioritise the protection of human rights defenders and in doing so to:

  1. Conduct an independent inquiry into the source of threats, ill-treatment, torture and all forms of intimidation and harassment directed towards all those human rights defenders mentioned in this report;
  2. Take urgent measures to end extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, investigate all the cases, and bring those responsible to justice;
  3. Ensure that all human rights defenders in the Philippines are free to carry out their human rights activities free from persecution;
  4. Cooperate fully with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders by responding to urgent appeals and letters of allegations and accept the mandate-holder’s request to visit the country;
  5. Fully implement the adopted UPR recommendations on human rights defenders in a transparent and participatory manner with full involvement of human rights defenders at all levels;
  6. Publicly review the content, methodology, and application of human rights curricula and modules for the security sectors and include a specific focus on the legitimate role and work of human rights defenders.
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