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Groups hit military harassment of human rights defenders

An environmental group condemned two separate incidents of harassment against activists believed to be committed by military agents.

Cristina Palabay of human rights group Karapatan and Sherwin De Vera of environmental group Defend Ilocos were the latest victims of harassment.

In a statement on Thursday, Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment Campaign Coordinator Leon Dulce said De Vera, coordinator of the regional environmental network in Ilocos affiliated with Kalikasan PNE, was tailed by military agents when the former visited Vigan City.

De Vera was informed by his family and friends from the University of Northern Philippines that military intelligence personnel came last Wednesday, July 19 and inquired with the campus' security department regarding his visit at the UNP last Tuesday, July 18.

Meanwhile, Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, received a threat from an anonymous phone call ordering her to stop her work as human rights defender in the wake of Martial Law.

On July 20, Palabay received an anonymous 15-minute call from a male who warned her that "times are different because of martial law."

The male caller then warned Palabay to stop her work as a human rights defender, threatening her that she is on their "list," according to Clamor.

In a separate statement, Jigs Clamor, Karapatan's deputy secretary general, condemned the harassment against Palabay, saying such action was meant to quell human rights defenders.

"We strongly condemn such pathetic actions which target activists and human rights defenders," Clamor said. He noted that this was not the first time that Palabay and other human rights workers of Karapatan have been harassed.

"This is among the petty tactics employed by State security forces to intimidate and threaten human rights workers and discourage them from their work," he said.

Clamor pointed out that the mobile number 09260779448 was traced to a Facebook post dated July 10, allegedly belonging to the safety battalion of the AFP.

Prior to this, Clamor said that Karapatan and other sectoral groups earlier staged a protest action in front of Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame to demand the immediate lifting of Martial Law as well as the withdrawal of counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, and put an end to the government's drug war campaign.

"These threats from state security forces who are now using Martial Law as another legitimate reason to curtail people's civil and political rights is proof of what rights abusers do when more power is accorded to them - they abuse it," he said.

"This is reminiscent of the martial law under Marcos, and human rights defenders in Mindanao are systematically being subjected to such violations, even to the point of being arrested and killed. The military has provided us with a very precise example of their own corrupt, devious and despicable maneuvers," he added.

Palabay, an independent observer in GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, said she views the harassment as an attempt to intimidate women human rights defenders.

"This is the work of guilty people who do not want to be made accountable for their crimes against the people," she said.

"I am being harassed for leading protests, for advocating for peace, for demanding justice, and for enjoining the Filipino people to amplify calls to end repressive State policies. This is the work of cowards who hide behind anonymous calls and discretionary intelligence funds," Palabay pointed out.

Dulce said that the case of Palabay and De Vera were the latest high-profile cases of clear rights violations against environmental and human rights defenders in the Philippines under the first year of the Duterte administration.

"We demand an immediate investigation and prosecution of the Cagayan de Oro, AFP safety battalion and the military intelligence personnel in Ilocos Sur. We call on the Filipino public and the international community to heighten pressure on the Duterte regime for its war against the poor that has resulted in the death of thousands and the suffering of millions," he said.

The House of Congress and Senate recently approved to extend Martial Law until December 31 this year. A move which activists feared will cause more human rights violations.

But the military said government forces will not tolerate abuses from its ranks and urged complainants to file formal charges.

[Source: By Mart D. Sambalud, Davao Today, Davao City, 22Jul17]

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