President Rodrigo Duterte is laying the groundwork for a wider crackdown on rights advocates and activists with a series of moves aimed at UN rights bodies based in Geneva.
The government’s petition to sweep away records of Filipino desaparecidos, its demand for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to act on alleged communist atrocities, and the complaint against UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz showcase an astounding level of ignorance or a disregard for established norms on human rights governance, or both.
A delegation led by National Security Council Deputy Director General Vicente Agdamag handed a report to Ambassador Evan P. Garcia, Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and other International Organizations in Geneva on February 21.
Agdamag said the government was acting on behalf of Mindanao’s indigenous people, the Lumad, to draw attention to the following: “the recruitment of IP children to become child warriors; encroachment of tribal ancestral domain through the CPP [Communist Party of the Philippines] schools without free and prior informed consent (FPIC); rape and molestation of IP [Indigenous Peoples] children in these schools; trafficking of IP children by CPP allies; and the continuous killing of tribal leaders opposing the CPP-NPA programs in the ancestral domain.”
But branding the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Mindanao Interfaith Service Foundation Inc., IBON Foundation, and Karapatan as communist “front organizations” conspiring against “peace-loving IPs” betrays the government’s true intention.
Targeting the UN Special Rapporteur
“To include the Rural Missionaries and Karapatan and IBON is the height of malice,” Benedictine nun, Sister Mary John Mananzan said.
Mananzan, whose order helped establish indigenous schools now under attack, accused the government of recycling lies.
Agdamag’s letter also charged that UN Special Rapporteur Tauli-Corpuz, a Filipino of Kankana-ey Igorot ethnicity, “seems to have never lifted a finger to intervene in these communist terrorist groups’ violations and has rather trained her attention to government forces who have been trying to defend the human rights of the IPs.”
That’s a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the task of UN experts.
“The main actors we monitor are states,” Tauli-Corpuz explained. “The duty-bearers of human rights are States. Thus, the main mandate of Special Rapporteurs is to monitor the duty bearers.”
“We also address non-state actors , such as corporations and non-state armed groups when we receive communications about them and if we have addresses,” the UN expert added.
“So far, I received no communications regarding the NPA,” Tauli-Corpuz said.
It would also be difficult for Tauli-Corpuz to investigate government claims. Duterte has banned the entry of UN experts in, citing anti-government bias.
It’s not the first time the government has attacked Tauli-Corpuz. The Justice department included her in a proscription petition involving more than 600 names of alleged terrorists
The Manila court swiftly ruled for Tauli-Corpuz and other personalities. Faced with a legal debacle, state lawyers trimmed the list to eight and then two.
That hasn’t stopped the government, however, from hounding activists and critics.
On February 22, a human rights conference in Cagayan de Oro City was disturbed by the arrival of flyers naming several clerics, including a bishop of the Philippine Independent Church, lawyers, rights advocates, and a senior journalist as “terrorist members of the New People’s Army and Communist Party of the Philippines.”
The local military command denied responsibility for the latest red-baiting but officers routinely denounce legal groups and personalities as members of the CPP-NPA and the National Democratic Front.
Karapatan said Mindanao, where martial law has been extended for another year, accounts for 86 of 134 activists killed under Duterte. Around 60 are members of tribes fighting to keep out mines and plantations.
Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said the Duterte government is just trying “to deodorize its notorious human rights record and to evade accountability."
According to the Save Our Schools network, martial law has led to 535 attacks on lumad schools, with 73 forced to close down. Some 11,000 Lumad have been displaced by bombings and other military operations. Around 8,000 Lumad and peasants have been "forced to surrender as NPA members" -- way beyond the AFP NPA membership figure of a few thousands.
“The government has barely responded substantially to communications sent by UN offices regarding cases of rights violations,” Palabay noted. Now it is “promoting a most unbelievable lie - that government is correct and everyone else is wrong.”
The countryside attacks are focused on communities resistant to Duterte’s plan to award indigenous and agrarian reform lands to big-ticket, pro-business projects.
The President scolded tribes last year for refusing to lease or sell lands to plantation developers. He has vowed to force open law-protected ancestral areas to investors of his choice.
He also ordered aides this year to speed up permits for the conversion of agricultural lands to private industrial and commercial enclaves. Many of these lands are covered by agrarian reform but have not yet been distributed.
It’s easy to make jokes about the latest display of Duterte government slapstick.
If guerrillas kill, if they burn, their crimes are covered by the penal code. Draconian laws have already been used for years against rebels.
There’s a system to the these seeming madcap caper. This is the Duterte regime insisting on giving legitimate groups the status of terrorists.
The local court has thrown out its terror proscription bid. Now the government wastes tax monies to take its discredited claim to the world stage.
This means one thing: the regime is preparing for a massive crackdown.
When the international bodies slap down its outrageous move –- and they will -- the government will shrug and say, we’ll will have to do it alone.
And it will.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.