‘tis the Season to Cry with Rage
As many Filipino families started lighting their Christmas trees to celebrate the holiday season, the number of families lighting candles to mourn loved ones who died from senseless killings continue to increase. From alleged drug personalities to human rights defenders.
On December 10, the Filipino people lighted a torch for peace and human rights as various groups marched and held actions in different parts of the nation to express their condemnation of the continuous killings, rights violations and narrowing down of democratic space in the country.
After the transfer of drug operation to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), there seems to be a drop in the number of drug-related killings reported in mainstream media and, yet communities continue to experience the attacks of their tormentors. PDEA reports showed only one drug suspect killed in 2,161 drug operations since it took over in October 2017. But the reality in the ground speaks otherwise.
Last November 23, after the government released the Proclamation 360 declaring the termination of the peace negotiations of government with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), reports of clashes between the military and the NPA resulted into the displacement of communities and families.
We are particularly concerned that the government has abandoned its avowed quest for peace in the declared termination of peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF. And as it stands now it is running berserk at ensuring that these groups are silenced.
Just last week, Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez of the Diocese of San Jose, was killed at gunpoint in Jaen, Nueva Ecija hours after helping the release of a political prisoner in Cabanatuan. Fr. Paez was a committed human rights advocate grounded in the experiences of families and communities and actively involved in the cause of the poor.
Several cases more of human rights violations were documented in the provinces as crackdown on the New People’s Army (NPA) by military forces continues. Just last week, religious leader Lovelito Quiñones was killed in a clash between the government troops and suspected NPA rebels in Oriental Mindoro. A young student activist from the University of the Philippines was among the 14 suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels killed during an encounter with the military in Nasugbu, Batangas. Josephine Anne Lapira, 22, also an official of the left-leaning Gabriela Women's Party is among those killed. The encounter looks ruthless. All killed. The intent to demobilize and arrest them seem nowhere in the consciousness of the assailants. These rights violations committed against civilians, including the church, student and opposition leaders, journalists, artists, musicians and activists are clear indications of this administration’s determination to silence individuals and groups critical of the current dispensation.
Threats to human rights and progressive groups is increasingly alarming. Every day, the democratic space to discuss political and social issues and to demand accountability for human rights violations are becoming narrower for people. False promises, confusing policy pronouncements, and deceptive news are very much like noises that prevent people to discern and eventually assert their rights.
The Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc (PMPI), a network of church/religious groups, nongovernment organizations, and people’s organizations, calls on the people to continue to discern and pursue path to peace. We should continue to cry with rage and disgust with the utter disregard of the value of life and the rule of law.
We should demand fair investigations on the series of killings of students, religious, and those victims of drug-related operations. We appeal for the government to uphold the rule of law, listen to the voices of the people who cry for justice, and hope of a better country that recognizes and fulfills every person’s aspiration and dignity.
We need to stand firm and claim our rights.
Marawi residents are bound to experience another tragedy following the 5-month bombing of the city they call home. The launching of Task Force Bangon Marawi and the rehabilitation efforts present another problem, bigger than the war experienced by the people, one which they need to grapple with again and win over.
Who can ever forget the enormous impact of the war that left the only Islamic City of the country with thousands of people who lost their livelihood, hundreds of thousands individuals displaced, millions worth of properties destroyed, and the hundreds of lives lost by aerial bombings and fierce ground battles for five long months? In so many ways, the war is all about human rights violation. The people of Marawi have been wronged.
We implore, therefore, the government to address the harm done, to make things right and uphold the rights of our Muslim brothers and sisters through an inclusive and sensitive process of developing a master plan of the new city. Local government units and families affected should be the prime drivers of development and re-establishment of their communities, therefore, they should be an intrinsic part of the Task Force. No one, other than the internally displaced persons (IDP) themselves know their needs and what good they desire for their families.
Consultations with all families affected by the conflict should be carried out. Let families identify their problems, needs, and choices, and address these with much respect for their culture before any technical plans are developed. This process will ensure ownership of the project establishing their new city.
We strongly appeal for a transparent process of decision making of the Task Force in engaging all stakeholders, from planning, implementation, until turn-over of the program. It is crucial that a mechanism for transparency is established through the creation of a multi-sectoral monitoring team that will ensure culturally-sensitive and inclusive processes of building back a better collective vision of the future.
In the spirit of compassion, many groups participated in one way or another in providing relief to displaced families. Barring religious affiliation, many shared resources to facilitate relief from hunger, sickness, and psycho-social trauma caused by gunfire, bombing, and by being uprooted from the land of their childhood. Through this help and community activities, people may have reached certain level of normalcy. However, many have yet to fully recover and pick up the bits and pieces of their lives.
Despite these so called stop gap measures currently being done to address immediate needs, genuine participation of all stakeholders, especially the communities would ensure sustainability of the reconstruction program. With this, PMPI urgently calls for the review the composition Task Force Bangon Marawi and to seriously include representatives from local government and CSO representatives as regular members of the Task Force; to set-up a formal mechanism for community participation within the Task Force; and to conduct a genuine, thorough and participatory process of Post Disaster Needs Assessment, planning and visioning together with the communities.
The Marawi experience should concern not only Maranaos or Mindanaons. We appeal to the general public to continue journeying not only with the Maranaos, but our Muslim brothers and sisters. We pray for a stronger solidarity towards each other, for a sustained commitment of building harmonious relationships and strengthening of convictions to build communities of peace where understanding, mutual respect, and sensitivity on values and culture exist.
“We are deeply concerned. In just a matter of days after the release of Proclamation 360 terminating the peace negotiations of government with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), reports from our partners in the ground speaks of series of gunfights and displacement of people. It seems President Duterte’s pronouncements has now become an actual game plan as armed encounters and abduction resulting to forcible evacuation as military forces search of NPA members and sympathizers in communities like the Lumad communities in the Caraga Region” said in a statement by Yoly Esguerra, National Coordinator of Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc (PMPI).
Since November 22, intensified military operations are being conducted in several parts of Mindanao. According to initial rapid field report assessment from the Social Action Center of Tandag in Surigao del Sur, some 1,177 individuals or 277 families have been evacuated, at least 4 individuals are reported missing, from the hinterland communities of the municipalities of Lianga, San Agustin and other areas of Marihatag, Tago and San Miguel, all in the province of Surigao del Sur caught in the crossfire between the military and the NPA.
“Our fear that this will lead to skirmishes in communities and displacements of families are coming true. Just this past weekend, Manobo families in Surigao del Sur fled their homes in the wake of renewed military operations against the NPA.” Cathy Ruiz, Cluster Point-person of PMPI Central Visayas Cluster.
Fr. Raymond Ambray of the Diocese of Tandag in Surigao del Sur condemned the ongoing clash, “The Lumads are not only victims of two warring parties but sadly, they now have become targets of the government’s effort to quell rebellion. There is now an outcry for the resumption of peace talks. Military solution will never be a solution at all; it only exacerbates the miserable plight of the affected communities.”
Current emergency situation shows increasing number of people in the evacuation centers are needing food and clothing for days nobody knows how long. Minor medical condition like colds and coughs are being experienced by children and elderly because of exhaustion after long walk under heavy rains just to flee from the battle area. Local government units and civil society may come to respond to this emergency situation. But, how long can this go on?
PMPI calls on the government and the NDFP to stop the gunfight and resume peace talks with the NDFP. Military solution, time and again, has proven to be not only inadequate but more to be inimical to the lives of these people. President Duterte should urgently consider going back to the negotiating table and resume talks to prevent increasing human rights violations and displacement of families and communities.
“As Christians, we can always seek recourse in our faith and prayers that voices of reason prevail and that both sides find that peace is still the only path to take. To reiterate our ongoing prayer: Heal our land. Heal our wounded land,” added Father Ambray.
The National Coordinating Council (NCC) of Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI) expressed its deep concern after President Rodrigo Duterte released Proclamation 360 on November 23 declaring the termination of the peace negotiation between the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
During PMPI’s second NCC meeting held last 22-24 November in Talisay, Negros Occidental, members of the board stated that such action will increase vulnerability of communities to military and the New People’s Army (NPA) clashes on the ground.
PMPI members anticipate and fear that the recent declaration of the President will only facilitate the escalation of attacks on the ground which can result to increasing human rights violations and displacement of families and communities. We expect damaged environments, wrecked infrastructures, and unfortunately more sufferings to the already broken families and communities.
Proclamation 360 has become the torch that finally burned down all the hopes and trusts built bridging the gains from the past four rounds of talks to some political settlement between the GRP and the NDFP. Further, it is also seen that the same will ignite feeling of hatred and retribution from groups that are passionately pushing for change.
While there has been slow progress in the negotiations, it is still the more viable option available for all than closing any venue for dialogue. While there are different ideologies and reasons for engaging in the talks, such negotiation is better than pointing guns to one another randomly taking the lives and consequently destroying the livelihoods of people living peacefully in the mountains and countryside.
We, at PMPI, call on President Duterte to urgently consider going back to the negotiating table and resume talks. Without such venue, we can only listen to the sound of gunshots and witness the dripping blood of people on the ground, but not the reason, desperation, anguish, and the lost hope of the person behind the gun.
MR. PRESIDENT, LET’S GIVE THIS PEACE TALK ANOTHER CHANCE.
PMPI MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS
STOP THE KILLINGS.
HOLD ACCOUNTABLE ALL THE PERPETRATORS OF
THESE CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.
PURSUE JUSTICE FOR ALL THE VICTIMS.
We are outraged and deeply concerned over the death of Kian Lloyd de los Santos, a 17-year-old boy who was brutally killed by the police after he allegedly fought back or “nanlaban” in a drug raid in Caloocan City. While the CCTV footage and stories of witnesses and the barangay officials claim otherwise, police maintains that he is a peddler and even surfaced a witness claiming that the Grade 12 student was a drug pusher.
Palace claims that Kian’s death is just an isolated case. But Kian’s story is in fact only one story among the many stories reported in media. Incidents in the news tell of pleading victims being dragged, punched, kicked, and killed. Our partner communities in urban poor areas attest to these similar and horrific accounts and crime incidents.
In a desperate attempt of the Duterte’s government to end the country’s drug problem, it now resorts to a killing spree of the poor to achieve its long overdrawn target of eliminating drugs in his first six months in office. If this goes on, the casualties of this drug war waged mainly on targeting the poor will rise and impunity can go beyond the current level, killing more children, innocent victims and alleged user/pusher without due process.
Where is the Rule of Law?
What have we got after a year of anti-drug war? Approximately 13,000 drug-related killings. Therefore, 13,000 bereaved families; of widows and orphans, of friends, of neighbors, of co-workers who were left behind. For the President and the police these statistics is nothing compared to the three million drug-users/pushers they intend to eliminate to rid society of “lowlifers.” They are mere numbers or faceless elements deserving to perish from this earth.