MANILA, Philippines — The Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong has joined over 100 foreign organizations, religious groups, and individuals in seeking the intervention of the Philippines’ two highest justice officials in protecting activists and human rights workers from the dangerous effects of red-tagging.
In a letter dated June 7, the groups called on Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to break the “alarming and ongoing pattern of criminalization and violence” against human rights defenders by improving Philippine court processes.
They said court-issued search and arrest warrants had been used by state forces to detain, harass, and even kill members of labor unions, urban poor groups, and other activist organizations.
They cited recent incidents, including the killing last March 7 of nine activists during simultaneous police and military operations in the Calabarzon region, which, they said, illustrated the increasing cases of violent assaults on groups that the government had linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.
“Almost all were killed in the course of police and military operations using questionable search warrants and the oft-heard ‘nanlaban’ narrative,” the groups said, referring to the common claim of authorities that those killed had resisted arrest.
Climate of impunity
“We note that these were the same reasons given by the Philippine National Police in the conduct of drug war operations in the Philippines, and we find it deeply disturbing that the same lines are being increasingly used now in the deaths of activists,” the groups said.
The groups said these incidents “contribute to [the] pervasive climate of impunity” in the Philippines that had been previously reported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Given the gravity of the situation, we further enjoin you to… conduct prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial investigations into the killings, arrests, detentions, searches, and other forms of persecution of human rights defenders,” they said.
They pointed out that even lawyers and organizers of community pantries — donation projects offering free food and other goods to those gravely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — had fallen victim to government red-tagging.
The groups, which also included chapters of Gabriela and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Canada and Australia, noted the Supreme Court’s action in condemning the attacks against lawyers and judges, as well as Guevarra’s views opposing the Red-tagging of certain organizations.
They urged Gesmundo and Guevarra to evaluate existing policies on the issuance of court orders, saying these “appear to be routinely used to judicially harass and arbitrarily detain” activists.
“Review and revise rules on the privilege of the writs of amparo and habeas data to ensure that human rights defenders are afforded timely, relevant and comprehensive legal protection,” they said.
The groups also echoed calls here to repeal Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, and to pass laws that would safeguard human rights defenders and criminalize Red-tagging.
In addition, they requested the Chief Justice and the justice secretary to “publicly recognize the legiºtimate and essential work of human rights defenders.”
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