STATEMENT: Human Rights violations in Mindanao continue to rise amidst peace talks

The worsening human rights violations in Mindanao have been disregarded by the Duterte government despite the unilateral ceasefire of the GRP and his declaration of support to the peace talks. The relentless military operations of government troops in the rural communities have resulted in the encampment of community schools, extra-judicial killings, harassment and vilification involving community teachers, peasants and lumad leaders of progressive organizations. These operations are being justified by the Duterte government through the continued implementation of Oplan Bayanihan and in the guise of community peace and development program (COPD).

On the other hand, trumped-up charges, surveillance and harassment continue to haunt activists, Lumad teachers and peace advocates in urban centers who incessantly called for the pull-out of military forces in the rural communities. The case of Amy Pond who is on hospital arrest at the Southern Philippines Mindanao Center (SPMC) was the classic example of trumped-up charges perpetrated by military assets. Pond is a teacher and curriculum developer of the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon and former Southern Mindanao Coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines was arrested in Cebu City last August 19, 2016.

Since July 2016, there are at least eight cases of extra-judicial killings and two enforced disappearances have been recorded. The military personnel from the 39th, 68th, 66th and 46th Infantry Battalions are responsible of these extra-judicial killings occurred in Southern Mindanao region. One of these cases, was the killing of environmental anti-mining activist Joselito Pasaporte in Compostela Valley province last October 13. On the other hand, the enforced disappearances of Dabis Mogul and Macky Bael both environmental activists in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat early on December has something to do with their environmental advocacy against the Consunji company who is currently expanding their mango plantation and mining operations.

The continued vilification and harassment of parents and teachers of the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (CLANS) in the municipality of Palimbang has resulted in the disruption of classes of hundreds of Dulangan Manobo school children. The local government of Palimbang, Dep Ed and DSWD officials in collaboration with the PNP and elements of the 6th Marine Battalion Landing Team had made public statement against CLANS linking with the NPA.

In Zamboanga Peninsula, the Subanen communities were forced to attend community assemblies initiated by the 53rd Infantry Battalion. They were subjected to interrogation and accused as NPA rebels in the area. Military troops are also camping the communities and conduct surveillance on community activities including farming.

In Caraga region and Northern Mindanao regions, the 29th, 23rd, 36th, 75th Infantry Battalions and AFP Special Forces have continue to wreak havoc in Manobo, Talaandig, Mamanwa and Banwaon communities. These military forces used and encamped in community health centers, barangay hall, day care centers.

Meantime, a total of 426 political prisoners continue to languish in jail. They are political dissenters and activists who have been slapped with false criminal charges or whose political acts of rebellion have been criminalized. While a majority of them were detained under the Arroyo and Aquino regimes, they will certainly serve as the Duterte government’s “prisoners of conscience” if they continue to suffer the injustice of wrongful detention. President Duterte had been correct in offering a general amnesty for these political prisoners but it is apparent that sections in the AFP leadership are in vehement opposition to this sincere move on the part of the president.

Moreover,  the appointment of the newly installed Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año who is known to the aggressive arrests and killing of the members and leaders of progressive organization including Jonas Burgos is likewise seen to aggravate the rising number of human rights violations.

We urge President Rodrigo Duterte as the Commander in Chief of the AFP to rein in his military forces against its utter disregard and sabotage of the ongoing peace process. The continuation and intensification of Oplan Bayanihan clearly promotes the legacy of the dreaded Aquino Regime which left a trail of blood spilled by activists, rights advocates, and community leaders.

President Duterte should not squander his political capital by pandering to rightist and hawkish forces in his administration. He should realize that his anti-imperialist rhetoric should translate, among others, into the scrapping of Oplan Bayanihan which had been patterned after the 2009 United States Counterinsurgency Guide. Oplan Bayanihan stands opposite to a just and lasting peace!

We demand to President Duterte to uphold previously-signed agreements in the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations. The breakthroughs he has made in the peace process must be sustained by remaining sincere, desisting from laying down preconditions, and, as he had promised, keeping his ears on the ground.

As an alliance of human rights groups in Mindanao, we in Barug Katungod Mindanao call on President Duterte to:

  • Scrap Oplan Bayanihan
  • Genuinely uphold the unilateral ceasefire; order troops back to their barracks
  • Stop deceptive Peace and Development Outreach Programs (PDOP)  and Reengineered Special Operations Teams (RSOTs)
  • Pull out AFP troops from communities, schools, and civilian premises
  • Release political prisoners without preconditions; general amnesty now
  • Support and sustain the GPH-NDFP peace talks!