Rights defender still missing; military denies involvement

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 09 November) — Where is Honey Mae Suazo?

Karapatan Southern Mindanao has accused the military of having a hand in the disappearance of Suazo, its former secretary-general who was last seen in Panabo City on November 2, exactly a week ago. But Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) spokesperson Lt. Col. Ezra L. Balagtey challenged Karapatan to show proof and file a complaint in court.

Honey Mae Suazo, former Karapatan-SMR secretary-general. Missing since 2 November 2019. Photo from Karapatan-SMR FB

In a statement, Karapatan-Southern Mindanao spokesperson Jay Apiag said they believe the military is behind the “abduction” of Suazo, the group’s secretary general from 2011 to 2016, for her work as a human rights defender.

Apiag said Suazo’s disappearance has something to do with “intensifying crackdown against activists and legitimate people’s organizations.”

During her five-year stint at Karapatan, Suazo faced multiple threats and malicious accusations from the military and continued to be a target even if she had left the group, according to Apiag.

“If her past experiences of continuous harassment are indicative of anything, it is that Honey May is still facing reprisal for her work as a human rights defender,” Apiag said.

Apiag said Armed Forces of the Philippines Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade linked Suazo to the communist movement after she assisted the family of New People’s Army leader Zaldy Cañete to visit him in the hospital after sustaining injuries in a clash with the state forces.

Apiag said Suazo’s photograph and name was “viciously appended in the posters” that were displayed in the cities of Butuan and Surigao in April this year, “accusing her as a terrorist.”

He said Suazo was “performing a mandate of a human rights advocacy institution to assist wounded combatants who are accorded protection and right to visitation of families as mandated under the International Humanitarian Law of which the Philippine government is a signatory.”

“Regardless of what the military is trying to insinuate, assisting families of combatants, including hors de combat, is not illegal or condemnable. They can double check with the IHL (International Humanitarian Law) provisions or go to the database and briefers provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross if they need a refresher, ” he added.

According to Apiag, Suazo and her partner Anelo Pabuaya visited their relative’s grave on All Soul’s Day in Tagum City and thereafter visited their friend’s house in Barangay New Site Gredu in Panabo City. At around 3 p.m. on same day, Suazo went ahead of her partner and decided to return home to Davao City alone.

He said Suazo called her partner to pick her up at the Panabo City Hall after realizing she did not have enough money for the bus ride.

“After a while, Suazo called Pabuaya again, saying she was tailed by a white pick-up truck. She asked Pabuaya to immediately come and fetch her.  Pabuaya advised her to go to the nearest police station. When Pabuaya went to the station, he did not find Suazo. He tried to contact her mobile phone numbers but all were out of reach,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)