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AFP, PNP 'criminalizing' human rights work - Bayan

Detail from a Manobo student's artwork depicting a burning school, which he called the handiwork of soldiers. (file)
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines -- The military and police are laying the ground for “the criminalization of humanitarian acts and human rights advocacy” by filing criminal charges against groups and individuals assisting lumad refugees in Davao City, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said.

Visiting the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran Mission House, where some 700 Manobo from Davao del Norte and Bukidnon have sought refuge from what they say is the occupation of their communities by the military and attempts to forcibly recruit them into militias, Bayan spokesman Teddy Casiño cited the kidnapping, human trafficking and child abuse cases filed by the regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group against lumad leaders and supporters, including church workers and a Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate.

Casiño, a former Bayan Muna representative, said the charges "are meant to intimidate and vilify groups and individuals who provide support and refuge to lumad and peasant communities fleeing military operations."

Sheena Duazo, secretary general of Bayan Davao and one of those charged with kidnapping and child abuse, said 20 “strategic lawsuits against public participation” or SLAPP charges have been filed against human rights defenders and activists since last year.

She said these cases stem from their involvement in providing humanitarian aid and support to victims of typhoon Pablo, land grabbing and human rights abuses in Bukidnon, Davao del Sur and Davao del Norte, South Cotabato, Sarangani, General Santos City and the Misamis and Agusan provinces.

The Davao refugees became a cause celebré when authorities, claiming they were being “held against their will,” attempted to evict them from the UCCP compound and forcibly return them to their villages late last month.

This was followed by a diplomatic embarrassment when United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons Chaloka Beyani, who visited the country on the invitation of government, castigated the military for twisting his comments at an exit brief for security officials in an attempt to bolster its claims that the lumad were “manipulated” and victims of “trafficking.”

The military, and North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco, the chair of the House of Representatives’ committee on indigenous people who has been involved in efforts to return the refugees, have also accused the lumad at Haran, who say they will leave only when troops pull out of their villages, of supporting communist rebels.