Rights group raises alarm over military’s vilification, harassment of Abra NGO workers

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Shirley Ann Angiwot (photo courtesy of Kabataan-Abra)

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — A human rights organization has raised the alarm over the vilification of nongovernment organization workers in Abra, who the Army’s 24th Infantry Battalion has accused in public social media posts of being “terrorists” operating in the guise of outreach programs.

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance said the Army unit has also accused Shirley Ann Angiwot, Theresa Forag and other members of the Kakailyan, Salakniban Ta’y Amin a Nagtaudan or Kastan, a member-organizion of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, “kidnapping” children.

The Facebook page of the battalion has posts with photos in which Forag, Angiwot and other persons are identified and labeled. The latest post, from October 31, has the head, “Teroristang Grupo, gumagamit ng ahensiya ng gobyerno upang makapag-recruit ng mga menor de edad (Terrorist group using government agencies to recruit minors),” and tags media organizations.

Apparently to prove this claim, the post includes an image of a Department of Labor and Employment document certifying the registration of the Malaylay Pottery Organization in Sitio Malaylay, Barangay Mudiit in Dolores as a “legitimate Rural Workers Assocation.”

Another post shows photos of a store in Bangued town where “terrorists” supposedly purchased their supplies.

The CHRA noted that leaders and members of the Madiit People’s Organization have been subjected to threats and intimdation and, recently, “illegal searches of their homes” during combat operations.

The Abra chapter of the Kabataan party-list said the battalion had also “slandered” Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg by claiming in a post in late August that a medical mission organized by the prelate in July would include “Juana,” a communist rebel supposedly tasked to recruit youth for a fighting unit. The post included photos of Angiwot, identifying her as “Juana.”

The military unit later apologized to Utleg and other personalities it mentioned in its earlier post even as it maintained that such projects were part of rebel recruitment tactics.