MANILA, Philippines – “Times have changed as martial law is in place, so stop doing your work!”
This was what an anonymous phone caller told human rights activist Cristina Palabay Wednesday night.
Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, later on found out that the mobile phone number 0926-077-9448 used by the caller was allegedly the same publicly announced hotline number of the so-called Safety Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Cagayan de Oro province.
Another human rights activist, Sherwin De Vera, coordinator of the regional environmental network Defend Ilocos, claimed that last July 19, intelligence personnel also allegedly from the military had inquired with the security department of the University of Northern Philippines about his July 18 visit to the campus.
“This confirmed my hunch that I was being tailed as I went around Vigan City,” said De Vera.
Is the Duterte administration on a witch-hunt of human rights defenders just like what was done during the Marcos regime?
This is what the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) wants to know as the group condemns “in the highest terms the worsening harassment” recently experienced by Palabay and De Vera.
“These are just the latest high-profile cases of clear rights violations against environmental and human rights defenders in the Philippines under the first year of the Duterte administration,” said Kalikasan-PNE in a statement issued Friday.
Kalikasan-PNE said that it had monitored at least 18 environment-related killings under the administration wherein the “clear preludes” were allegedly the “incidents of harassment from suspected and known state forces.”
According to the Global Witness report on environmentalist killings in 2016, wherein Kalikasan PNE and Karapatan collaborated to generate documented reports, the Philippines was the third deadliest country in the world for land and environment defenders with at least 28 reported killings.
“It is no wonder, then, that 47 percent of all 119 environment-related killings monitored by Kalikasan since 2001 involve the same modus of intense harassment and vilification by government armed forces prior to riding-in-tandem assassinations or actual military and paramilitary rampages,” the group said.
“As Palabay’s anonymous AFP caller himself boldly said, the imposition of Martial Law across the entire Mindanao island group and the threat to expand it to a nationwide scope is being used as a blanket justification of the atrocities perpetrated by the Duterte government’s dogs of war,” it added.
Kalikasan-PNE called on the government to immediately investigate the harassment incidents against Palabay and De Vera and prosecute the alleged military agents in Cagayan de Oro and Ilocos Sur.
“We call on the Filipino public and the international community to heighten pressure on the Duterte regime for its war against the poor that has resulted in the death of thousands and the suffering of millions,” the group said.
“We reiterate our calls for the junking of the Duterte government’s Martial Law declaration and the longstanding counter-insurgency and security programs directed against ordinary citizens and grassroots communities,” it added.