As an organization that stands for human rights – which include freedom of expression and the right to protest – EngageMedia is concerned about the recent crackdown on human rights defenders, women, farmer and urban poor advocates, trade unionists, theatre workers, community journalists, and humanitarian organizations. Recently, the threats and harassment, raids on legal offices, undue arrest and detainment, and filing of trumped-up charges have been increasing.
We hope that this post adds context to these recent developments.
On October 31, 57 members of different activist groups were arrested in police raids on the offices of Kilusang Mayo Uno, Gabriela, and National Federation of Sugar Workers in Bacolod City, Negros Island.
Included in the arrest was Anne Krueger, a community journalist for the alternative media outfit Paghimutad. Krueger took a Facebook live video that showed irregularities in the search.
According to Teddy Casiño, BAYAN spokesperson, “The arrested persons were told to leave the offices first before the search. When they were finally allowed to come in, various firearms were already scattered all over the place, enough to fill an armoury.”
Authorities claimed that the arrested individuals were “high-value” members of the rebel group New Peoples’ Army. On November 7, the court dismissed charges and freed 32 individuals, including theatre workers who were rehearsing for a play and bus workers who were consulting with a labour group when the raid occurred. However, Krueger and several farmer leaders remain in jail.
Also on October 31, Cora Agovida, chairperson of women’s group Gabriela–Metro Manila, was arrested with her husband, urban poor leader Michael Bartolome. They were with their two children when policemen barged into their home, allegedly part of their “usual tactics of planting of pieces of evidence among the progressive individuals, organizations, and even offices to criminalize [targets.]” Agovida was actively campaigning to rehabilitate Manila Bay, while Bartolome was assisting street vendors.
Past midnight on November 5, the office of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)–Manila in Tondo was raided by authorities. Three urban poor and workers advocates were arrested. Police also allegedly planted assorted firearms and ammunition on them.
During a congressional hearing, the Philippine military released a list of humanitarian organizations they accused as “communist terrorists,” including Oxfam Philippines, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Citizens Disaster Response Center, and Farmers Development Center. These organizations are protesting the defamation and smearing of their credibility, which is causing disturbances in their advocacies and project operations and putting their partner communities in danger.
On November 6 in Rizal, Montalban Homeless Alliance community leader Lilibeth Gelit and two other urban poor activists were arrested and charged with attempted usurpation of real rights in the property, concerning an attempt of homeless families to occupy an abandoned government housing facility last year.
On November 7, the NCR Police Office threatened to serve an arrest warrant and conduct an “ocular inspection” on the building owned by research think-tank IBON Foundation, where several local and international NGOs, as well as alternative media network Altermidya, hold office. Altermidya warns that any attempt to breach their office premises will be construed as a grave violation of press freedom.