February 22, 2013
Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, Karapatan
Renato Reyes Jr., Secretary General, Bayan
Human rights group Karapatan and umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), together with members and leaders of several organizations today condemned in strongest terms the series of attacks against people’s organizations and partylist groups, disguised as break-ins and robberies. The groups decried what they described as the “rising and systematic forms of state repression and harassment of government critics”. They said that the recent incidents were made to appear as common crimes but were actually targeted attacks on activists and their organizations.
From March 2012 up until last week, Karapatan and Bayan documented twelve(12) cases of break-ins of houses of activists and peace advocates, and offices of progressive organizations; robberies involving items such as laptops, USB/flash drives, video cameras, and the like; and surveillance of known personalities and members of such organizations.
As early as March 2012, the laptop of UP Manila activist Nikki Gamara was stolen inside the university premises. What seems to be an ordinary case of theft turned out to be more than just that. Three weeks after, her father, Renante Gamara, a peace consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), was illegally arrested. Records show that the laptop of Nikki was stolen a week before a warrant based on trumped-up charges was issued against her father.
There was also a series of break-ins in offices of Gabriela Women’s Party (June 13, 2012), Health Alliance for Democracy (December 25, 2012), and the offices of Parents Alternative for ECCD Inc. and Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns (January 13, 2013). The most recent incident was the break-in and robbery in the shared office of the chapters of Bayan and Karapatan in the National Capital Region last February 14, 2013. These are all publicly known offices of these organizations. Taken from the offices were desktop computers, laptops, hard disks and similar data storage devices, cameras and cellphones.
Also victims of robberies were persons involved in the peace process such as Atty. Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (September 22, 2012) , Rey Casambre, Director of the Philippine Peace Center (February 9, 2013) and Rosie Tumbagahon, a staff working at the Joint Secretariat of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the GPH and NDFP (February 9, 2013).
These incidents are clearly systematic attacks against progressive organizations and individuals, made to appear as isolated cases of common crimes, the groups said. They pointed out that only the military would have the motive and means to carry out these attacks.
“The usual targets of the perpetrators are data storage devices such as flash disks, hard drives and laptops, cellular phones and cameras. It appears that the intelligence operatives are gathering more data on government critics as a prelude to possibly more attacks, especially during the election season,” the groups said.
The human rights defenders said the attacks violated the activists’ constitutional rights and guaranteed freedoms, including the:
1) Freedom of thought, association, and expression; freedom of conscience, political and/or religious beliefs and practices and the right not to be punished or held accountable in the exercise of these rights;
2) Collective right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures; right to liberty of movement;
3) Right to privacy of communication and correspondence, especially against intercepting, pilfering and opening of mail matters and conducting illegal surveillance and information gathering through electronic and other means
4) Right against all forms of threats, harassment and intimidation done to instill fear or anxiety on the target organizations and individuals by threatening the person/s, their security, privacy, honor, liberty and property. The surveillance activities before and after the incidents in the said offices point are stark indicators of such violations;
5) Right against violation of domicile as these are clear cases of forcible entries and intrusion, without authority or consent of owners or occupants;
6) Right against destruction and divestment of property affecting the functions of the organizations and individuals in their work.
The activist groups view the attacks as part of the military operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines against organizations whom they publicly brand and accuse as front- organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). The attacks they say are a desperate attempt to meet the mid-term target of the Aquino government’s Oplan Bayanihan, the government’s counter-insurgency program. The groups described the frequency of the incidents as “unprecedented, and not seen even during the Arroyo regime.”
Also noteworthy according to the groups was that the incidents became more frequent starting December 2012, when Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano was appointed as intelligence chief, and January 2013, when Gen. Emmanuel Bautista was appointed AFP Chief of Staff. Ano is implicated in the abduction and disappearance of Jonas Burgos, among the other cases of rights violations he was involved in, while Bautista is the self-declared brains behind Oplan Bayanihan.
The groups also said that the attacks against persons involved in the peace process derail and undermine the peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH).
This is not the first time targeted attacks were made to appear as common crimes involving robbery. Last year, Dutch missionary Willem Geertman was killed in what police initially described as robbery with homicide. It was later revealed that the suspects had ties to the military and that Geertman was actually executed at his office.
Karapatan and Bayan challenged Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas to look into and act on the cases. The activist groups suspect that more incidents will happen during the election season. ###