Take action for the 6 members of Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples' Organization detained
On 27 October 2017, human rights defender Julito Rivera Otacan and five other members of indigenous rights organisation Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples' Organization were arrested during a military raid in the village of Balit, Agusan del Sur province, for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Julito Rivera Otacan is a human rights defender, a member of Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples' Organization and a field worker for Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region (RMP - NMR). He is currently working under the “Protect and Promote Indigenous Human Rights in the Philippines” project, funded by the European Union and implemented by RMP-NMR and Relief International. A focal point for many human rights organisations in the region, Julito Rivera Otacan is one of the most active defenders of indigenous rights, notably for his Banwaon community.
On 27 October 2017, at around 6 am, military personnel carried out a raid in search of communist rebels in Balit, San Luis town, Agusan del Sur, during which they arrested Julito Rivera Otacan, Alejandro Barluado, Jonas Acosta, Noli Tahudan, Marlon Talatayod and Joel Trasona. The military allege that they had grenades, firearms, and other equipment in their houses. The six members of Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples' Organization are all currently detained at the Municipal Police Station at Dona Maxima in San Luis town.
Both Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples' Organization and RMP – NMR have been systematically targeted in the past. Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples' Organization is a group campaigning for the protection of the environmental and ancestral land rights of the Banwaon community who are faced with invasive logging and mining activities in their area. One of the organisation’s leaders, Necasio ‘Angis’ Precioso, was killed on 22 December 2014, while two of its members were shot and killed on 12 August 2016 in the village of Balit. Similarly, RMP - NMR members, teachers and students have been targeted with threats and harassment in the past due to their activism on land and indigenous rights. In August 2015, Daniel Lampusay, a volunteer teacher with RMP - NMR, was arrested and detained under false pretenses of being a member of the New People’s Army, an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. In February 2015, RMP-NMR staff member Anjo Bacarisas was harassed and surveilled by unknown individuals, including by a man purporting to be a member of the National Defence, who visited his house and intimidated his relatives.
I strongly condemn the arrests of human rights defender Julito Rivera Otacan and five other members of Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples' Organization which I believe are solely motivated by their peaceful and legitimate work for indigenous and land rights in Agusan del Sur province, and calls on the Philippines’ authorities to immediately release the human rights defenders.
I urge the authorities in the Philippines to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release Julito Rivera Otacan along with the other arrested members of Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples' Organization, as I believe that they are being held solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
2. Cease all further forms of harassment against Julito Rivera Otacan and other members of Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples' Organization, as it is believed that this pressure is not only related to their legitimate human rights activities but, furthermore, constitute a direct transgression of the rights of the human rights defenders;
3. Cease targeting all human rights defenders in the Philippines and guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.