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Harassment against HRD Melissa Comiso

Judicial Harrassment
About the situation

On 26 July 2016, human rights defender Ms Melissa Comiso received threatening text messages from unknown telephone numbers, asking for her location. These messages form part of a larger pattern of threats to her from unidentified people in the past month.

About Melissa Comiso

Melissa Comiso is the Literacy and Numeracy Program Coordinator of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR), an organisation that supports peasants’ quest for justice, freedom, access to common goods and agrarian reform through redistribution of land to improve equality for landowners in the Northern Mindanao Sub-Region. Melissa Comiso defends indigenous people’s rights, and campaigns for the withdrawal of the military from the northern Mindanao communities. Indigenous peoples' defenders in Mindanao have faced repeated targeting, including killings and harassment.

29 July 2016
Harassment against human rights defender Melissa Comiso

On 26 July 2016, human rights defender Ms Melissa Comiso received threatening text messages from unknown telephone numbers, asking for her location. These messages form part of a larger pattern of threats to her from unidentified people in the past month.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

Two days earlier, Melissa had received continuous text messages threatening her and her children, including “I know you are having a hard time raising your children, you are just receiving minimal allowance from RMP schools. Come to think of it. I know where your children are. I know your whereabouts”.

On 7 July 2016, an unidentified man threatened Melissa Comiso while she visited the Agusan del Norte Provincial Hospital. He attempted to give her a phone number in her hand while saying, “Don’t resist ma’am because we already know your work. Contact this number. I am from the military. If you want to improve your life, contact this cellphone number.” The man later followed Melissa Comiso on her motorcycle but she succeeded in losing him.

On 9 July 2016, an unidentified person attempted to break into the office of the human rights defender in Butuan City but did not succeed. On 11 July 2016, a colleague of Melissa Comiso was visiting Agusan del Norte Provincial Hospital and was approached by the same unidentified man who stated he was waiting for Melissa Comiso.

Front Line Defenders is concerned by the harassment of human rights defenders Melissa Comiso, which it believes to be directly linked to her peaceful and legitimate work in the defence of indigenous peoples’ rights.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in the Philippines to:

1. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Melissa Comiso and her colleagues at RMP-NMR;

2. Investigate reports of threats and other forms of intimidation against human rights defender Melissa Comiso and her colleagues at RMP-NMR, and adopt immediate measures to ensure their protection;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Philippines are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

2 April 2015
Judicial harassment of indigenous peoples' rights defenders

In the Philippines, seven land and indigenous peoples' rights defenders face legal charges of “convincing” local communities to evacuate their homes – despite the residents themselves denying these accusations.

On 21 March 2015, 969 Banwaons returned home, two months after fleeing their homes in San Luis, Agusan del Sur. Over 900 members of the Lumad community left the villages of Kimambukagyang, Tabon-tabon, Tabanganan, Nakadayas, Pig-ulingan, Mimpalaos, Maputi, Kandiisan, Tambo, KM 48 and Sitio Agduka in late January 2015. Residents reportedly left the municipality in protest against human rights violations committed by the army in San Luis, including intimidation, harrassment by parailitary groups, occupation of indigenous peoples' homes, and “military operations are aimed at paving the way for the entry of mining corporations” according to local news sources and rights groups.

The seven defenders charged in this case led a campaign calling for the military to leave San Luis.

Members of the community report that the seven charges leaders successfully negotiated for the military pull-out and return home of Banwaon evacuees. The Lumad community members returned three days after the military announced that it would leave the town following negotiations with the above-mentioned human rights defenders. Around 115 members of the Banwaon community allegedly remain at an evacuation site at the Bunawan Brook village Multipurpose Hall in Bunawaon town.

Following the return of evacuees, on 26 March 2015, activists Jomorito Goaynon, Julieto Tawide Gomez, Reyjoy Precioso, Junrey Precioso Manlikayan, Melissa Amado Comiso, Verginia Saguitan Tugay and Tina Julieta Tawide Gomez, announced that charges had been filed against them. The charges were filed by a member of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) of the 26th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the battalion previously occupying San Luis. The human rights defenders believe the petition to have been filed in response to the return of the indigenous peoples on 21 March 2015, although it is dated 23 February 2015.

Piya Macliing Malayao, spokesperson for KATRIBO, an alliance of indigenous peoples and organizations in the Philippines, said in a statement:

"This petition for habeas corpus and a writ of amparo is an act of harassment. We are certain that the military, the reason why the Lumad people in San Luis, Agusan del Sur decided to evacuate their homes, are behind this ludicrous charge. We are disgusted at the lengths that the military would go to impede us from seeking and asserting our rights,” she said."

Indigenous peoples' rights defenders in the Philippines face repeated targeting, including killings and harassment. Most recently, on 9 February 2015, Mr Anjo Bacarisas, a staff member of RMP-NMR, was the victim of surveillance and intimidation.