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10 March 2017

Philippines: Spate of killings of human rights defenders

The climate of impunity that prevails in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power, combined with the increasingly hard line taken by the army towards the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDPF), has resulted in the serious deterioration in the situation for human rights defenders in the country. Since the start of 2017, 15 of them - land rights activists, farmers, members of indigenous communities – have been the target of extra-judicial killings.

This escalation in violence is the latest deterioration in the already hostile climate for HRDs.

The termination of the ceasefire between the government of the Philippines and the NDPF and the cancellation of the peace talks have intensified the repression and attacks against the civilian population, human rights defenders and their organisations. "The Philippines is now the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a human rights defender, outside of the Americas. President Duterte has encouraged the killers and must be held responsible for his actions. The international community must challenge President Duterte’s endorsement of murder. Failure to do so will send a signal to dictators everywhere that they can wage war on their own people with impunity", said Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders.

Among the latest victims were Ramon Dagaas Pesadilla and his wife Leonila Tapdasan Pesadilla, who were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in their home, in Barangay Osmeña, in Compostela Valley on 2 March 2017. They were both active members of Compostela Farmers' Association, which has been vocal in its opposition to major mining projects in the area. As a result, their members are regularly targeted by security forces and thugs hired by the mining companies. Ramon and Leonila Pesadilla had recently donated land to host a Lumad (indigenous community) school.

On 25 February 2017, Gilbert Bancat, 32, a coconut farmer and peasant leader in Quezon, was gunned down by an unidentified assailant, suspected of being a member of the private army of a landlord in the area and a serving member of the Philippine Army, in Sitio Long Beach, Brgy. San Lorenzo, San Andres, Quezon province. Gilbert was a peasant organiser of the Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Partylist and a land rights activist. Prior to his killing he had been warned to give up his support for the farmers because he was on a military hit list.

On 19 February 2017, Wilerme Agorde, a 64 year old farmer and land rights activist, was stabbed and gunned down in the presence of his grandchildren by unidentified assailants in Brgy. Illustre, President Roxas, North Cotabato. With his fellow farmers, he was at the forefront of a campaign to secure ownership of the unused agricultural land-reservation in Arakan town.

On 16 February 2017, Edweno ‘Edwin’ Catog, 44, a Lumad-Mansaka farmer and a land rights activist, was shot in public by two men on a motorcycle, suspected of being linked to the 46th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA), in Pantukan, Compostela Valley. He was a member of the Hugpong sa mga Mag-uuma sa Walog Compostela (HUMAWAC), a local peasant organisation.

On 15 February 2017, environmental rights defender and lawyer, Mia Manuelita Mascariñas-Green, was shot dead in Tagbilaran City, Bohol. She was shot by four gunmen while driving home with her children. The police have identified the alleged mastermind of the murder as Lloyd Lancer Gonzaga, the owner of a famous beach resort in Panglao Island in Bohol and one of the gunmen, but both men eluded arrest. The human rights lawyer was reportedly winning in a legal dispute between her client and the resort owner.

On 11 February 2017, Orlando Eslana was shot dead by an unidentified armed men in Roxas City, Capiz, Visayas. Orlando Eslana was an active member of the Kahublagan sang Mangunguma sa Capiz (KAMACA), an organisation of farmers in Capiz. They were holding a peasants’ protest to assert their ownership of the land occupied by the Tan Estate. During the protest, unidentified armed men open fired leading to five protesters being injured.

On 6 Feb 2017, Emelito Rotimas was shot dead by suspected military agents. Emelito Rotimas was a local leader of Lapu-Lapu village, Maco, Compostela Valley. He was also an active member of a progressive partylist group Anakpawis (Toiling Masses).

On the same day, Glenn Ramos, a health worker and former coordinator of the leftist political party Bayan Muna in Davao City was shot dead by suspected state agents while in his house in Maa, Davao City.

On 3 February 2017, Renato Anglao was shot dead by three unidentified men in Quezon, Bukidnon province. Renato Anglao was the Secretary-General of TINDOGA (Tribal Indigenous Oppressed Group Association), an indigenous peoples’ organisation representing the Manobo-Pulangion tribe in Barangay Botong, Quezon, Bukidnon. TINDOGA works on issues related to human rights violations linked to agri-business plantations which are encroaching on their ancestral lands. Front Line Defenders has raised the case with the Philippine authorities. To date, no one has been prosecuted for his death.

On that same day, Matanem Lorendo Pocuan, a tribal leader of the Omayam tribe in Cabanglasan, Bukidnon, was shot at close range in his neighbour’s house by a suspected member of a paramilitary group called Alamara.

On 25 January 2017, Wencislao Pacquiao, 48, a member of the San Benito Farmers Association- Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), was shot several times at close range in a targeted killing while he was working in the fields in Negros Occidental. Pacquiao had been instrumental in filing a case which seeks to secure legal title to the land for the people who work it.

On 20 January 2017, Veronico Lapsay Delamente, 27, a Lumad-Mamanwa and member of Kahugpungan sa Lumadnong Organisasyon (KASALO) in the CARAGA region, was shot by two unnamed assailants in Punta Naga, Brgy. Cagdianao, Claver, Surigao del Norte.

On the evening of the same day, around 8pm, Alexander Ceballos, 54, regional council member and district area coordinator of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) was gunned down by two unnamed assailants near his house in Purok Tangke, Brgy. Pandanon Silos, Murcia, Negros Occidental. Ceballos’ involvement in organising and mobilising farmers to uphold and defend their rights have earned him the resentment of local landowners.

On 5 January 2017, around 4pm, Venie Diamante, 43, a T’boli and municipal tribal chieftain, was brutally killed by an unnamed assailant on board a motorcycle while on his way home from Koronadal City, in South Cotabato. He was a strong advocate for the defense of ancestral T’boli lands.

Front Line Defenders call on the Philippines authorities to :

1. Immediately end extra-judicial killings and other gross and systematic violations of human rights committed against human rights defenders and others;

2. Ensure that investigation into cases of extra-judicial killings, disappearance, torture, and fabrication of charges of human rights defenders are effective, impartial, and prompt;

3. Publicly recognise the positive and legitimate role played by human rights defenders in society;

4. Ensure full respect of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including in particular the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.