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December 11, 2008

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Today, we mark the 60th year of the United Nations adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) that enshrines human rights and holds the government responsible to uphold and respect it. In remembering this significant date, we bring to the fore the most pressing need to assert, defend and sincerely respect human dignity.

The rights to life, liberty, security, self-determination and the right to develop are far from being fully realized.

There remains a crying need for enough food on the table, accessible medical services and education, jobs, the freedom to organize and expression, and for the recognition of the importance of political dissent and discourse in a genuine democracy.

We commemorate December 10 in the midst of the agonizing search for James Balao - founding member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), President of the Oclupan Clan, human rights defender and genuine servant of the people. It is now 85 days since September 17, 2008, when he was brazenly abducted in Lower Tomay, La Trinidad, Benguet by heavily armed State security forces.

James' enforced disappearance is part of the Arroyo government's implementation of Operation Plan Bantay Laya (OBL)II. This highly condemned state policy equates progressive people's organizations critical of the government's policies and practices with the Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army - National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP). This counter-insurgency program makes the members and leaders of these organizations targets for neutralization.

We will not forget that the first phase of OBL killed our colleagues Romy Sanchez, Jose 'Pepe' Manegdeg III, Albert Terredano, Jose Doton, Rafael Markus Bangit, Gloria Casuga and Alyce Omengan-Claver.

This operation has resulted to human rights violations to a scale worse than the human rights record of the 20 years in power of the former Dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Since 2001, there are 977 victims of extrajudicial killings, 201 victims of enforced disappearances, 1,010 victims of torture, 1,464 illegal arrests and 868,096 displaced from their homes and villages because of military operations.

Out of the 50 victims of extrajudicial killings at a national scale this year, 4 are from the region. The victims are farmers/ hunters. The violations took place in Abra and Kalinga. In Kalinga, the two cases of summary execution were amicably settled by the AFP with the families to quell legal actions by the communities and further dissent. This act of settlement is an admission of accountability but is far from the delivery of justice.

Militarization has heightened in the region. More communities in the region have reported that the AFP has been using their schools, medical, religious and other public places for military purposes thereby endangering civilians. In Pananuman, the school, church and dap-ay were used by the military in their month long operations. In Tanglag, Kalinga, the AFP displaced the children from their day care center because of their use of the facility. Even homes of civilians are being used by the military as their base in the communities. Soldiers in Baay Licuan have encamped under the houses of residents.

Bombings and shellings, illegal searches and seizures, divestment of properties have also taken place in the triboundary of Abra, Mountain Province and Ilocos Sur.There is no respect for the people's safety and security or the sacredness of significant places in communities and cultural practices.

Women, children and elderly are not spared. This year, we have documented a case of attempted rape in Abra perpetrated by an element of the 502nd Brigade. We have also documented that children and elderly residents of Sitio Pananuman, Barangay Tubtuba, Tubo, Abra were subjected to harassment/threat/intimidation during the March-April operations of the Bravo and Charlie Company of the 50th Infantry Battalion.

In the urban and town centers, state terrorism became evident with the lack of tolerance by city-based police for protest rallies and mobilizations and an increase in surveillance and harassment of members and leaders of progressive people's organizations.

These are only among the human rights violations committed by the units of the AFP and PNP in the region this year. The violations continue because of the culture of impunity provided by the government. No perpetrators are arrested or convicted. There is no delivery of justice.

The main lesson in the adoption of the UDHR is that people have to assert and defend their human rights. It is the only way for these to be recognized.

As we continue to respond to the call for Mabtad in the search for James, we search too for the genuine respect of human rights and justice for all victims of human rights violations.

Communities and organizations have taken up the challenge in continuing the resistance against State terrorism and holding the Arroyo government accountable for its human rights violations.

The defense and assertion of human rights by Cordillera people is depicted by the resistance of communities against military presence and operations in their area. The residents of Barangay Tanglag, Lubuagan, Kalinga recently held a dialogue to clearly state their questions on the census, order of battle, and presence of the military. They also strongly demanded for immediate military pull-out and condemned the operations of the military in the communities of Dupag in Tabuk and Barangays Poswoy, Balbalan and Uma in Lubuagan, Kalinga. Sitio Pananuman, Barangay Tubtuba, Tubo, Abra which was bombed and hamletted this year still continue to hold their ground in their opposition against militarization and large scale destructive mining. They are determined to weather the storm of development aggression and militarization.

In the light of the heightening state terrorism, we demand the following:

  • The termination of Operation Plan Bantay Laya II
  • The demilitarization of the countrysides
  • That appropriate punishments be given to human rights violators up to the highest rank
  • The stop of the persecution of progressive peoples organizations
  • The surfacing of James Balao and a stop to enforced disappearances
  • Justice for all victims of human rights violations
  • Resumption of the peace negotiations

The challenges for the continuing year is greater with the State bent on achieving its goals set in Operation Plan Bantay Laya II, the proposal for charter change and the nearing Presidential elections. We must gather our strength to end state terrorism and fascism and to hold the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government accountable for all its human rights violations. #



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