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December 10, 2007

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Assert Our Human Rights, Assert Our Human Dignity!

The right to life, liberty, development and self determination are among the basic rights of every human being. We celebrate these rights today, International Human Rights Day, in commemoration of the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 10, 1948.

We remember this historic event in an ironic context, in a bleak state of affairs.

With the three-year extension of Oplan Bantay Laya starting this year, the cases of extrajudicial killings have reached 887 and the cases of enforced disappearances have totalled to 185 under the rule of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

This year alone in the Cordillera, we have documented nine (9) cases of extrajudicial killings, two (2) cases of frustrated extrajudicial killings, illegal detention of two (2) individuals , three (3) cases of abduction, and arson/destruction of properties directly affecting thirty four (34) households with 216 individuals among the human rights violations.

Beyond these distressing statistics, the documented cases present to the public the people's organizations, communities and especially, families who have been violated and have been deprived of justice.

The political persecution of the State against the militant mass movement continues. The case of Jose "Joe Cawiding is an example. Cawiding, Secretary General of the Metro Baguio Tribal Leaders Assembly (MBTELA), accredited mediator of the Supreme Court and former Bayan Muna coordinator for Benguet was arrested last October 1, 2007 on fabricated charges of eight (8) counts of murder and one (1) count of frustrated murder. Cawiding is being accused of being part of the ambush staged by the New People's Army in July 14, 2003 where eight soldiers died and one was wounded. At that time, he was in Teacher's Camp, Baguio City attending a Bayan Muna National Council meeting.

In the framework of Operation Plan Bantay Laya through the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), the charges place civilians like Cawiding in the same light as combatants, or members of the revolutionary organizations who are targets of the government's counter-insurgency program. The motive behind the fabricated cases, arrest and detention is part of the efforts of the Arroyo government to neutralize legitimate legal political dissent. Cawiding is being deprived of his liberty and kept away from his work and his family because of this.

The conscious commission of human rights violations is done to sow fear and to silence those who raise critique against government programs and policies. The abduction of Vangie Tadeo of Kakailian Salakaniban Tay Amin a Nagtaudan (KASTAN) Abra last November 29 by suspected members of the Criminal Inspection and Detection Group (CIDG) was done with the same intention.

To pave the way for government projects, especially mining, the extent of militarization in the region is such that at least 16 regular companies (Coys), one Division Reconnaissance Coy (53rd), 6 service Coys (HQ Coys of brigade and battalion), and 4 support units of the Philippine Army of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are deployed in Northwestern Luzon.

In addition, the Task Force Montañosa (TFM) was formed in November 2006 for counter-insurgency operations. Composed of the 41st IB, 50th IB, 54th IB, 53rd Recon Coy, 21st IB and the PNP-RMG CAR, its operations are along the boundaries of Abra, Mountain Province and Ilocos Sur - defined as a "win" area under Operation Plan Bantay Laya II.

The assault against our human rights by the Arroyo government has been furthered with the passing and implementation of the Human Security Act of 2007 this year.

With these experiences, the statements of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that she has been addressing the human rights situation in the nation and the Medalla de Oro given to her by the Universidad de Alcala for "defense of human rights" is incongruous.

The gold medal for GMA's championing human rights is a mockery of the experiences of victims of human rights violations - those who experience hunger, loss of homes and livelihood through demolition, those who have lost their lives, their kin, their land and their dignity as humans.

In his final report, even Prof. Philip Alston stated that "…the democratic rights that the people of the Philippines fought so hard to assert are under serious threat". This was seconded in a statement by the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Thus, all the more we resist the repression. The true celebration of human rights is the assertion for its genuine respect.#

Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA)
Cordillera Peoples Alliance
Tongtongan ti Umili

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