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Stop using drug war vs activists

/ 12:16 AM January 20, 2017

As longtime advocates of genuine democracy and peace in the Philippines, we are pleased to see some positive changes under the Duterte administration.

It is great to see mining companies finally being shut down for violating Philippine environmental laws, and the Philippine government asserting an independent foreign policy from the United States. We are also pleased that President Duterte has reopened peace talks with the National Democratic Front and seeks a peaceful settlement of the decades-old armed conflict in the Philippines.

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Unfortunately there have been some disconcerting developments in the human rights front these past months.

In the government’s so-called war on drugs, thousands of drug suspects have been killed, most of them coming from urban poor communities. In fact, under the cover of Oplan Tokhang, police authorities and vigilante groups are killing drug suspects with impunity. We are very concerned to hear of cases of mistaken identity, in which innocent people, including children, who have no connection to the drug trade, have been killed.

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Philippine security forces have long used counterinsurgency as an excuse to attack, harass and kill activists. These days, they have another excuse—the drug war. Karapatan and other leading human rights groups have documented several cases where state forces and vigilante groups, using the drug war as a front, arrested activists on trumped-up charges, or violently attacked them.

Last October, policemen, allegedly using planted evidence, arrested a group of farmer-activists resisting land grabbing in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. On Dec. 5, Joel Lising, a leader of the Tri-Wheels Organization para sa Kabuhayan (Patok), was gunned down in Tondo, Manila.

Oplan Tokhang promotes lawlessness and is being used as a convenient shield in “neutralizing” activists in people’s movements.

Another cause of great concern is the 400 political prisoners. Many of them are elderly and are suffering from poor health. They should be released immediately for humanitarian considerations. This will ensure that there will not be a repeat of tragic deaths, like that of Bernabe Ocasla who died of a stroke while in custody last Nov. 25.

Even for political prisoners in relatively good health, releasing them is the right thing to do. Many of them were arrested on trumped-up charges during the past administrations.

In the name of justice and in support of the peace talks, we urge President Duterte to release all political prisoners. We also call for the prosecution of those responsible for extrajudicial killings. Finally, we call on government not to use the drug war as a front to attack activists.

CAMERON WALKER, Auckland Philippines Solidarity, [email protected]; MURRAY HORTON, Philippine Solidarity Network of Aotearoa, [email protected]; ROD PROSSER, Wellington Kiwi Pinoy, [email protected]

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TAGS: activists, drug war, Duterte, letter, Letter to the Editor, opinion, Oplan Tokhang
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