No less than the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has expressed “grave concern’’ over the startling “Wanted’’ posters that appeared late last week in several places in Davao City which branded nine “lumad” rights advocates and leaders of militant organizations as “human rights violators’’ and “berdugo’’ or executioners.
The CHR warned that such “irresponsible act’’ sends a “chilling effect’’ on freedom of expression and poses a threat to the safety of the individuals named.
For Dr. Jean Lindo, one of those tagged in the posters, this was a clear “vilification campaign’’ meant to condition the public that killing them would be justified. “We do take this seriously as a threat. This is designed to silence us and stop us from defending human rights,” said Lindo, chair of the women’s group Gabriela in Southern Mindanao.
The posters carried the names and photos of Lindo; Maritess Kafiola, identified in the poster as KMP (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas); Jong Monzon of the lumad group Pasaka; Hamuel Tequis, a bishop of the United Church of Christ Philippines (UCCP) Haran labeled in the poster as “CPP party member”; Jay Apiag, secretary-general of Karapatan in Southern Mindanao; Tony Salubre, KMP spokesperson for Southern Mindanao; Kharlo Manang of Salinlahi; Carlo Olalo, Bayan Southern Mindanao Region; and Meggie Nolasco, the executive director of Salugpungan Ta’ Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center.
“These are activists who have genuine work,’’ Lindo said of the group. But in an absurd twist, they are now accused of being human rights violators and oppressors of indigenous people, the very marginalized sector they have been supporting and championing. Worse, they’re also tagged as “Wanted,” as if they are fugitives from the law.
Davao City police chief Col. Kirby Kraft has vowed to look into the incident, but then let slip where that investigation would be heading.
“We would like to know who are the people who stand to gain from these posters because, on the part of the government, there’s no need to post these posters in the first place. Are they posting it so that if something happens to them, they will blame the government?” Kraft asked, referring to the lumad advocates.
That notion, oddly defensive from the outset, essentially gaslights the issue, by putting the onus on the accused individuals to disprove the dangerous labels flung at them. Kraft would have the public believe that these advocates, already working in a fraught environment of pervasive impunity where militants and critical voices are intimidated, harassed, and killed, would knowingly invite harm on themselves and put themselves in the crosshairs of state forces to somehow embarrass the government.
The Davao City posters are the newest incarnation of the phenomenon of red-tagging, which has become the government’s default category for those who do not dance to its tune. The recent enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 gives the government even more power and discretion to identify and prosecute people it suspects to be terrorists, and the Davao posters clearly aim to tap into that expanded punitive order by freely vilifying activists and critics as enemies of the state.
Salugpungan, for one, has long been the subject of a vilification campaign, according to its executive director Meggie Nolasco, daughter of retired Inquirer executive editor Jose Ma. Nolasco.
In November 2018, Nolasco was among more than 70 other militant leaders and volunteers arrested in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, while responding to a distress call from lumad school teachers who were being harassed by the military. They were later charged with trafficking, kidnapping, and abuse of children in a lumad school.
It took one brave judge, Tagum RTC Executive Judge Arlene Palabrica, to stand up for the rights of the group. With no information filed against them, the judge ordered their release amid protests from the police.
Salugpungan said the attacks against them have been relentless since President Duterte publicly threatened to bomb lumad schools in 2017. “The forcible closure of other schools was sped up during the nationwide lockdown, which brings the number of different lumad schools closed to 178, disenfranchising more than 5,500 students all over Mindanao,” it said
A June 4, 2020 report of the United Nations Human Rights Office noted “widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity’’ in the Philippines, prompted by harmful rhetoric coming from high-level officials and the state-led demonization of dissent through red-tagging and heavy-handed laws and policies. International scrutiny, however, seems to be having little effect for now in deterring this vicious campaign, strongly indicating the sense of official protection it enjoys; the Davao “Wanted” posters just upped the slander by equating human-rights advocates with common criminals and fugitives.
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