Even amid a deadly pandemic, the Duterte administration proved that it does not fall short in coming up with new mechanisms to repress human rights.
Infamously known for the ‘war-on-drugs’ campaign that left poor families grieving and screaming for justice, this administration added red-tagging and suppression of press freedom on their list of human rights violations.
After signing into law the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the Duterte administration has cultivated a culture of fear and impunity against its dissenters. Anyone who goes against the government’s whims is either red-tagged, abducted, and/or killed.
Here is a rundown of human rights violations that took place in 2021, starting from the violation of academic freedom by the state forces to the red-tagging and harassment of civilians and activists that resulted in arbitrary arrests, illegal surveillance, and extrajudicial killings.
January: Unilateral abrogation of UP-DND accord, red-tagging, and subsequent threats to academic freedom.
January 15: In a letter sent to UP President Danilo Concepcion, Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana one-sidedly terminated the UP-DND accord of 1989.
As justification, Lorenzana alleged that the agreement is being used by the CPP-NPA as “a shield and propaganda” to turn the university into a communist recruitment hub. Threats of termination were also extended to the PUP-DND accord of 1990.
The two accords were signed by former defense chief Fidel Ramos and university presidents Jose Abueva (UP) and Nemesio Prudente (PUP), to ensure the protection of students against military and police suppression. This agreement was set into motion to avoid the possible repetition of Marcos’ martial law atrocities that killed at least 3,200 people, including student activists and journalists, through tortures and summary execution.
January 23: Several days after the one-sided abrogation of the UP-DND accord, National Task Force to End Local Communist Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) spokesperson Antonio Parlade made headlines for blatantly labeling 18 schools in Metro Manila as ‘havens’ for communist recruitment.
In an interview with GMA Super Radyo’s dzBB, Parlade alleged that 18 colleges and universities, including UP and PUP, were among the ‘communist hotbeds’ in the National Capital Region. He further stated that the termination of the UP-DND accord will allow the military to investigate these alleged recruitment activities.
February: Illegal arrests of Lumad students and teachers in Cebu City
February 15: At least 26 Lumad students, teachers, and elders were nabbed in a raid guise as rescue operations at the University of San Carlos (USC) – Talamban Campus in the morning of February 15.
With the help of the Central Visayas Police and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) entered the university premises to ‘rescue’ the Lumad students who took residence at USC to attend the Lumad Bakwit School. The military claimed that the students who were ‘held against their will’ at the university were subjected to ‘warfare training.’
However, upon checking with the university management, it was revealed that the operations took place without prior information. The police also failed to provide warrants during the arrests. In a joint statement with the city’s archdiocese, the university belied the claims of alleged warfare training.
March: Arbitrary arrests and deadly crackdown against activists.
March 4: Labor unionists Armin Corcolon and Arnedo Laguinias were nabbed in their respective homes in Laguna on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Prior to their arrests, Corcolon and Laguinias were subjected to constant red-tagging and harassment by state forces. The warrants for their arrests were issued by Presiding Judge Divinagracia Bustos-Ongkeko of the Sta. Cruz Regional Trial Court (RTC), a “factory” for bogus “search warrants” alleged by human rights group Karapatan.
March 5: In his speech during a joint meeting with NTF-ELCAC and the Region 10 anti-communist task force in Misamis Oriental, Duterte issued a “shoot-to-kill” order against suspected communist rebels, even going as far as ordering the police and the military to “ignore human rights” in their pursuit.
March 7: Two days after Duterte issued the order to “finish off” suspected communist rebels, nine were killed while six were arrested in a series of deadly crackdown against activists in the region of Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon province), infamously known as the “Bloody Sunday” raids.
Those killed were:
- Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion: Secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Cavite (BAYAN), arrested without warrant and killed in his office in Dasmariñas, Cavite.
- Chai Lemita Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista: Members of local environmental organization Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA), killed in their home in Nasugbu, Batangas.
- Michael Dasigao, Mark “Mak Mak” Lee Coros Bacarno, Edward Damas Esto, and Abner Damas Esto: urban poor activists and members of San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran, at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan, at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD-K3), killed in Rodiguez, Rizal.
- Puroy Dela Cruz and Randy Dela Cruz: Indigenous rights activists and members of Dumagat Sierra Madre, killed in Tanay, Rizal.
March 21: Human rights activist and paralegal Renalyn Tejero was nabbed by police in Cagayan De Oro over multiple murder charges. The Lumad student leader turned human rights worker, through her lawyer, claimed that she was unaware of the cases filed against her by the police.
Prior to her arrest, Tejero was red-tagged by the group “Movement Against Terrorism”.
March 28: Exactly three weeks after the grim ‘Bloody Sunday’ massacre of activists in Calabarzon, labor rights leader and Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan-Kilusang Mayo Uno (PAMANTIK-KMU) vice chairperson Dandy Miguel was shot by an unidentified gunman in Barangay Canlubang, Laguna.
Prior to his death, Miguel, along with other members of PAMANTIK-KMU, was constantly labeled as communist fronts by military and police forces. Miguel also served as paralegal volunteer for the Bloody Sunday investigations of human rights groups.
April: Kidnapping of youth activists, Red-tagging of community pantry initiative.
April 19: Two activists were allegedly abducted by NTF-ELCAC agents after they were summoned for “randomized swab testing” in a barangay hall in Sampaloc, Manila.
The abductees were identified as Alicia Lucena and Sofia Bangayan of the Anakbayan Morayta Chapter. Bangayan, who was initially captured and released during the same day, told reporters that Lucena was forcibly taken by her parents and the police.
Lucena made headlines in 2019 when her mother, a known member of organizations Hands Off Our Children (HOOC) and League of Parents of the Philippines (LPP), filed kidnapping charges against Anakbayan for allegedly abducting her daughter. Some of these charges were dismissed due to lack of probable cause. In August, Lucena revealed that she was being subjected to physical and emotional abuse while staying with her parents in their family home in Pasay City.
April 20: A series of social media posts by NTF-ELCAC and the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) labeled the Maginhawa community pantry as part of the communist movement in the Philippines. Fearing for the volunteers’ safety, the community pantry initiative halted their operations for a day.
May: Police interference in labor day protests
May 1: Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) stated in a tweet that police were deployed at the Liwasang Bonifacio where the Labor day protest in Manila was scheduled to happen. They were told by the police commander that any protest activities were banned under the general guidelines of the Modified Enhance Community Quarantine (MECQ).
Police forces in Zambales and Cebu City also came under scrutiny for arresting workers and youth activists who partook in the protests in the said areas.
Police interference in public protests is a violation of Article III Section 4 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which protects the right of people to free speech and assembly.
June: Illegal surveillance of Iloilo journalist; Murder and suspected rape of three Lumad students in Surigao del Sur.
June 11: Altermidya coordinator and Panay Today journalist John Ian Alenciaga was reported to be under illegal surveillance by unknown men, following the formation of the provincial counterpart of NTF-ELCAC in Iloilo.
Alenciaga was among the 40 individuals publicly red-tagged in Iloilo City in 2018 and 2019.
June 17: Three Lumad-Manobo individuals including a minor were killed after soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 3rd Special Forces Batallion (SFB) opened fire in Surigao del Sur.
The victims were identified as Willy Rodiguez, Lenie Rivas, and 12-year-old Angel Rivas.
According to the reports, the faces and torsos of the victims were ruptured, with some body parts wrapped in packaging tape. Angel’s genitalia were also reportedly mutilated upon the retrieval of bodies from the military.
July: Undue arrests; Killing of activists and Cebu journalist
July 16: Julieta Gomez from San Luis, Agusan del Sur was a teacher for the Sildap-Sidlakan Lumad School and subsequently served as a community organizer turned secretary-general for Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon (KASALO). She joined the efforts of Lumad communities in Surigao del Norte in demanding proper compensation from mining profits purloined from their ancestral lands.
Niezel Velasco, the Former project coordinator for Bread for Emergency Assistance and Development, (BREAD), led the implementation of marine sanctuary projects and livelihood projects in the islands of Siargao.
They were arrested during a joint operation of the police and Philippine Army in Brgy. Pansol, Quezon City. Served with warrants of murder and two counts of attempted murder, PNP Chief General Guillermo Eleazar said that they found firearms and CPP paraphernalia in possession of the two.
The Karapatan Caraga chapter demanded the release of the two, saying that the evidence was planted for who in their right mind would bear and transport weapons at a time when strict checkpoints and lockdowns are in effect.
July 22: About to board his car, veteran radio commentator Reynante “Rey” Cortes was gunned down by still unidentified assailants riding a motorcycle in front of DYRB-AM radio station along N. Bacalso Avenue in Mambaling, Cebu.
Cortes was a known hard-hitting commentator and made enemies along the way prompting Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak to believe that this was work-related and a threat to press freedom.
July 26: Caught in the act of spray-painting protest graffiti on a concrete railing by roving cops, Marlon Napire, 40, and Jaymar Palero, 22, were shot dead. The police claimed that the two opened fire first leaving them no choice but to fire back, making the two unable to finish the message “Duterte Ibagsak”.
They were members of the Albay People’s Organization and Organisasyon ng mga Magsasaka Sa Albay, respectively.
Human rights groups found the police case has many loopholes—the bullets were found to have entered through the victims’ backs invalidating police claims. Palero’s mother said that her son’s body showed signs of torture such as his face being battered and nails removed. Witnesses, who are also activists and were there at the time but eluded the police, said that Palero and Napire tried to run away upon the cops’ arrival but were taken and brought to the patrol car.
August: ‘Month of Killings’; Cyberattacks and Tokhang style counterinsurgency tactics
With signatories from local and international rights and labor groups, August was dubbed as the month of killings. This comes after commemorating the death of human rights activist Zara Alvarez, peasant leader and peace consultant Randall Echanis, and grade 11 student Kian Loyd delos Santos, who was just 17 years old when police gunned him down.
Rights groups chose the month of August as the month of remembering and reckoning for a year after the killing of Alvarez and Echanis and four years for delos Santos, justice is still nowhere in sight.
August 17, 2021 marks the fourth year since Kian Loyd delos Santos was fatally shot in a dark alley in Caloocan City. In 2018, the three policemen who ordered him to shoot to make it look like he fought back were sentenced to 40 years in prison. Although it may seem that justice was served for the young war-on-drug victim, his case is just among the few where police forces were convicted, bearing a huge difference to the thousands of extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s bloody and murderous drug war.
On August 17, 2020, Zara Alvarez, a Karapatan Paralegal in Negros Occidental Province, was fatally shot by still uknown individuals. A frequently red-tagged activist in Negros, she was detained from October 30, 2012, to July 22, 2014 on false charges but was set free later on due to the case’s lack of credible evidence.
In 2018, she was tagged as a terrorist by the Department of Justice but was subsequently removed from the list. The harassment and threats continued to plague Alvarez up until her death.
August 10, 2020: Peasant leader and longtime activist Randall Echanis was killed inside his house. His body was found dead with stab wounds and multiple signs of torture, according to his wife, Erlinda Echanis.
A victim of red-tagging, his wife believes that this was a state-sponsored killing due to the fact that Echanis serves as chair for the political wing of National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
August 18: The Karapatan site—a site for the national alliance of groups that work together to protect human rights, was subjected to a DDoS attack (Distributed Denial of Service) which started on July 29.
Swedish digital forensic group Qurium said that “the attacks took place amid the online solidarity campaign #StopTheKillingsPH” as “human rights organizations and advocates across the world asserted the call to stop the killings in the Philippines and to prosecute President Rodrigo Duterte for his crimes against the Filipino people.”
August 30: Authorities in the Cordillera Region ratified the Duterte administration’s style in addressing counterinsurgency tactics by giving the go signal on a new campaign called “Dumanun Makitungtung” (Ilocano terms for “visit and discuss”).
The proposed operation succeeded in becoming a resolution and is now being done by the police-based Cordillera Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (RLECC). It works by visiting homes or offices of activists they allege to be supporting the communist New People’s Army.
Human rights defenders reiterated that this kind of strategy put activists and leftists in grave danger. Even though the resolution says that they will only “talk and plead” with persons of interest, it still does not hide the fact that similar actions led to thousands of deaths in Duterte’s war on drugs.
Activists are worried that authorities may use similar false claims such as fabricating stories in which they claim that the former fought back and resisted arrest to justify the killing of activists.
Furthermore, the tokhang style from which this campaign has drawn inspiration, has been teeming with extrajudicial killings, planting of evidence, and arbitrary arrests, among other abuses.
September: Attacks on political prisoners, killing of human rights defenders and Cyberattacks
September 7: Political prisoner Jeffrey Bajo Delos Reyes now lies in critical condition after being shot by a fellow inmate. Former combatant for the New People’s Army, delos Reyes was not served any warrant of arrest when policemen in plain clothes apprehended him in Victoria, Oriental Mindoro, and has been in prince since 2016.
During the time of the arrest, peace talks were in place between the newly-inaugurated Rodrigo Duterte administration and the NPA, proving it to be insincere.
September 15: Atty. Juan Macababbad, a human rights defender and public interest lawyer, was shot dead outside his home in Surallah, South Cotabato. He sustained five gunshot wounds from unknown assailants who fled the scene via motorcycle.
He was taken to Javelosa Hospital but was later pronounced dead. A known member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), he is the third member of the said organization to be killed.
September 19: Volunteer Lumad school teacher and cultural worker Lorena Sigua was known for her efforts in advancing the cultural causes and rights of urban workers, informal communities, child laborers, and indigenous people across the country.
She was arrested on a manufactured murder charge. Upon arrest, she was not read her Miranda rights and police violated her attorney-client privilege when they demanded the phone be on speaker during the call with her lawyer.
Adding to the list of political prisoners under the Duterte regime, Sigua has been frequently red-tagged, interrogated, and threatened by state forces.
September 24: Bulatlat and Altermidya, both alternative media sites, released a joint statement that their sites underwent DDoS attacks. The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-PH) said that the internet protocol (IP) address where the attacks originated from was found to be assigned to the Philippine Army. Qurium validated the report, furthermore incriminating the army.
The sites condemned the attacks saying it does not adhere to its claims of respecting press freedom.
October: Unwarranted arrests of land rights activists
October 6: Erlindo “Lino” Baez, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Batangas Spokesperson, is a land rights activist, who led peasants and fisherfolk against land grabbing and ecotourism projects in Hacienda Looc in Nasugbu along with Willy Capareño, Anakpawis Partylist Batangas Coordinator.
The two were arrested a day before the 7th month of the infamous ‘Bloody Sunday.
Prior to the arrest, they were tagged as “high-ranking members” of the Communist Party of the Philippines and were always subjected to red-tagging and state harassment. The two were arrested by an estimate of 50 members of the Sariaya police and the Philippine Army’s 59th Infantry Battalion, a staggering number for two unarmed civilians.
The warrant issued against Baez came from police allegedly recovering firearms in his home while no warrant was issued for Capareño but based his arrest when he was also allegedly found to be in possession of a hand grenade.
November: Abduction and arrest of human rights defenders, cyberattacks on alternative media
November 9: Human Rights Defender and land rights activist Steve Abua was abducted and has since been missing.
His wife, Joanna, believes that state forces were behind her husband’s abduction. Her request to see and talk to Abua was granted by the abductors and they contacted her via video call. The 15-second video call showed her husband sitting on a bed, blindfolded, bound, and gagged.
Hostage takers said that the price of Abua’s freedom is that they both pledge to give up criticizing the government.
November 15: 64-year-old women and child’s right defender, Maria Salome “Sally” Crisostomo Ujano was arrested by non-uniformed officers. Her arrest came 15 years after a rebellion case was filed against her for being allegedly involved in the ambush of two military personnel in Quezon in 2005.
Authorities claim that Ujano has been hiding and eluding the law but recent records of her activities say otherwise for she has been actively attending public gatherings, including organization activities.
Her daughter, Karla Ujano, insisted that the 2005 allegations against her mother have no basis because Sally was serving as Executive Director of Women’s Crisis Center at that time.
November 20: Jorge Coronacion, 64, and Arnold Buri, 43, coconut farmers hailing from Quezon province, were killed by the Philippine military. Claiming that it was an “armed encounter” and recovering several weapons from the two, the Philippine Army said that they opened fire because the duo were members of the CPP-NPA.
Human rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog noted that their bodies showed signs of torture, and were told by locals that they did not hear any exchange of firearms.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chairperson Danilo Ramos said in a statement that, “This is a clear case of extrajudicial killing justified as a fake encounter by state forces.”
November 23: Pinoy Weekly wasn’t safe from DDoS attacks this year either
Suffering from similar attacks during 2018 and 2019, this year, it came at the time when the media outlet published stories and editorials about the ongoing alliance between the son of the dictator’s namesake Marcos Jr. and the president’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, an in-depth report on price hikes, and a news analysis on the people’s agenda for the 2022 elections.
A blatant attack on press freedom, Pinoy Weekly is joined by Qurium in an effort to trace the internet protocol (IP) address used by the attackers.
December: Murder of journalist and harassment of Gabriela officer
December 9: Jesse Malabanan, a correspondent for the Manila Standard Today newspaper, was shot dead in Calbayog City, Samar.
Malabanan has contributed to a story for Reuters (that won a Pulitzer prize in 2018) regarding Duterte’s war on drugs. After receiving threats, this prompted Malabanan to relocate with his family from Pampanga to Samar with the help of Reuters.
The perpetrator is still at large and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) head, Daniel Bastard, is calling out Philippine officials to quickly look into and investigate Malabanan’s case.
December 14: Gabriela National Executive Committee member and Public Relations Officer Cha Castaño has been subjected to online harassment since December 14.
Two different accounts from different social media platforms are asking her to cooperate and confirm fabricated stories regarding her partner. She also experienced being physically stalked, with November 27 being the recent activity.
Gabriela Women’s Party condemned these incidents in their Twitter account stating that the surveillance seeks to intimidate Castaño.