Police and military continue harassment of development workers in Cordillera

The Assert Socio Economic Initiatives Network of the Philippines (AscentPH) slams the harassment by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Ilocos Sur on October 28, 2017. They stopped the contingent of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) with their Chairperson, Windel Bolinget, and Vice-Chairperson, Xavier Akien, together with the staff of the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC), at a checkpoint in Tirad Pass shortly before 12:00nn. They were on their way back to Baguio after a community meeting in Quirino with the Save Quirino Movement (SQM). SQM is a local partner of CPA and CDPC.

From the checkpoint in Tirad Pass, they were brought to the PNP outpost in San Emilio where they were illegally detained without due cause for an hour, upon the directive of Police Supt. Gabriel Alessandro Labador and a certain Senior Police Officer Tolosa. The group was only released after they were able to assert their rights, but was flagged down again in the succeeding checkpoints in Lidlidda and Banayoyo.

CPA and CDPC believe that the only reason for the harassment and intimidation that they experienced was because of the meeting they had with SQM, wherein human rights violations committed by the 81st Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) remains an urgent concern of the communities in the area. The 81st IB is specifically maligning and red-tagging the CPA and the local leaders of SQM. The CPA chapter in Abra has also recently reported that the 24th Infantry Battalion illegally searched residences in Mudiit, Dolores municipality. The 81st IB and the 24th IB are military units of the 7th Infantry Division.

A few weeks ago, 5 women activists from Cordillera, namely Sarah Abellon-Alikes, Sherry Mae Soledad, Joanne Villanueva, Rachel Mariano, Asia Isabella Gepte and Shirley Ann Angiwot, fell victim to trumped-up charges of frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder related to a gun firing incident that occurred in Sitio Mabileg, Brgy. San Ramon, Sigay, Ilocos Sur in August 4, 2017. Corporal Melvin Sevilla Saura alleges that the women are part of a group of the New People’s Army (NPA) which was involved in an encounter with the AFP that day.

These harassment, intimidation, and red-tagging perpetrated by police and military forces reflect the worsening human rights violations in the country. Instead of supporting the initiatives and projects of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) whose goal is to improve the lives of people in poor communities, the government treats them as enemies of the state.

Thus, AscentPH calls for the end of attacks against development and humanitarian workers by state security agents and the pull out of AFP troops in rural communities. The military must be held accountable for all of its human rights violations against the Filipino people.

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AscentPH is a national alliance of development organizations determinedly working for the empowerment of the people through poverty alleviation and promoting and defending the right to development and other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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