Harassment of development workers intensified under Duterte regime

Media Release

July 16, 2018

In a public forum organized by the Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) on July 16, 2018, various Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) shared the numerous harassment and threats that they experienced since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed his office two years ago.

“In 2016, the humanitarian and development workers were very hopeful that the attacks during the Arroyo and Aquino administrations will subside under the Duterte regime because of his pronouncement that ‘change is coming’. But they were proven very wrong. Instead, more human rights violations were committed by the police and military”, said Estrella Catarata, a convenor of ASCENT.

According to KARAPATAN, there are already 163 cases of extra-judicial killings, 351 illegal arrests and detention, and 432,380 incidents of forced evacuation from July 2016 to June 2018.

“The role of development workers is to help address the needs of the poor and marginalized sectors of our society, especially those living in rural areas since they are largely unable to access government services. But instead of supporting them, the government through its state security forces is demonizing their work and tagging them as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) or the New People’s Army (NPA)”, added Catarata.

According to her, many of the government’s recent actions are meant to criminalize persons involved in development work and to legitimize the harassment being perpetuated against them by the police and military. One of which is the creation of the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACOLA), which will allegedly pursue the government’s legal offensive against terror groups.

“ASCENT’s own Senior Consultant, Benito Quilloy, and Project Staff, Rita Espinoza, were illegally arrested by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on October 19, 2017 in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental due to trumped-up charges of robbery, arson, illegal possession of firearms, and attempted murder. This happened a few weeks after the creation of the IACOLA”, added Catarata.

Quilloy and Espinoza were in Negros for a two-day consultation with the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) regarding the issues and situation of sugar workers in the region. They also conducted workshops and planned for campaign activities on the demand of sugar workers for a 50% wage increase and pakyaw rate. It was during their last day in Negros while having lunch at a native restaurant when the CIDG and AFP barged in, pointed their guns at the victims, and took them without a warrant of arrest. They were then brought to Camp Montelibano. After a few days, they were surreptitiously transferred to Camp Crame in Quezon City. And on June 8, they were again transported without the knowledge of their lawyers and brought to the Bayugan City Jail in Agusan del Sur where they are facing criminal charges.

Aside from the IACOLA, President Duterte himself announced a crackdown against activists last November. He later signed Proclamation 374 declaring the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organizations. On February of this year, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) released a proscription petition naming certain individuals as leaders and members of the CPP and NPA, including human rights defenders, activists, and development workers.

The state of Martial Law in Mindanao has also aggravated the worsening human rights violations against alternative schools in Lumad communities.

“During a Fact Finding Mission conducted by the Save Our Schools Network, we were able to document 225 cases of attacks which affected 64 schools, 4,578 students, 189 teachers, and 202 members of the Parent-Teacher Community Associations (PCTA) in Region 12 alone, from July 2016 to July 2018”, said Mercedes Arleen Alonzo of the Center for Lumad Advocacy, Networking and Services (CLANS).

“9 out of the 11 schools we established in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat were forcibly closed because of the heavy militarization in the area by the Philippine Marines protecting the mining, logging, and coffee plantation enterprises of the David M. Consunji Inc. (DMCI). Many of our teachers were harassed, illegally arrested, and threatened to be killed. They were thus forced into hiding in order to save their lives”, she further added.

Church workers are also not spared from the harassment and threats. Last April, Sr. Patricia Fox, a missionary nun working with peasants, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups was ordered to be deported by the Bureau of Immigration for allegedly being involved in partisan political activities. And last July 5, 13 development workers and church development volunteers of the Iglesia Filipina Indipendiente (IFI) were illegally arrested by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in General Santos City while they were conducting a project assessment for the turnover of the IFI-Visayas Mindanao Regional Office for Development (IFI-VIMROD) to the Diocese of Libertad.

“Development and humanitarian workers do not deserve the attacks that they are experiencing. We at ASCENT are vehemently condemning these threats, harassment, vilification, illegal arrests, forced evacuation, and extra-judicial killings. Instead of being disheartened, we are even more emboldened to continue to fight for our cause and serve those in need”, concluded Catarata.


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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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