ASCENT Calls for a Stop to the Harassment of Disaster Response Center (DIRECT) Staff Member

The harassment, threat, and intimidation of development workers never stop in the time of Duterte. On July 18, April Rose Avila, administrative staff of the Disaster Response Center (DIRECT), a non-government organization (NGO) for community-based disaster management (CBDM) that operates in SOCCKSARGEN, was accosted by a man named Jerson Gallego, who introduced himself as part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). He was later identified by a member of the Alabel Police Station as an AFP intelligence personnel.

Gallego, along with a certain Rex Gonzales informed Avila that DIRECT has been under surveillance and showed her his mobile phone with photos of DIRECT’s volunteers and staff members, members of her family, and the map of the Citizens’ Disaster Response Network (CDRN).

According to DIRECT, Gallego said that he knows Avila’s identity and relatives and also showed her pictures of children, siblings, and family members of alleged relatives of members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and another photo of Lorna Mora, Secretary General of NAKASA (Nagkahiusang Kababayenhan sa Sarangani or United Women in Sarangani). He maliciously asked her about DIRECT’s connection with CDRN, the Mindanao Inter-Faith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI), and with Mora.

CDRN is a national network of NGOs implementing community-based disaster management programs, while MISFI is one of the 16 regional centers comprising CDRN which has been serving poor and marginalized communities in the Southern Mindanao Region for more than 25 years.

Avila also reported that Gallego and Gonzales then followed her along with three other motorcycle riding men. She was able to take note of the plate numbers of the two. She later found out from the Land Transportation (LTO) office that the plate numbers of the motorcycles driven by the Gallego and Gonzales were unregistered.

ASCENT strongly condemns this latest incident of harassment and intimidation which has caused extreme anxiety and fear to April Rose Avila and the rest of the DIRECT staff members. ASCENT thus calls for a stop to the harassment and intimidation of April Rose Avila and all development workers.

Development NGOs and their staff members that cater to poor communities which have perennially experienced government neglect do not deserve this kind of treatment. Under the Martial Law in Mindanao, attacks on development programs that serve those who have less in life have worsened, including the month-long occupation of about 100 elements of the 75th Infantry Batallion in Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur forcing more than 1,500 Lumad to evacuate. As a result, development programs of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) and Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) have been adversely affected. #

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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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