Worse than Martial Law: With HSA, poor communities are most vulnerable to repression of human rights  

Citing an incident in Sumilao, Bukidnon, eighteen lawyers’ organizations under the coalition Alternative Law Groups, Inc. (ALG), slammed the Human Security Act of 2007 (R.A. 9372) for further threatening the already vulnerable poor communities nationwide.

 

On Sunday, 16 September 2007, seven armed men in full battle gear and carrying high-powered guns went to the Mapalad Freedom Hall of the Sumilao farmers in Bukidnon.  They searched the documents inside the hall without a search warrant and seized the papers of lawyer Arlene Bag-ao of BALAOD Mindanaw, an ALG member organization and counsel of the Sumilao farmers.  The team of armed men, headed by SPO2 Avelino Chia and composed of two policemen and 5 members of the Philippine Army, took legal and campaign documents belonging to the Sumilao farmers.  The armed personnel, when asked by a Sumilao leader to sign their logbook, made a note in Bag-ao’s notebook saying that they were just conducting “police visibility patrol” and that they helped themselves to the food in the Mapalad Freedom Hall.  SPO2 Chia even signed his name in the notebook. 

 

“This is clearly a violation of people’s rights considering that the combined police and army team entered a private property of the farmers, illegally searched the area, and seized without proper papers our documents.  SPO2 Chia and his team did that because they know that in this country nowadays violations against peoples’ rights to life, liberty, property, and due process go unpunished by the government.  The extra-judicial killings are not resolved and are in fact tolerated, what can a community of landless farmers’ possibly do against an illegal search and seizure?” asked Bag-ao.

 In another incident, a complaint against two officers and one member of Yellow Bus Lines Employees’ Union (YBLEU) has been filed with the City Prosecutors’ Office of Koronadal, connecting them to the 3 August 2007 bombing in the bus lines’ Koronadal terminal.  They were charged of Murder with Multiple Frustrated Murder and Destructive Arson in Relation to RA 9372.  Earlier, in June 2007, YBLEU filed a Notice of Strike (NOS) with the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) to protest the unfair labor practice (ULP) by management.  The union got the necessary strike votes, and was already preparing for the possible eventuality of launching the strike, but had to drop the plan when the Secretary of Labor assumed jurisdiction over the issue.After the bombing on 3 August, the management announced that it was suspending operations.  On 11 August, workers happily returned to work upon orders of the management.  But on the same day, at about 6 pm, Jaime “Jimmy” Rosios, who was on his way home, was taken at gun point by armed men and forced into a waiting vehicle along the highway. To this date, Jimmy has not surfaced. Union members have sought the help of law enforcement agencies and human rights groups, to no avail.  They later learned that Jimmy has been charged under the Human Security Act, together with Jessie Rivas, another active and outspoken union officer, and Ibrahim Bacal, a union member who has a pending case against Yellow Bus for retirement benefits. 

ALG spokesperson Marlon Manuel noted that these violations were already experienced – even without the Human Security Act (HSA) – by marginalized communities of farmers, laborers, Moros, and indigenous peoples but with the passage of the HSA, this trampling of rights worsened. “The Human Security Act’s definition of ‘terrorism’ is overly broad that it can encompass legitimate and non-terrorist activities, resulting in a chilling effect for those who are lawfully exercising their civil and political rights.  The provisions on surveillance, interception and recording of private communications, prolonged and unlimited period of detention without warrant, and proscription of terrorist organizations, associations, or groups of persons, effectively infringe constitutionally guaranteed rights.  Under these circumstances, the poor and marginalized sectors are the most vulnerable to abuses in the implementation of the HSA because they lack the resources to ensure that their rights are respected and protected,” said Manuel.

 

He added, “Our situation these days is worse than martial law in the 1970s.  At least then, Marcos categorically declared Martial Law in September 21, 1972.  This Anti-Terror Law, sugarcoated as the Human Security Act, legitimizes the government’s repression of rights while it is claiming that we are still in a fully-functioning democracy and that the law only serves to protect the state and the people from terror attacks.  The HSA is not good in apprehending who it should go after but it is excellent in terrorizing local communities that peacefully claim their constitutionally-guaranteed rights.”  

 

The ALG urged the communities to be vigilant.  The ALG launched a nationwide monitoring network to guard against human rights abuses that may be perpetrated in the implementation of the HSA. It gave hotline numbers of the ALGs nationwide that people could contact whenever there are abuses being perpetrated for which legal assistance may be needed.  “We cannot allow laws such as the HSA to take away from us our rights that we fought for just as we certainly cannot allow armed men to just search and seize communities’ documents,” concluded Manuel.  -30-

 Contact:

Marlon Manuel: 0917-532-6446, 02-426-8569

Jane Capacio:     0917-546-0123, 02-433-0760

Arlene Bag-ao:  0920-9098560, 08822-738-402 (for queries on the Mapalad incident)

Raissa Jajurie:  0919-743-0503, 082-298-4161 (for queries on the YBLEU incident)