Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines

Women human rights defenders face specific violations in the course of their work because of their sex and gender. In the Philippines, they face this and much more: harassment, intimidation, enforced disappearances, unjust detention and arrest and extrajudicial killings.

The past administration is most notoriously known for the gross rights violations it committed against the people. From the time Arroyo became president up to the end of her term in June 2010, there were a total of 1,206 victims of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution (EJKs for short) in the Philippines. Of the total number, 153 are women and 476 are human rights defenders (HRDs). There were 206 victims of enforced or involuntary disappearance 31 of whom are women and 68 are HRDs. Victims of illegal arrest and detention number 2,059 victims. 343 individuals remain incarcerated, 63 of them women.

The findings during the visit of Prof. Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, in 2007 and his subsequent reports to the UN Human Rights Committee directly attributed the extrajudicial killings and rights violations to the AFP and its counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya.

Oplan Bantay Laya

The Arroyo administration’s counter-insurgency program, dubbed Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), was initiated in 2002 with the goal of eliminating the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) within four years. OBL was relaunched in 2007 when it did not meet its target of crushing insurgents by 2006.

Oplan Bantay Laya equates the underground organizations of the CPP-NPA-NDFP with what it calls “front organizations.” Its intelligence operations are focused on these “front organizations” and it treats these organizations as military targets subject to “neutralization”.  This may very well explain the spate of political killings, targeting legal left parties and organizations such as Bayan Muna, AnakPawis, Gabriela Women’s Party, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and other Bayan member-organizations.

Oplan Bayanihan: no different from Oplan Bantay Laya

A new president, Benigno Aquino III, came into power last July 2010. But considering especially the human rights situation at present, there has been no substantial departure from the policy that breeds these human rights violations and there has been no let-up in the terror and violence especially among human rights defenders.

Aquino, through his appointed AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo David, has even extended the implementation of Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya for the last half of the year until his administration’s national security policy has been drafted. The major elements or components of this policy is a shameless copycat of the components of the United State Counter Insurgency Guide, released in 2009 by the Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of The Treasury, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the US Agency for International Development.

In Aquino’s recently released Memorandum Order No. 6, he said his administration’s national security policy and national security strategy should focus on four elements —governance, delivery of services, economic reconstruction and sustainable development, and security sector reform. These were the very same components of the national security policy he promised during the campaign period. These are the very same tenets of the massive psywar operations and violent armed repression as outlined in the US COIN Guide.

The said national security policy is no different from Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya, only that it is more deceiving. While it portrays the military as human rights advocates, figures above belie that they continue being the human rights violators at the ground. While civil military operations aka humanitarian missions continue, shameless and indiscriminate operations against civilians such as whole communities in Ilocos, Cordillera, Negros, Agusan, Southern Tagalog and Eastern Visayas continue. The life of a distinguished UP botanist Leonardo Co was claimed in this continuing terror and impunity of the AFP.

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About Tanggol Bayi

Established in 2008, Tanggol Bayi is an association of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in the Philippines. It is formed primarily for the recognition, advancement, and protection of the rights of women human rights defenders who are advocating for the realization of human rights.
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