November 29, 2016
For reference: Gerifel Cerillo, Tanggol Bayi coordinator (0923-1952550)
STATEMENT ON THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
Today, the world commemorates the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders, a day which pays tribute to the work as well as the persisting challenges against courageous women who stood up against State repression and all forms of human rights violations and gender-based violence. Tanggol Bayi (Defend Women), an association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines, are humbled by the work of women activists who continue to fight in defense of women’s and people’s rights and today, we honor their lives and their struggles.
Tanggol Bayi remembers Filipina human rights defenders Juvy Capion, Cristina Jose, Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno, Benjaline Hernandez, Eden Marcellana, among so many others, who stood at the frontlines of the struggle and have been figures of resistance in the fight against systematic oppression and repression. Regardless of where our battles are – in the rural areas, the urban centers, inside schools, in indigenous communities, in offices – they remain our light, our inspiration in the face of momentous challenges. As we remember their struggles, we tread on the path towards demanding accountability, towards the pursuit for justice, and genuine freedom and democracy.
Women activists, given the nature of their work, have been targeted by counter-insurgency measures which seek to abolish any form of resistance. Oplan Bayanihan, the counter-insurgency policy of the Aquino administration which remains operative under the Duterte administration until December 2016, has claimed the lives of more than 300 persons, and has been used to justify the illegal arrest and detention of social activists.
As of October 31, 2016, there are 401 political prisoners, 33 of them are women. Detained for trumped-up charges and fabricated evidences, they remain a stark indication that underneath the rhetoric of democracy is the intolerance for dissent and opposition, for comprehensive and genuine social change. These women activists are community organizers, teachers, health workers, disaster relief workers, among others, who have dedicated their lives in the struggle for a world free from imperialist rule and plunder and State oppression.
Among these women political prisoners are Moreta Alegre, a 70 year old farmer who was a vocal critic against landgrabbing in their area, was arrested and wrongly convicted of murder. She is detained at the Correctional Institute of Women and have been in jail for more than 11 years. Maricon Montajes, 25, was a student filmmaker at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. It was during an immersion program with farmers in Batangas that she was illegally arrested in June 2010. Rhea Pareja, 31, on the other hand, is a volunteer teacher who was abducted by soldiers on March 5, 2010 in Quezon, and charged with fabricated offenses. Rhea is detained at the Taguig City Jail- Female Dorm, Camp Bagong Diwa (TCJ-CBD) and has been diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis stage 4. More recently on August 19, 2016, Amelia Pond, 64, regional coordinator and volunteer teacher of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in the Southern Mindanao Region (SMR) was arrested in Cebu City for trumped-up charges of double murder and frustrated murder. Amelia has dedicated her time in developing and teaching in indigenous, community schools run by RMP.
The criminalization of human rights and political activists continue, and are among the many forms of political repression in the course of their work of rendering services to the marginalized sectors of society. Women human rights defenders all over the country are thus one in calling for a general, omnibus, and unconditional amnesty to release all political prisoners in the country. They should never have been imprisoned; they should have been given honors for their relentless sacrifices instead. Every day that they spend in prison is another injustice done against them, and the only just recourse is their immediate and unconditional release.
Lastly, as Tanggol Bayi remembers and celebrates the lives of such exemplary women, we also express our solidarity with women human rights defenders all over the world. We stand as one in breaking down barriers of state repression and oppression, unified in the struggle of advancing women’s and people’s rights. For our sisters all over the world who became martyrs, we remember their cause, and we remain steadfast in the trenches of the struggle; for the continuing struggle of women all around the globe exemplify that resistance is built on hope, and to resist is to irradiate that hope.