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Faith-based human rights defenders seek UNHRC remedy against state reprisals, rights abuses in the Philippines

As human rights defenders in the Philippines come face to face with great danger, with many of them being vilified, harassed, arrested and killed across the country, a group of Filipino human rights defenders participate in the 42nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland in September 2019, to seek remedy for state reprisal and political persecution under the present dispensation.

Representing the various rights groups from the church and civil society sectors, the people’s organizations and relatives of victims of human rights violations, the delegation of the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights, Justice and Peace in the Philippines, otherwise known as EcuVoice Philippines, undertook a week-long lobbying campaign at the UNHRC. EcuVoice met with UN Permanent Missions’ representatives, international NGOs, Churches in Switzerland, officers of the United Nations and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Joining the EcuVoice delegation were Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Bishop Antonio Ablon, Fr. June Mark Yañez, Fr. Jonash Joyohoy and Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol. The group participated in ecumenical visits to Churches in Switzerland to raise awareness and support for the work of human rights advocacy in the Philippines.

“The Philippine government is guilty of many unimaginable atrocities being committed against church people working for social justice,” Joyohoy said before a meeting with officials of Partner Sein and leaders of Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul of the Old Catholic Church in Bern, Switzerland.

Fr Joyohoy is the Executive Director of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD), a program providing training and assistance to faith-based human rights defenders.

Bishop Ablon, chairperson of the IFI Bishops Conference in Mindanao, is a long-time advocate of indigenous people’s rights and a staunch peace advocate. Speaking before the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Geneva, Ablon narrated the militarization of Lumad communities in Mindanao.

“The government’s anti-insurgency war has been targeting tribal leaders fighting for ancestral rights, most of whom were killed amid allegations of being communist supporters and combatants,” said Ablon Ablon who is himself a victim of red-tagging.

Fr. Yañez, who currently works with the German Seaman’s Mission in Hamburg, Germany, is the brother of IFI community development worker Aldeem Yanez. Long before Aldeem was subjected to serious harassment by suspected state forces in March 2019, had been put under surveillance and harassment.

Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) Fr. Ruazol, who, together with two Catholic religious sisters and members of the rights group Karapatan and women rights group Gabriela were charged by the government with perjury, expressed alarm over the intensifying judicial attacks against human rights defenders.

“The state has resorted to acts of intimidations and reprisals to retaliate against human rights defenders exposing rights abuses committed by the government and the military, which constitute another form of attack on human rights, and also, the rule of law,” Ruazol noted.

Ruazol and Karapatan General Secretary Cristina Palabay raised concern about the growing cases of reprisals being committed by the government against human rights defenders during a meeting with UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour.

As the Philippine government continues to ignore its duty in protecting human rights, Joyohoy believes that the work being undertaken by human rights defenders from the country constitutes a significant action to bring the government to accountability.

“In a situation where the people’s rights are violated, human rights defenders are persecuted, the judicial system is tampered and becomes an instrument of state reprisals, we turn to the UNHRC to seek remedy against threats to human rights and for the government to recognize its human rights obligations,” Joyohoy said.

The Filipino faith-based human rights defenders also met with officials of the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation while in Geneva.

Following their lobbying work at the UNHRC, Bishop Ablon and Fr. Yañez will join a trip to Iceland for a series of engagement with the government, non-government organizations and churches on the human rights situation in the Philippines. Traveling to Western Europe were Frs. Joyojoy and Ruazol to meet with church leaders in Germany and The Netherlands for a human rights solidarity work.

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