Stop criminalizing human rights defenders in the Philippines

To:          Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, President of The Philippines

CC:         Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin, Department of National Defense (DND)

               Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process



I am writing in order to express concern regarding reports received that indicate that several human rights activists and leaders of popular organizations have been targeted with baseless criminal charges, in alleged attempts to silence their activities to protect and defend human rights in the Philippines.

It has been reported that, on December 3, 2012, two union organizers, Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano from the Confederation and Unity of Government Employees, were arrested by the Philippine National Police and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces. Mr. Vegas and Mr. Camposano are currently detained in Naga Provincial Jail, where they face unfounded charges  related to the murder of four military officers. On December 28, 2012 and January 4, 2013, I understand that more leaders of popular organizations were detained, including ACT Teachers Coordinator Rene Abiva and Virgilio Corpuz of the PISTON political party in Cagayan Valley. These detainees were accused of murdering twelve members of the military of the Philippines.  It has been further alleged that, in addition, 25 other people (popular leaders, organizers, church workers and farmers from Negros Occidental and Mulanay, Quezon Province) were also arrested in December on unfounded charges.

I further understand that arrest warrants have now been filed against Ms. Amelita Bravante and Mr. Roy Velez for similar charges. Ms. Bravante is a Board Member of Defend Job Philippines and Mr. Velez is Chairman of May First Movement in Metro Manila & 5th Nominee of ANAKPAWIS (Toiling Masses), a political party which has participated in the Philippine Congress since 2004.

The accused, Mrs. Bravante, Mr. Velez, Mr.Vegas, Mr. Camposano, Mr. Abiva and Mr. Corpuz  have been active leaders of legitimate people's organizations, in defending the human rights of workers and the urban poor in the Philippines. They have worked to promote the right to work, adequate working conditions and wages, adequate housing and human rights related to the environment. Bravante, Velez, Vegas and Camposano are trade union leaders based in Metro Manila while Abiva and Corpuz are from Cagayan Valley.

I am deeply concerned by reports that suggest that human rights defenders and representatives of popular organizations in the Philippines are being targeted and denied their rights to a fair trial and due process according to law. I am particularly concerned by allegations that the above-mentioned warrants were issued in the absence of a full investigation to establish the veracity of the charges against them.

I wish to remind the Government of the Philippines that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines ratified in 1986, requires States parties to respect the rights of all people to liberty and security of person, as well as the right of free expression and assembly. The Covenant furthermore prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, and maintains that “[a]nyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.” It also states that anyone who is arrested with a criminal charge is entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release, and underscores that it ”shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.”

Finally, the criminalization ofthe activities of human rights activists in the Philippines runs counter to internationally recognized human rights standards, including the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which recognizes the right of each person to promote the realization of human rights and provides protection “of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of” their rights as human rights defenders.

Given the gravity of the above-mentioned allegations, I hereby urge the Government of the Philippines to:

  1. Launch a full and impartial investigation to establish the veracity of the charges that have been filed against the above-mentioned accused individuals;
  2. Immediately withdraw all criminal charges against the above-mentioned human rights defenders that are not found to be substantiated;
  3. Ensure that the accused enjoy all the protections of due process of law; and
  4. Take all necessary steps to guarantee that human rights defenders in the Philippines are able to carry out their work to defend and promote human rights, without interference, intimidation or baseless criminal charges against them.

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