Cause-oriented groups welcomed the findings and recommendations of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Climate Change Ian Fry, which include the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the repeal of the Anti-Terrorism law (ATL).
However, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said Fry was apparently fed with wrong information, as he was limited mostly to meetings with nongovernment groups, including “leftist” ones, and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) was not involved in helping prepare for his visit.
Fry, who just concluded his 10-day visit to the Philippines, met with leaders and members of various cause-oriented groups who reported the alleged human rights violations committed against environmental and human rights defenders in the Philippines.
Among the recommendations, the groups also welcomed the implementation of gender equality measures, reforms to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and the enactment of the Human Rights Defenders Bill.
“The climate expert’s recommendations to the Philippine government are crucial in safeguarding the rights and welfare of Indigenous Peoples (IP) as Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRD),” Beverly Longid, national convener of the group Katribu said.
“As Indigenous Peoples, we stand at the forefront of environmental protection and preservation, yet we often encounter threats and harassment from state forces. Implementing Mr. Fry’s suggestions would not only provide respite for EHRDs but also represent a significant step forward in achieving justice for victims of threats, harassment, and extrajudicial killings,” Longid added.
She said the NTF-ELCAC and ATL worsened the situation of IPs, particularly the so-called environmental and land defenders, blaming the alleged heightened militarization of IP communities, filing of trumped-up charges, and the conduct of illegal arrests. Worse, she said terrorist labeling prevents IPs from exercising self-determination and pursuing genuine development.
The IP groups said since its establishment in 2018, the NTF-ELCAC has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations and abuses and cited the case of the reported NTF-ELCAC red tagging before and after the massacre of nine and the illegal arrest of 16 Tumandok leaders.
The incident allegedly served to justify the killing by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Philippine National Police in Iloilo last December 30, 2020.
They said that it has also emboldened the arbitrary designation of four indigenous Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) leaders as terrorists and the criminalization of IP and advocates, including Julieta Gomez, Niezel Velasco, and the Northern Luzon 7.
“The militarization of our ancestral lands paved the way for the ‘development aggression’ projects, such as the Kaliwa Dam in Rizal and Quezon, Gened Dams in Apayao, Jalaur Dam in Iloilo, and OceanaGold’s mining operations in Nueva Vizcaya. The implementation of these destructive projects not only damaged our environment but also violated our Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) through the NCIP’s bogus consultations, negotiations, and agreement signing,” Longid said.
Eufemia Cullamat, council member of Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination, meanwhile, said the Marcos administration should heed the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur, particularly the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC and stop labeling environmental and human rights defenders as communists and terrorists.
Cullamat also appealed to the government to cease the attacks on their communities.
For its part, the militant Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) was elated with the findings and recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur.
“His report reflected the testimonies of grassroots sectors on the impacts of the climate crisis in marginal communities, and how it fuels human rights violations. We highly recognize Mr. Fry’s positive stance and accuracy on the issue of reclamation in Manila Bay. His findings on the said issue were based on his field visit in Baseco, Manila, a coastal community in Manila Bay directly threatened by the reclamation and sea-level rise,” Ronnel Arambulo, vice chairperson of fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas said.
The group said Fry hit the point about the supposed suspension of Manila Bay reclamation that is not being enforced, as he directly witnessed the ongoing 407-hectare City of Pearl reclamation in Baseco.
The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) also joined the call to disband NTF-ELCAC.
The NTF-ELCAC is “operating beyond its original mandate and is red tagging people from the community and indigenous peoples,” said UN Special Rapporteur Ian Fry on Wednesday, citing various cases of human rights violations of Filipinos.
KMU echoed Fry’s remarks on the NTF-ELCAC, saying “the anti-worker and anti-people task force has only caused harm and suffering” to workers and unionists, farmers, indigenous peoples, church people, lawyers, women and the youth.
The budget allotted for the operation of NTF-ELCAC must be rechanneled to social services for the benefit of the Filipinos, the labor group added.
According to KMU, the number of labor-related killings have reached 72 cases as of now, with the latest record to have been Jude Thaddeus Fernandez. (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2023/10/05/kmu-reports-killing-of-labor-organizer-in-rizal-province/)
“This is totally unacceptable,” said Fry. Among his recommendations also include revoking the anti-terror law and to “revise the laws to make them appropriate for the circumstances that are occurring now and not to use the laws to harass, vilify, and kill environmental human rights defenders.”
Sen Bato calls out Fry on NTF-ELCAC abolition
Senator Ronald Dela Rosa called out Fry for suggesting to abolish the Philippine government anti-insurgency task force.
This, as Dela Rosa was tasked to defend the 2024 proposed budget of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) at the Senate plenary deliberation Wednesday.
De la Rosa, however, reacted to a proposal made by Fry to abolish the NTF- ELCAC and took issue with Fry’s statement that the task force was “operating with impunity.”
“That is why we are in quandary right now, Your Honor. NTF-ELCAC is all about good governance and delivery of basic services to the communities and they are not involved in armed confrontation with the enemies of the state. Why are they lambasting the NTF-ELCAC? Maybe they are being fed with wrong information,” adds Dela Rosa.
De La Rosa clarified he was merely responding to Senator Francis Tolentino who sought for the former’s comment after Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel made an inquiry with regard to OPAPRU’s mechanism in addressing alleged human rights violations made by the task force, the office’s attached agency, against members of the leftist organizations.
Fry just recently wrapped up his 10-day visit to the Philippines after several meetings with different civil society organizations and government officials to talk about the country’s climate change policies.
Dela Rosa expressed dismay and believed the UN expert was misinformed and was only able to hear the side of leftist groups.
In the same session, OPAPRU’s budget was deemed submitted along with Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA), Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) which were all sponsored by Dela Rosa. ###