Human rights issue, ‘no-show’ in SONA

Jul. 23, 2013

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—Minority block members and part of the progressive Makabayan coalition, Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan and Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, said President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address failed to tackle human rights, an issue that affects farmers and indigenous people in the region.

Ilagan, who represents Gabriela Women Partylist, said she was aghast that there was no mention of justice in Pres. Aquino’s SONA for the killing of indigenous peoples and their defenders.

“Worse, three years of the Aquino administration has seen the deaths of more than 30 indigenous leaders opposing multinational mining operations,” she said.

Indigenous peoples’ leaders such as Jimmy Liguyon in San Fernando, Bukidnon and Juvy Capion in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur opposed large-scale mining operations in their ancestral lands.  The opposition proved to be fatal last year when Liguyon was killed in March by a Lumad-paramilitary group and last October, Capion and her two kids were killed in their homes by military troops.

Back in October 2011, indigenous people’s defender, Italian missionary Fausto Tentorio, was killed in his parish in Arakan, North Cotabato.  The Italian embassy in the Philippines condemned the killing and urged the Aquino government bring Tentorio’s killer to justice.

Bayan Muna congressman Carlos Zarate said Aquino’s failure to speak of prosecuting the military “speaks volumes on (his) skewed priorities.”

To show their partiality to issues besetting indigenous peoples , both Zarate and Ilagan wore indigenous inspired fashion during the SONA. Zarate wore a barong painted with people rising up against mining, while Ilagan wore a fuschia gown accentuated with T’nalak.

“We deliver the call to defend our land, our rights and our patrimony,” said Ilagan.

Last year, the Makabayan joined a special House committee on human rights hearing in Davao City that probed on the progress of investigation of extrajudicial killings including Tentorio, Liguyon and Capion.

Ilagan, a former Davao City councilor and professor, was also worried that “justice for Maguindanao Massacre victims has remained elusive under Aquino.”

Pres. Aquino earlier promised swift justice for the victims, including 34 journalists in General Santos, Cotabato and South Cotabato, and two women lawyers.  But the trial is now on its third year and is far from being resolved, as lawyers of the massacre suspects, the Ampatuans, swamped the courts with appeals and petitions.  There are also reports that families have been coerced by the Ampatuans to pull out of the case.

Zarate, a human rights lawyer who also worked with the private prosecution team against the Maguindanao massacre suspects, said with Aquino’s silence on justice spoke of his priorities.

“There will be more betrayal (of people’s rights) by aggressively pushing neoliberal globalization through private-public partnership, deregulation, and economic liberalization,” he said.

Zarate pointed out that the government’s counter-insurgency Oplan Bayanihan “is designed to ensure this priority, as human rights violations committed by state agents and their paramilitary pawns will blot out the political landscape.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Legal and Policy Director James Ross said his group was dismayed that Aquino “chose not to talk about the continuing culture of impunity in the Philippines. We are disappointed that he did not take the opportunity to communicate to the military and the police that they will be held accountable for human rights violations.”

HRW Philippines coordinator Carlos Conde also said he was disturbed that Aquino is beefing up financial support for state security forces; given that human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings have implicated the military and police.

Ilagan expressed fears of heightened human rights violations as the Aquino government further steps up support for large scale multinational mining operations through Executive Order 79 and Charter Change. (Tyrone A. Velez/

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