State of emergency in Sulu alarms human rights group

Apr. 15, 2009

COTABATO — Kawagib, a Moro human rights organization based here, expressed alarm over the declaration of a state of emergency in Sulu believing human rights violations could worsen in the province.

The group fears a repeat of a similar scenario in Basilan in 2001 wherein massive human rights violations were committed by the government when the province was placed under a state of lawlessness.

Sulu governor Abdulsakur Tan made the declaration to deal with the kidnapping of the three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the province.

ICRC workers Andreas Notter, Eugenio Vagni and Jean Lacaba were abducted in Jolo, Sulu by the infamous Abu Sayyaf group on January 15. Lacaba was released by the kidnappers Thursday [April 2] after almost 10 weeks in captivity. The two other hostages are still being held by the kidnappers.

The Abu Sayyaf has threatened to behead one of its captives should the government fail to give in to their demands.

Kawagib is exhorting the government to solve the kidnapping crisis without resorting to state terror. “Placing Sulu in a state of emergency jeopardizes the inherent and constitutional rights of civilians. It also paves the way for a full-scale military solution to the problem. The lives of civilians must take priority over the need to end the crisis,” said Kawagib spokesperson Bai Ali Indayla.

The group is alarmed by such orders from Tan as “the conduct of general search and

seizure, including arrests in the pursuit of the kidnappers and their supporters; and the conduct such other actions or police operations as may be necessary to ensure public safety.”

Tan has also invoked the Human Security Act of 2007 or RA 9372, which is riddled with provisions that trample on the constitutional rights of Filipinos.

The state of emergency could be a pretext to arrest or harass civilians on mere suspicion of involvement or sympathy with the Abu Sayyaf.

KAWAGIB is urging the local government of Sulu to cancel the declaration of state of

emergency especially now that one of the hostages has already been released.

“Human rights violations have already been rampant in the province even without the declaration of a state of emergency. How much more now that authorities are given vague provisions that condone the violations of basic human rights,” Indayla said.

Indayla stressed that there could be a repeat of the incident in Basilan eight years ago, when the military launched a three-day intensive crackdown against the Abu Sayyaf and its alleged supporters on July 13-15, 2001. 28 civilians were tortured, 10 subjected to summary killings and more than a hundred illegally arrested.

“The people of Sulu have suffered enough. We can’t allow them to continue to be the subject of abusive acts both from criminal groups and the government,” she said. #

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