Political persecution this Christmas season

Dec. 22, 2020

As the year comes to a close, the regime seems to be meeting its quota. While we are still under a pandemic and while provinces are still reeling from the effects of the super typhoons, state forces are focusing its attention on arresting activists.

We should not forget how the government allowed residents of Cagayan Valley to drown during a sudden, massive flooding. They were unable to send helicopters and rescue the children crying for help but they were able to send 100 soldiers in a small Barangay in Cagayan Valley to arrest a peasant woman organizer who just gave birth.

While progressive organizations are losing sleep preparing for relief missions, repacking donations, and engaging in community kitchens, soldiers and policemen also lose sleep following a pattern. They too are organizing a mission: to raid houses at 3:00 in the morning to plant firearms and explosives in the houses of their critics.

On International Human Rights Day, seven activists were arrested based on alleged “possession of firearms and explosives.” They are Romina Astudillo, Mark Ryan Cruz, Joel Demate, Rodrigo Esparago, Jaymie Gregorio Jr., journalist Lady Ann Salem, trade union organizer Dennise Velasco.

On December 10, human rights defenders marched to Mendiola to call for the release of Amanda Echanis and her month-old baby, for the release of Reina Mae Nasino, Karina Dela Cerna and other political prisoners. Duterte slept soundly that day, knowing more human rights defenders will suffer the same fate as Reina, Amanda and Karina.

To cap 2020, farmers of Lupang Ramos were given an eviction notice. A few days before Christmas, the notice demands that they evacuate the area before December 22. If the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) succeeds, 400 farmer families will be homeless before the end of the year.

Lupang Ramos is situated in the middle of Dasmarinas, Cavite, amidst the malls, hotels, commercial buildings. Lupang Ramos is a 372-hectare land and NGCP chooses to ignore the children, senior citizens and farmers protecting, nourishing and residing there to build power towers.

The farmers of Lupang Ramos have struggled for more than three decades to defend this land. Their ancestors have witnessed how the lands have been converted to sugarcane plantation to dodge the agrarian reforms in the past. Their grandparents have toiled in these lands during American occupation. Instead of providing production support and subsidy to these farmers, the local government allowed NGCP to convert this lush area to yet another business center.

During the height of the pandemic, farmers of Lupang Ramos continued to cultivate the land while observing health protocols. They were able to survive the lockdowns, feed their families and feed the residents of Cavite with their sweet potatoes, cassava, peanuts, corn, okra, eggplant, mustasa, and other vegetables. Through their bungkalan, they not only responded to their families’ hunger but fed and sustained the nutritional needs of nearby communities. They even transported their crops via bagsakan markets in the city. I can write lengthily about the success of their bungkalan, the threats and harassment they have endured to defend the land, the families who have dedicated their lives guarding and tilling the land.

The end of 2020 is nearing but COVID-19 is far from ending. We have lost countless doctors in this fight. I believe those who are still at the forefront of this battle are in need of psychosocial assistance to process the deaths of their loved ones and friends, and to continue despite the anxiety, fear and fatigue. Yet, some of our doctors are being harassed and red tagged. In fact, Dr. Mary Rose and Edwin Sancelan of Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental were shot. Red-tagged the previous year, they were killed at Barangay Poblacion by unknown motorcycle-riding gunmen. Human rights activist and health care worker, Zara Alvarez suffered the same fate after being red tagged for months. Dra. Mary Rose is the head of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) in the city.

According to human rights group Karapatan, Dra. Mary Rose Sancelan was included in the “hit list” of a group called Kagubak, short for Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Kumunista (Guihulngan Against Communists). “Together with her in the list are Atty. Anthony Trinidad and Heidie Malalay Flores who were killed in the past years,” Karapatan said. Clearly, the country is in a state of lawlessness. People are being wrongfully arrested and murdered, and the government seems to be in total disregard of human rights and the rule of law.

I asked Nanay Zen, a former political prisoner and victim of Martial Law, “Nanay, which is worse, Martial Law then or now?”

She answered with, “Ngayon. It’s so much worse today.”

Rae Rival writes and does volunteer work for Gantala Press and Rural Women Advocates. She is a teacher and a mother. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared in CNN Philippines, Rappler, Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine (Hong Kong), Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, university presses, and do-it-yourself zines.

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