Protect development workers, end harassment and terrorist-tagging – CPDG

February 4, 2023

The Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) registers its indignation on the continuing harassment and terrorist-tagging of development workers by state operatives. 

Last January 30, 2023, the Anti-Terrorism Council designated Dr. Natividad Castro (Doc Naty) as a terrorist through its Resolution No. 35 according to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Prior to this, in February 2022, Doc Naty was held in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur on trumped-up charges of kidnapping and illegal detention. She was similarly accused of being a “communist terrorist” and even a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). However, on March 25, 2022, her case was dismissed on the grounds of denial of rights to due process and its lack of jurisdiction over her. 

On the same day, January 30, 2023, the Regional Trial Court (Branch 2) in Bangued, Abra baselessly charged rights defenders and Indigenous People rights advocates of rebellion or insurrection. Those charged are Jovencio Tangbawan, Salcedo Dappay Jr., Sarah Abellon, Stephen Tauli, Windel Bolinget, Lucia Gimenes, Nino Oconer, Florence Kang, and Jennifer Awingan in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

On August 20, 2022, Stephen Tauli, a Regional Council member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) was mauled and abducted at Tabuk City by five armed men. Prior to this incident, Steve was also subjected to red-tagging, surveillance and harassment.

Last 2020, Windel Bolinget was also charged with trumped-up murder charges. He was tagged as a member of the NPA and accused of killing army troopers in Mindanao, but the case was eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Jen Awingan was also subjected to intense surveillance and harassment by state operatives prior to her arrest. Her daughter, Kara Taggaoa of Kilusang Mayo Uno International was likewise detained last October 2022, based on trumped-up charges of assault.

“We should not forget that so many charges filed against Windel Bolinget, Stephen Tauli, and Naty Castro have been dismissed for lack of evidence and probable cause. These cases are clearly just harassment of state operatives to stifle dissent and narrow civic spaces,” said CPDG spokesperson Liza Maza.

“Pres. Marcos Jr. is posturing as different from the Duterte government but we are calling him out for continuing the anti-people policies and measures of the previous administration,” Maza said, “and for staying silent on the continuing red-tagging, harassment, discrimination, and filing of fabricated charges on rights defenders and development workers through the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). 

The CPDG spokesperson also explained: “The development workers and rights defenders are being attacked because of their opposition to government policies and programs that violate the rights of indigenous peoples including their right to democratic governance and participatory development.” Mining operations and construction of large dams continue amid opposition by communities and concerned citizens. 

Expanding the definition of ‘terrorism’ to include advocacy work, humanitarian and development services, impacts civil society operations and work. This undermines the contribution of civil society organizations (CSOs) to national development and narrows the citizen participation in democratic governance. This prevents the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and fulfillment of the country’s human rights obligations. 

“CSOs, development workers and rights defenders, are important stakeholders in ensuring rights-based development and social justice. They are independent development actors who play an important role in enabling the people to claim their rights and freedoms, including their right to participate in governance and development,” Maza continued. 

CPDG reminds the government to honor its international human rights commitments including the OECD-DAC recommendations on enabling CSOs which includes creating and fostering an enabling environment for CSOs and other stakeholders for democratic participation in governance and development. CPDG and other civil society networks across the Philippines forward the CSO Manifesto which aims to enable and strengthen civic spaces in the country and serve as a protection mechanism for CSOs including rights defenders, humanitarian and development workers as they carry out their development work. 

The manifesto specifically asks to respect, protect, defend, and expand civic space to enable Philippine civil society’s contribution towards people-centered development anchored in rights and social justice; and support CSO efforts to improve their own effectiveness, transparency and accountability to the people and constituencies they serve through enabling policies, capacity development and financing. 

“We appeal to the international community and development partners to continue strengthening support for Philippines CSOs and rights defenders in our call for effective civic participation and asserting democratic spaces in the country”, Maza ended. #eof#