“Tumutulong na nga, hinaharas pa”—CPDG denounces harassment of humanitarian mission in Cagayan

March 1, 2022

Moments before Agnes Mesina was arrested (Still from Karapatan – Cagayan Valley’s Facebook Live)

March 1, 2022

The Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) calls on the Philippine government and state forces to stop harassing development and humanitarian workers in the delivery of their services to communities.

Volunteers from faith-based organizations, indigenous peoples and human rights groups who joined the Mercy Outreach Program—a humanitarian mission spearheaded by the United Churches of Christ of the Philippines—were barred entry and harassed by elements of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) when they tried to enter indigenous Agta communities of Brgy. Sta. Clara and Brgy. Magrafil in Gonzaga, Cagayan on February 28, 2022.

As the mercy mission team were having dinner later that day, at around 7:00pm, state security forces in civilian clothes started taking videos and photos of the group. They arrested Agnes Mesina—one of the volunteers—using a one-year-old warrant dated September 25, 2020. She was released after more than four (4) hours of detention due to the irregularity of her arrest and amid calls for her immediate release by many organizations.

“We strongly protest this latest incident of harassment and vilification of development and humanitarian workers by state forces. Just 10 days earlier, community medical doctor Doc Naty (Dr. Natividad Castro) was illegally arrested on trumped up charges. Recently state forces also reportedly killed five unarmed civilians (among whom was Lumad teacher Chad Booc) serving Lumad communities in New Bataan, Davao”, Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) Vice President Rochelle Porras remarked.

Development workers like Mesina, Dr. Castro, and many others, across the country continually face threats, intimidation, and other forms of vilification, especially red tagging which affects their development work.

Tumutulong na nga, hinaharas pa. The trend of criminalizing humanitarian and development work worsens day by day under the Duterte administration. This is why we need pro-people lawmakers to defund and abolish the NTF-ELCAC, and repeal the Anti-Terror Law. Humanitarian work is not terrorism,” Porras pointed out.

Aside from Executive Order 70 which created and empowered NTF-ELCAC, CPDG emphasizes the role of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 or the Anti-Terror Law (ATL) in the violations committed against development and humanitarian workers. In 2020, CPDG filed one of the 37 petitions to the Supreme Court against the ATL to assert the legitimacy of the role of CSOs as development and humanitarian workers and in upholding the civil, political and economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) of the people.

“The ATL gives state forces so much liberty to harass and vilify civil society organizations (CSOs), rights defenders, and development workers, including the communities they serve. Communities asserting their rights are also red tagged as influenced by communist terrorists so-called by the Philippine government. The shrinking civic space and the intensifying repression under the Duterte Administration has impeded the delivery of much-needed humanitarian services including socio-economic and livelihood assistance to many communities in the country,” Porras added.

CPDG is demanding urgent legal action to hold officers of PNP Appari accountable for harassment of the mercy mission team and illegal arrest of Mesina. They also appealed to the next administration in ensuring the safety of development workers and rights defenders whose lives are always on the line. “This can only be done by removing the repressive mechanisms such as the Anti-Terror Law, the NTF-ELCAC, and similar measures that impinge on the people’s civil, political, and socio-economic rights. ” Porras ended. #