Mindanao observatory for human rights formed

Rural poor organizations and advocates formed themselves into an observatory to monitor the impact of the Martial Law declaration to the rights of poor farmers, agricultural workers, indigenous peoples, Bangsamoro and other sectors in the Mindanao countryside.

Led by RMP-NMR and chapters in northern Mindanao of human rights groups KARAPATAN and the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao, the Mindanao Observatory for Human Rights will deploy monitors from various rural poor organizations to document and report rights violations as an offshoot of the intensified militarization in the island.

Ailene Villarosa, advocacy program coordinator of RMP-NMR said, the observatory will produce documentations and evidences to highlight rights violations against rural poor communities and their organizations since they are the “most affected owing to the remoteness of their communities and the lack of media to highlight attention.”

The observatory, according to Villarosa, will produce a human rights report and its documentary version by December highlighting cases documented by the monitors. “We want to engage the government in an evidence-based advocacy to contribute to the nationwide effort of CSOs (civil society organizations) to lift immediately or refrain from extending beyond 2017 the martial in Mindanao,” Villarosa emphasized.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao (an island of south of Philippines) on May 23, 2017 in the pretext of quashing the ISIS-inspired terrorist groups who planned the Marawi Siege, and caused the displacement of the half a million of civilian populace from various parts of Marawi City and Lanao del Sur.

Civil society organizations protested the declaration Martial, fearing that this declaration would be used by the state forces as a blanket authority to quell dissent, not only in the Muslim Mindanao areas, but also in other rural poor communities (of small-holder farmers and indigenous peoples) where dissent and mass movements against state repression are flourishing.

Now into the fifth month of martial law (after the extension up to December 31, 2017 approved by Congress on July 22, 2017), cases of arrests on baseless accusations against members of people’s organizations have been documented. Several others have been held just because they did not have government-issued documents, their identities questioned. In Marawi, anyone who looked suspicious is detained and interrogated, their dignities slowly eroding.  The police and the military declared their power over the civilian government, not allowing people to question their actions.

“We are also alarmed that the Philippine President, during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24, encouraged bombing of community schools run by NGOs in partnership with various Lumad communities, said Villarosa. RMP-NMR is one of those NGOs running community schools. “The SONA also gives us the idea that, with the extension of Martial Law, a crackdown against NGOs and people’s movements critical of this regime is looming,” she added.

Among the organizations that compose the observatory are the local chapters of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, AMIHAN, and the agricultural workers group, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and its chapter in Bukidnon, the Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa. Indigenous groups such as the Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization and Madagway Babaeyon also joined the consortium, along with organizations coming from the Moro communities such as Tindeg Ranao, Suara Bangsamoro and the Moro-Christian Peoples’ Alliance.

The initiative to form an observatory is an offshoot of the Rural Poor CSOs’ Conference and Workshop on Martial Law in Mindanao held on Oct. 2-5, 2017 in Cagayan de Oro City. The initiative is supported by Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund and the Freedom House.###