Philippines: Indigenous Rights Activists Reported Missing

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Both Dexter and Capuyan and Gene Roz Jamil “Bazoo” de Jesus are Indigenous Peoples’ rights defenders from the Philippines’ Cordillera region, in Northern Luzon. 
Capuyan, 56, is a member of the Bontoc-Kankanaey-Ibaloi community and was in Taytay, Rizal, where he was last seen and was supposed to seek medical help according to his family. Before his disappearance, he was identified by the government allegedly as a ranking leader of the New People’s Army (NPA). He was also among the individuals named in the list of alleged leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) released by the Department of National Defense and Department of Interior and Local Government. Additionally, he was among the more than 600 individuals named in the Department of Justice’s petition to proscribe the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization. The list was eventually cut down to eight individuals, excluding Capuyan, and the petition was subsequently dismissed by the court. Authorities are also offering a PhP2.85-million bounty for his arrest for two counts of murder, of which his family believes Capuyan was not made aware. Posters were put up in Apayao province stating he was “wanted dead or alive”. 

De Jesus, 27, is a staff of the Philippine Task Force on Indigenous Peoples Rights (TFIP). He was a journalism graduate of the University of the Philippines in Bauio City, where he served as the chairperson of the Alliance of Concerned Students and the UP Baguio Council of Leaders before graduating in 2016. He also served as the Cordillera regional coordinator of the National Union of Students of the Philippines. 

Before this, several other activists were also abducted by unknown individuals in suspected cases of enforced disappearances by state security forces; some were released by their captors following public clamour. In January 2023, development workers Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha went missing for six days in Cebu City. The couple described in a subsequent press conference how they were emotionally and psychologically tortured, with their captors interrogating them and asking them if they were members of a terrorist group. In August 2022, Stephen Tauli, another Indigenous Peoples’ rights activist from the Cordillera region who was also repeatedly red-tagged, was abducted by unknown armed men before he was released a day after. Like Gumanao and Dayoha, Tauli said he was interrogated by his captors and forced to sign a document where he supposedly admitted that he was a CPP official. In November 2021, land rights defender and community organizer Steve Abua was abducted; he remains missing. His wife said that following his abduction, his captors called her and asked her to convince Abua to admit that he was a member of an armed group.  

The Philippines’ Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 requires the Philippines National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines and their agencies, among others, to issue a certification stating whether or not they are holding persons reported to be missing, as well as to release any information they have about the disappearance, upon the inquiry of family members, lawyers, human rights organizations or members of the media. The law also mandates and authorizes the Commission on Human Rights to “conduct regular, independent, unannounced and unrestricted visits to or inspection of all places of detention and confinement”.

The phenomenon of red-tagging – or the linking of human rights defenders and activists to armed groups, by both the government and unknown individuals – has been happening for decades. It intensified in the last few years under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, following the breakdown of peace talks between the government and the CPP in 2017. Duterte’s subsequent Executive Order (EO) 70 provides for a “Whole-of-Nation approach in defeating the Local Communist Terrorist Groups” and led to the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. Observers point to this moment in time as the beginning of a renewed campaign of red-tagging, threats and harassment – including killings and enforced disappearances – of human rights defenders, political activists, lawyers, trade unionists and other targeted groups.

Many groups, including Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have called for the immediate end to this approach, expressing concern that the government’s dangerously broad counter-insurgency strategy has led to an increase in the violations of the human rights of human rights defenders and activists across the country.
 

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