I am receiving more disturbing reports from the Philippines of the harassment of Human Rights Defenders.
I noted in my 2020 report to the UN Human Rights Council, Final warning : death threats and killings of human rights defenders that in the Philippines being “tagged” as “red”, or communist, is a serious threat, and that some defenders who have been so tagged have been murdered.
And in her 2020 report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that for decades, red-tagging – labelling individuals and groups as communists or terrorists – has been a persistent and powerful threat to civil society and freedom of expression.
I’m now hearing that Dr. Maria Natividad Marian Silva Castro – known as Doc Naty – a community doctor who last year was arrested and detained for weeks, has been designated by the country’s Anti-Terrorism Council as a terrorist.
She has a long history of human rights work, including as secretary general of local NGO Karapatan in the Caraga region. In 2016, she joined a delegation of HRDs in Geneva to participate in a UN Human Rights Council side event.
I noted in my 2020 report how in July 2019, Karapatan received a text message from an unknown individual containing a death threat against Zara Alvarez, a woman human rights defender on its staff. In April 2020, a text message was sent to Ms. Alvarez, purportedly from State security forces, harassing her after she had distributed rice to impoverished members of her community during lockdowns enforced in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 17 August 2020, she was shot dead on the street in Bacolod City. She had previously been red-tagged, and de facto named as a terrorist by the Department of Justice.
Red-tagging and being designated as a terrorist are dangerous labels for human rights defenders in the Philippines. The country is again considering legislation to protect its Human Rights Defenders, but news that those peacefully advocating for the rights of others are being threatened is disturbing.