Philippines: Harassment, Raids and Arrests of Human Rights Defenders (Joint Communication)

On 27 May 2021, I wrote a letter jointly with six other mandate-holders to the Government of the Philippines regarding the alleged arbitrary arrest, harassment and criminalisation of woman human rights defender Ms. Renalyn Tejero, and the raid on the homes and subsequent arrest of human rights defenders Ms. Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa and Mr. Dan Balucio.

In the communication we expressed our concern that the harassment and detention of woman human rights defender Ms. Renalyn Tejero appeared to be in direct response to her legitimate and important work in defence of human rights in the Philippines. It is also of concern that neither Ms. Tejero nor her lawyers have been able to access the relevant evidentiary documents regarding the allegations against her, and thus are unable to properly prepare her defence.

We also expressed concern over the raids against and subsequent arrest of human rights defenders Ms. Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta Rosa and Mr. Dan Balucio. This ongoing pattern of raiding the homes of human rights defenders would seem to be aimed at intimidating and vilifying human rights defenders particularly given the suspicious nature in which the police supposedly uncovered the incriminating items.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

According to the information received:

The case of Ms. Renalyn Tejero

Ms. Renalyn Tejero is a woman human rights defender and paralegal officer for Karapatan, a non-governmental organisation and human rights alliance that promotes and protects human rights in the Philippines. Karapatan engages with civil society through their work on education, research, training, and advocacy of human rights issues and network building.

On 21 March 2021, at approximately 5:30 a.m., officers from the Philippines National Police and the Philippine Army arrested Ms. Tejero in Cagayan de Oro City. Upon her detention, an arrest warrant issued by a local court was cited. However, no subpoena was served to the woman human rights defender about the charges she faced, and her requests to call her family and lawyer were denied.

Following her arrest, Ms. Tejero’s whereabouts were unknown for several hours until police confirmed that she was detained in the Police Regional Office (PRO) 13, at Camp Colonel Rafael Rodriguez, in Butuan City, Agusan Del Norte. Ms. Tejero has been charged with ‘attempted murder’ and ‘murder’ and has been allegedly added to the government’s list of “communist-terrorist group priority targets” in the Caraga region. Ms. Tejero has access to legal representation, but neither she nor her lawyer have been granted permission to view the relevant documents regarding the allegations against her.

It is reported that since November 2020, Ms. Tejero has been a victim of red-tagging for her alleged membership in “Communist Terrorist Groups” and her alleged involvement in the New Peoples Army. Since then, her name and photos appeared in Facebook posts and were pasted on leaflets and posters disseminated in the Caraga Administrative Region.

Since 2016, members of Karapatan have been targeted for carrying out their legitimate human rights work, and have been subject to harassment, arbitrary detention, criminalisation on fabricated charges, attacked and in some instances, killed.

The case of Mr. Dan Balucio and Ms. Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa

On 2 May 2021, a large unit of police and military personnel entered with force into the home of woman human rights defender Ms. Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta Rosa, where they proceeded to search her home and personal belongings as she and her relatives were brought outside the house.

Ms. Rosa is a youth human rights defender and spokesperson of the Filipino youth organisation Jovenes Anakbayan, which defends and protects the rights of all people, including young farmers, students, professionals of all sectors, and minority groups.

After almost one hour, police allegedly uncovered guns, ammunition, a grenade, arrested Ms. Rosa, and brought her to police station 2 in Naga city. It was later revealed that the address on the search warrant provided did not match Ms. Rosa’s home address which was raided and from where she was arrested. At the time of writing, Ms. Rosa remains in detention in Police Station 2 in Naga city awaiting trial and has access to her lawyer.

On the same day, at approximately 3:30am, a similar policing operation took place at the home of Mr. Dan Balucio, where he resides with his wife and two young children. Around 30 police officers and military personnel forcibly entered and searched his home in Albay. A search warrant was not presented to the human rights defender until almost an hour had passed, and the captain of the Barangay police and the local Councilor arrived.

Mr. Balucio is a human rights defender and pastor of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines. He is also a member of the umbrella organisation Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, through which he peacefully campaigns against extra-judicial killings of human rights defenders, the militarisation of communities and advocates for fundamental and human rights of all people.

The police claimed to have found guns, ammunition, a grenade, and a red flag and arrested Mr. Balucio. At the time of writing, Mr. Balucio remains in detention in the Sto Domingo Police station awaiting trial, where he has access to his lawyer.

Read the full communication


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