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[Amnesty International] Activists under attack in the Philippines

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[Source: “The Wire,” Amnesty International, August 2006, Vol. 363, No. 07]

The sight of two motorcyclists speeding down the road in some areas of the Philippines can ignite fear and suspicion in an activist. Irma “Kathy” Alacantara was the secretary general in her province for the Movement for National Democracy, a leftist national political organization. While attending a conference in early December 2005 on peasant and fishermen’s rights, Kathy was reportedly shot by two armed and unidentified motorcyclists as she waited outside the entrance of the conference centre. Her colleagues reported that she had received threats and was under surveillance by armed men prior to her killing. Scores of other leftist activists have been killed in an increasingly familiar pattern.

Since 2004, the number of political killings targeting members of legal leftist organizations publicly labeled by the government as being “front” organizations for communist armed groups has increased sharply. Community organizers, human rights activists, religious workers, members of the legal leftist political parties and others suspected of being linked or sympathetic to communist insurgents are particularly at risk.

Armed conflict between government forces and communist insurgents has continued for over 37 years. The ongoing political killings have contributed to the derailing of the peace process between the government and the communists and with it any chance of securing peace in the near future.

Rafael Markus Bangit was on a bus trip with his son in early June when he and a female passenger were gunned down by an unidentified man. Only days earlier, Markus Bangit had complained of being followed. He belonged to the Malbong people and throughout his life he vigorously defended indigenous peoples’ rights. Most recently he worked for the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, an independent federation of left oriented people’s organizations, many based among indigenous communities in northern Philippines. He was also secretary general and vice chair in his home province for the leftist political party, Bayan Muna.

AI believes that these unabated killings share similar characteristics. These include the political affiliations of the victims, the methodology of attacks, and reports that the armed forces or other state agents have been directly involved in the attacks, or have consented to or been complicit in them. AI considers there is a persistent pattern of failure to conduct prompt and effective investigations which lead to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of those responsible.

In its report, Philippines: Political killings, justice and peace process (ASA 35/006/2006), AI documents such killings and outlines the duty of the government to protect the right to life of every individual in the country — irrespective of their background or political affiliation. AI sections and members are encouraged to work with organizations such as unions, churches, indigenous people’s networks and other groups at risk to pressure the Philippines government to stop political killings.