Filipino human rights activist arrives home after detention in U.S. airport

Apr. 20, 2018

Jerome Succor Aba, spokesperson of S​uara Bangsamoro, during the two-day peace forum sponsored by National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) at Hotel Conchita in Cagayan de Oro City on June 28, 2017. (Contributed photo by Bags Castillo)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — Human rights activist Jerome Aba was finally released and allowed to go back to the Philippines after he was detained by American immigration authorities at an airport in the U.S. for 28 hours.

The human rights group Karapatan said Aba arrived at the terminal 1 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at about 6:10 a.m. Friday.

He was welcomed by several progressive group leaders such as former Representative Satur Ocampo, Anakpawis Partylist Representative Ariel Casilao, Gabriela Partylist Representative Emmi de Jesus, Atty. Ephraim Cortez and members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Sandugo, and Karapatan.

International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) US has reported that Aba has been held incommunicado by the Custom and Border Protection (CBP) Agency Office upon his arrival to San Francisco International Airport.

Aba was barred by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from leaving the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California, citing a problem with his visa as the reason for detaining him.

The group said Aba was illegally arrested, detained, subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, and deported from the US.

Aba flew in to the U.S. on Tuesday, April 17, to give a series of talks on the human rights situation in the Philippines before American church leaders and legislators. He was invited to speak at the 16th National Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD), the largest gathering of church and faith-based groups in Washington DC on April 20-13.

He was also invited by church organizations in the US such the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Sisters of Mercy, and the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

Karapatan questioned American authorities why Aba was not allowed to proceed to his destination after arriving from the Philippine when, in fact, he was granted a ten-year multiple entry visa.

During the first few hours of his detention, a team of lawyers from the U.S. National Lawyers Guild was not allowed to see or give legal advice to Aba.

Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general, said Aba presented all the necessary documentation to the CBP, making his detention arbitrary and illegal.

“We remind the officials from the so-called Land of the Free that civil liberties should be accorded to all regardless of whether someone is a citizen of that country or not,” Palabay said.

She said the right to counsel is universally recognized right, lest the US and its officials forgot the contents of the Universal of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Karapatan suspected that Aba might have been denied entry because the Philippines and the United States officials are working in a concerted effort to use repressive immigration laws to stifle freedom of expression and articulation of human rights causes.

“We do not discount the fact that Aba might have been singled out not only because he is a human rights defender, but because he is a Moro activist,” she said.

“In the implementation of the arbitrary, repressive, and discriminatory Muslim ban in the U.S.,” Palabay added, “individuals from a predominantly Muslim country have been denied entry, but Abas case proves that individual Muslims are also being targeted, regardless of the country.”

In a news report of ABC7 in San Francisco, CBP officials allegedly told Aba he has no business here on U.S. soil.

He (Aba) said they kept telling him that you have no business here on U.S. soil which is very confusing because he was granted a U.S. visa, Reverend Sadie Stone of the National Ecumenical Forum for Filipino Concerns was quoted by the TV network as saying.

Aba is currently the national chairperson of Suara Bangsamoro and co-chair of Sandugo Movement for Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self Determination.

Activist Amirah Ali Lidasan, former Suara Bangsamoro national president, said Aba should have been allowed to freely meet people (in the US) and discuss with them the situation in Mindanao and the Philippines.

Aba, 25, has been active on the plight of Marawi refugees, Moro human rights victims and other issues of national minorities.

Last February 26, Lumad activist Kerlan Fanagel was also barred to leave the Philippines by the Philippine immigration at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. He was leaving for India upon the invitation of the Asia Indigenous People’s Pact (AIPP). (With reports from Kath M. Cortez/

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