With HSA, poor communities most vulnerable to human-rights repression

Sep. 22, 2007

DAVAO CITY — Citing incidents in Koronadal, South Cotabato and Sumilao, Bukidnon, eighteen lawyers organizations under the coalition Alternative Law Groups Inc. (ALG), slammed the Human Security Act of 2007 (R.A. 9372) for further threatening the already vulnerable poor communities nationwide.

A complaint against two officers and one member of Yellow Bus Lines Employees Union (YBLEU) has been filed with the City Prosecutors Office of Koronadal, connecting them to the 3 August 2007 bombing in the bus lines Koronadal terminal. They were charged of Murder with Multiple Frustrated Murder and Destructive Arson in Relation to RA 9372. Earlier, in June 2007, YBLEU filed a Notice of Strike (NOS) with the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) to protest the unfair labor practice (ULP) by management. The union got the necessary strike votes, and was already preparing for the possible eventuality of launching the strike, but had to drop the plan when the Secretary of Labor assumed jurisdiction over the issue.

After the bombing on 3 August, the management announced that it was suspending operations. On 11 August, workers happily returned to work upon orders of the management. But on the same day, at about 6 pm, Jaime Jimmy Rosios, who was on his way home, was taken at gun point by armed men and forced into a waiting vehicle along the highway. To this date, Jimmy has not surfaced.

Union members have sought the help of law enforcement agencies and human rights groups, to no avail. They later learned that Jimmy has been charged under the Human Security Act, together with Jessie Rivas, another active and outspoken union officer, and Ibrahim Bacal, a union member who has a pending case against Yellow Bus for retirement benefits.

In another incident, seven armed men in full battle gear and carrying high-powered guns went to the Mapalad Freedom Hall of the Sumilao farmers in Bukidnon on Sunday, 16 September 2007. They searched the documents inside the hall without a search warrant and seized the papers of lawyer Arlene Bag-ao of BALAOD Mindanaw, an ALG member organization and counsel of the Sumilao farmers. The team of armed men, headed by SPO2 Avelino Chia and composed of two policemen and 5 members of the Philippine Army, took legal and campaign documents belonging to the Sumilao farmers. The armed personnel, when asked by a Sumilao leader to sign their logbook, made a note in Bag-aos notebook saying that they were just conducting police visibility patrol and that they helped themselves to the food in the Mapalad Freedom Hall. SPO2 Chia even signed his name in the notebook.

This is clearly a violation of peoples rights considering that the combined police and army team entered a private property of the farmers, illegally searched the area, and seized without proper papers our documents. SPO2 Chia and his team did that because they know that in this country nowadays violations against peoples rights to life, liberty, property, and due process go unpunished by the government. The extra-judicial killings are not resolved and are in fact tolerated, what can a community of landless farmers possibly do against an illegal search and seizure? asked Bag-ao.

ALG spokesperson Marlon Manuel noted that these violations were already experienced – even without the Human Security Act (HSA) – by marginalized communities of farmers, laborers, Moros, and indigenous peoples but with the passage of the HSA, this trampling of rights worsened. The Human Security Acts definition of terrorism is overly broad that it can encompass legitimate and non-terrorist activities, resulting in a chilling effect for those who are lawfully exercising their civil and political rights. The provisions on surveillance, interception and recording of private communications, prolonged and unlimited period of detention without warrant, and proscription of terrorist organizations, associations, or groups of persons, effectively infringe constitutionally guaranteed rights. Under these circumstances, the poor and marginalized sectors are the most vulnerable to abuses in the implementation of the HSA because they lack the resources to ensure that their rights are respected and protected, said Manuel.

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