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Terrorist-tagged in Philippines: New surge in arrest of indigenous activists, advocates

Statement by the Global Secretariat, International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation

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In just one day, several Indigenous Peoples and advocates in the Philippines were arrested, terrorist-tagged, and issued criminal charges, including doctor-to-the-Lumad Natividad “Naty” Castro; three Indigenous Igorot leaders of Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) Jennifer Awingan, Windel Bolinget, and Steve Tauli; and development workers Sarah Abellon, Lourdes Gimenez, Florence Kang, NiƱo Oconer, and two other individuals.
The Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) announced on January 30 the designation of community health worker Doctor “Naty” Castro as a “terrorist individual” under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). Also, last January 30, Jennifer Awingan was arrested on the grounds of Rebellion or Insurrection, a non-bailable offense, with a Warrant of Arrest issued on January 24, 2023, by the Regional Court in Abra Province. Included in the warrant were Bolinget, Tauli, and six others from North Luzon.
“We express our condemnation and utmost concern over this arbitrary terrorist tagging and the rebellion charges. When was it ever an act of terrorism to be a community doctor in far-flung Indigenous Lumad communities? Why is the government criminalizing Igorot leaders with a long track record of defending Indigenous lands and rights?” says Jiten Yumnam, International Coordinating Council member of the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL).
CPA Chairperson Bolinget faced a trumped-up murder charge and a shoot-to-kill order last 2020. Tauli, a CPA regional council member, was abducted in August 2022 by what CPA believed to be state security forces.
Similarly, on February 18, 2022, Dr. Naty was also arrested over charges of alleged kidnapping and serious illegal detention. Her charges were dismissed by March 2022 for violation of her right to due process and lack of evidence and probable cause.
“From the former Philippine President Duterte to the new one, Marcos Jr., what remains the same is the practice of weaponizing the law to vilify and silence any perceived enemies of the government. For Indigenous activists vocal against land grabbing by multinational corporations, political elites, and states, against heavy militarization and repressive government policies, we are the number one target of judicial harassment and attacks,” Yumnam stressed.
Dr. Naty’s tagging as a “terrorist individual” and freezing of her property or funds, including her related accounts, operates under the draconian Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020, which was signed into law under former president Rodrigo Duterte. The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee earlier expressed concern on how the Anti-Terror Law (ATL) “legitimize the targeting of government critics, human rights defenders, and journalists, including through ‘red-tagging,’ and its consequent chilling effects on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.”
“We will hold the government, the ATC, the police, and military accountable for any danger and harm that may happen towards our Indigenous Peoples and activist colleagues. In its most extreme, terror-tagging often leads to torture, enforced disappearances, or extrajudicial killings,” Beverly Longid, IPMSDL Global coordinator, warns.
“Jennifer, Doc Naty, Windel, and all these terrorist-tagged and maligned Indigenous rights defenders who serve the underprivileged are not terrorists but heroes. The modus of using the courts and laws against those exercising their democratic right to dissent must stop,” she added.
Terrorist-tagging or ‘red-tagging’ endangers our lives, our families and colleagues, our organization, and our entire community. It reeks of a tyrant and fascist dictatorship government eager to silence all dissenters instead of addressing the root cause of discontents like poverty, corruption, and injustice,” Longid said.
The International IPMSDL issued its global call for international human rights groups and institutions, including the UN and the International Criminal Court mechanisms, to investigate the surge of attacks on Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights Defenders. It also called for the immediate dropping of all charges, terrorist designations against these activists, and the junking of the ATA.

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