PH a hotspot for peace advocates, says human rights group

Published March 22, 2019, 2:19 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Chito Chavez

A human rights group said illegal arrests and trumped-up charges imposed on the government’s critics make the country a hotspot against peace advocates.

Human rights group Hustisya claimed the “Duterte government is making the country a hotspot for peace advocates and activists, escalating attacks and rights violations while throwing the whole efforts to a just and lasting peace to the bin.”

The group has condemned the arrest and filing of trumped-up charges against National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Renante Gamara and companion Arturo Balagat, a former priest.

“Who in his right mind will go around carrying firearms and explosives with the election gun ban in place? Are the likes of Gamara and Balagat the real threats to the people and to peace, or the people who are behind the repetitive filing of charges against peace advocates one after another, to justify unjust arrests and detention?” said Evangeline Hernandez, chairperson of Hustisya.

The two were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the same case that were filed against peace consultants who were illegally arrested and detained after formal peace negotiations were stalled since 2017.

Gamara and Balagat were arrested by combined elements of the Special Action Force (SAF) and the Philippine Army on the evening of March 20.

Hustisya said they were brought to Camp General Pantaleon Garcia in Imus, Cavite, and are now both in NCRPO Bicutan.

“Provinces and cities are declared as election hotspots for possible election fraud and violence, but in fact, state forces from the military and police are the ones who are waving around threats and attacks, like vultures hovering over their potential victims,” said Hernandez.

The group expressed deep concern that more arrests will be done for the duration of the election season.

“While the people’s attention is all on the elections, the Duterte government is continuing its repressive attacks against people, progressives, activists, and rights advocates. We call on the people to be alert against these attacks. The arrest of Gamara and Balagat prove that anybody may fall victim to arrest and false charges,” she added.

The group also called on election candidates to bring to discussion the call to resume peace talks between the NDFP and the government.

“Election and no election, there should be no let-up in calling for the resumption of the peace talks. We hope that candidates will use the open season for raising the clamor for the resumption of the talks as they go around their campaign. The peace talks should be at the core of this election, because peace talk is about addressing the reasons of the armed conflict. It is about poverty, unemployment, and landlessness. It is about addressing why people continue to be poor while we routinely elect government officials who repeatedly promise change to futility,” concluded Hernandez.