Yes to law enforcement in the Cordillera: Enforce the Bill of Rights

Published February 27, 2021, 12:49 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz
Tonyo Cruz

There’s a lot to unwrap in the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (RLECC) of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) Resolution No. 04 directing the conduct of Oplan Tokhang-style operations against “left leaning personalities in the government, media, and other entities.”

Legal experts from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers have sounded the alarm, calling it “patently illegal and unconstitutional.”

The NUPL says it profiles “left-leaning personalities” as “supporters” or “active members of CPP-NPA-NDF” or any of its “front organizations.” In other words, “a brazen act of red-tagging that threatens the right to life, liberty, and security of these individuals.”

The resolution also “equates the causes and advocacies of these ‘left-leaning personalities’ to ‘insurgency,’ ‘Marxist-Maoist inspired rebellion’ or security threats that may be addressed by law enforcement authorities, in violation of the fundamental right to due process.”

According to the NUPL, the resolution “sanctions the violation of the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression and of association by enabling law enforcers to harass, intimidate and threaten critics and activists from pursuing their advocacies. It exposes those who will refuse to cooperate with harsher police action and acts of reprisal in the form of trumped-up charges or nuisance suits.”

“It rests on the erroneous premise that the “insurgency problem” will be addressed by stifling dissent and infringing upon liberties using the same operational measures that have resulted in the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug offenders,” said the NUPL.

The lawyers also warn that the resolution also provides the provides a license or legal basis for law enforcers to blatantly violate human rights, fomenting impunity.

But perhaps the worst, most obvious, and most fatal flaw in the resolution is its call to the targeted activists to “return to the fold of law.”

Why should the activists be “compelled” to return to the fold of the law when they have never left in the first place?

Those behind the resolution will have to contend with Igorot dignity, history, customs and traditions that compel the people of the Cordillera to take an active part in social and political concerns. It has long been part of Igorot history to fight for the right of the Cordillera people to self-determination, a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Protecting the identity, culture, tradition, customs, and ancestral domain of the Igorot communities is a continuing effort and the Igorots’ gift to the nation.

The activists targeted by the resolution are well-known to many municipal, city, provincial, and regional governments and officials of the Cordillera Administrative Region. In many cases, they know them personally as individuals of good moral character, with a high sense of civic duty, and even partners in worthwhile projects and advocacies. They have brought pride and honor to the Cordilleras through their outstanding thought-leadership and actions admired both nationally and internationally. The activists could also be friends, relatives, or tribe members. The resolution cannot magically undo the Igorot activists’ history and turn them into enemies.

The activists work within the bounds of the law, openly organize in schools and communities, and take an active part in the social, political, economic, and cultural life of the Cordillera people. When the national government included Igorot personalities in a case designating activists as terrorists, local governments passed resolutions assailing the inclusion of the Igorots and proclaiming their inclusion and their being a positive part of their communities.

The destruction of a monument to Igorot heroes Macliing Dulag, Lumbaya Gayudan, and Pedro Dungoc in Kalinga is illustrative of the folly of the resolution. So trumped-up charge against Gabriela-Innabuyog leader Beatrice Belen, a recipient of the 2018 Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan for her advocacy of protecting the environment. Belen was released after the court dismissed the case for lack of merit. Just like the resolution, these twin efforts to demonize and criminalize activists require the Igorots to turn against themselves, their heroes, and their glorious history of activism.

Were the Igorots wrong to resist and oppose the construction of the Chico Dam, and along the way stand up to the dictator? Should Igorots topple from the pedestals in their collective memory the likes of Dulag, Gayudan, Dungoc, and those who followed in their steps?

Going by the logic of the resolution, the Cordillera Administrative Region itself may be eyed for abolition, since it is a product of the Igorot struggle for self-determination and for autonomy. There is still time to take a 180-degree turn and make the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee work for all Cordillerans, including the highly esteemed and well-respected activist members of the Kaigorotan.

The CAR, RLECC, and the provincial, city, and municipal governments would be better served by resolutions calling for the resumption of formal peace negotiations between the national government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which also represents the Cordillera People’s Democratic Front.

Resuming peace talks would provide Cordillerans an opportunity to raise their issues from land to rights, livelihood to development, culture to identity. CAR and even the RLECC could directly participate in the peace talks as resource persons, consultants, and advisers of either side. Within the ambit of the talks, Cordillerans could also press for more autonomy, more powers, and more resources that could come from today’s wasteful gargantuan spending for destructive counter-insurgency operations. CAR could find better use of such funds to improve infrastructure and the delivery of essential services to more people in the Cordilleras.

Cordillera leaders could junk the current questionable resolution and pass another on “law enforcement”, this time for the enforcement of the Constitution’s guarantees in the Bill of Rights, and full respect for the rights to self-determination, free association, free assembly, free expression, and redress of grievances in all parts of the beautiful and historic Cordilleras.