BARUG KATUNGOD MINDANAO
7 March 2010
Women rights defenders in Mindanao are under threat for their battle for their abused fellows and other victims of human rights violations, which brings them to meet head-on the culture of violence and impunity that the state had allowed to thrive over the years.
This was expressed by human rights advocacy group Barug Katungod Mindanao today (March 8), in time for the worldwide observation of women’s day. One of the casualties of the state’s agressive campaign against women defenders of human rights was lawyer Concepcion “Connie” Brizuela, one of the two lawyers killed during the November 23 Ampatuan Massacre.
Atty. Concepcion Brizuela
Brizuela was popular for her fearless campaign in North Cotabato and Socsksargen for the protection of the rights of the indigenous peoples (lumad) who are forced out of their ancestral lands because of militarization, land grabbing, and by the entry of agressive forms of development sponsored transnational agricultural companies and their partners.
She openly criticized Vice Gov. Emmanuel Pinol who sent her to jail for libel, along with chruch workers and a campus journalist.
Human rights lawyer Beverly Selim-Musni said she continues to experience being closely watched by suspected military agents as she extends services to victims of human rights abuses, many of them women in Cagayan de Oro and many parts of Mindanao.
Musni is no stranger to death threats being the chair of the human rights group Karapatan in Northern Mindanao and as a strong voice in the fight against what she calls “the collusion between the Philippine military and the American troops in tormenting Mindanao and its people.”
“They (the military intelligence) always follow me around, like I am a security threat, as if I am armed. I am a woman and a human rights lawyer and apparently these people are scared of people, of women, like me who challenge them and speak of their abuses,” said Musni.
Her ‘followers,’ she said, appears to be deliberately making their presence felt by her, wanting to send their message that she is being watched.
Musni, also convenor of Inpeace Mindanao, said she takes courage from the people who are victims of the abuses perpetrated by the Arroyo government and the security agents.
“The government wants lawyers like me to cower in fear in their vain attempt to send a chilling message to defenseless leaders of farmers and the basic sectors. But it is mistaken. People’s organizations have a long bench of leaders willing to take up their causes, filling up the void left by any frontliner,” Musni said.
In Davao City, another lawyer known for her women’s rights advocacy is also facing similar threats. Councilor Angela Librado-Trinidad is also a victim of witchhunting and surveillance by suspected elements of the military intelligence unit.
A member of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), Trinidad was also followed by armed men who also tailed her car. Late last year, some men even attempted to barge into her residence. Also last year, Trinidad found out that her name was among the list of people in the military’s order of battle.
“The order of battle was a manifestation of the desperation of the military to succeed in their anti-insurgency campaign that they resort to witchhunting. The list, no matter how the military denied the existence of such, presented a real danger which needed to be taken seriously,” said Trinidad.
In Kidapawan City, broadcast journalist Malu Cadelina Manar has also been receiving all sorts of death threats as she performs her job of informing the public of questionable government transactions, corruption, military excesses in their operations that affect civilians, among others.
On February 1, Manar received a text messages that expressed disgust over her brand of journalism. The message read: “You speak harshly, Malu. You just wait because we will crush and destroy you.” This was followed by another chilling text message that read: “We know you. You have thick (eye)glasses.”
Atty. Beverly Musni
The human rights advocacy group Barug Katungod Mindanao said that in a small city like Kidapawan– where local elites treat the city like their kingdom–journalists and human rights defenders who expose their abuses and inefficiency are answered with threats, libel suits and at worse, bullets.
Bishop Felixberto Calang, convenor of Barug Katungod Mindanao, said people like Musni, Librado and Manar are considered threats by the government and the state agents because of their advocacies on human rights abuses.
“They speak not only about the unfortunate experiences of women in a society that hang back in a violent culture dominated by men but these women are strong voices in the larger fight against oppression of the poor. There are people who cannot stand women like Musni, Trinidad and Manar and the many other women who share the same passion,” said Calang.
Prof. Mae Fe Ancheta Templa, another convenor of Barug Katungod, said the threats against women defenders can be fought back by organizing more women to defend human rights.
“Touching base is key to women human rights defenders protection. Organizing among women sustains and advances the advocacy with the special role of women and men in the middle sector,” said Templa.
Templa also said this May election is “an opportunity to carry women’s agenda such as women’s rights, ending the culture of impunity, gender-responsive governance, and women’s economic welfare through genuine agrarian reform and national development.”
Barug Katungod Mindanao is a consortium of various human rights groups including the Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao, Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran), and Kawagib Moro Human Rights Alliance. Barug Katungod Mindanao is supported by the European Union under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights program.