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Defending the Rights of the People, Women and Children

“If we stop defending our rights because of fear from the harassments and intimidation being perpetrated by state security forces upon us then we might as well be dead.” This was a statement by one of the women leaders who attended the Women Human Rights Defenders training workshop for Cordillera women held on September 9 to 10 in Diliman, Quezon City.

Spearheaded by Cordillera Womens Education Action Research Center (CWEARC) and Innabuyog, 60 women leaders and organizers from the six Cordillera provinces gathered together in the training workshop who vowed to safeguard and protect their rights as a people and as women against state perpetrated violence and violations of their rights. National minority women from other regions of the Philippines from places as far as Mindanao and Palawan were also present during the activity. While they were there mainly as observers, they also ended up sharing their own accounts and experiences in defending and protecting their rights as they similarly encountered the same or even graver human rights situation than their counterparts in the Cordillera.

The activity in the main provided a framework for understanding human rights that could further build the capacity of women leaders and organizers in addressing the human rights situation in their localities. The main input was given by the Cordillera Human Right Alliance Vice Chairperson Audrey Beltran. She provided the basics on documentation which can be used as a guide whenever women are confronted with cases of human rights violations. She also discussed how they can assert their rights through para-legal means even without the benefit of lawyers around. The activity also provided a venue for sharing of experiences by the women on the human rights situation in their villages underscoring the situation of women and children. They also exchanged accounts on how they confronted the numerous cases of state perpetrated violations in their communities from past to present.

The women expressed that violations of their rights are common whenever projects or programs are brought in by the government or when big companies enter into their localities where there is opposition from the people because of the possible adverse or negative impacts. Some destructive programs and projects opposed by the people were mining ventures of big companies such as Golden Lake and Olympus in Lacub & Baay-Licuan in Abra, Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company operations in Mankayan, Benguet, the construction of the Alimit Dam in Ifugao and Chevron-PRC Magma’s Geothermal Power Plant in Kalinga. Women of Sagada, Mountain Province reported the Peace and Development Team (PDT) of the AFP program supposed to maintain the peace and order in the locality has allowed state troops to occupy the Dap-ay, an indigenous socio-political structure where elders meet.

The women recall of their experiences on the militarization of their villages which had debilitating and even long lasting effects. Farmers are not allowed to tend their fields disrupting economic activities in the communities (Kalinga, Ifugao and Abra). Military troops encamp in schools, health centers or even houses making them their temporary detachments or quarters endangering the lives of civilians like in the cases of Lacub in Abra and Balbalan in Kalinga. Aerial bombings have left many, especially children traumatized (Malibcong, Abra). Many had been suspected of being members and supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) making them vulnerable to harassments and intimidations and where some have been summarily killed. Women organizers of Innabuyog, and women development workers of other NGO’s have been tagged by the military as members of the said armed revolutionary organization.

In addition, women in the communities have suffered from particular forms of violence by state security forces. Sexual harassment and abuse had been common. Soldiers also court the women, even a number who are married, impregnate some and abandon them after they leave the area. Children have become vulnerable where they are made to act as spies.

The abovementioned problems faced by the women have not cowed them into fear or submission. Despite what they reported as the difficulties they suffered from the militarization of their villages, they still persist. In fact the women expressed becoming emboldened and more determined to act upon their situation after they heard stories of courage from women in other regions who dealt with state sanctioned atrocities and violence. They also remembered how their elders and their ancestors steadfastly fought to protect their lands and resources so that they and the next generations could still enjoy the natural wealth of their ancestral lands. These became their source of inspiration.

The participants were jubilant over the success of the training workshop since they said it gave them encouragement having established reciprocal and mutual support in facing their common situation. It reaffirmed their commitment of working together starting at the level of their communities and in unity with other women in the regional and national levels in defending and protecting their rights, resources and lands.

The training workshop ended through the drafting and signing of a unity declaration which defines the program of action that will be carried out by the women in the continuing struggle to defend and safeguard their rights especially that under the present administration of Duterte, human rights violations has not stopped and is in fact escalating.