May 24, 2016
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on May 18 2016, The U.S. Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EANP) condemned the Philippine government for its systematic abuse of anti-human trafficking laws to harass indigenous Lumad leaders in conflict zones in Mindanao and urged the Philippine Government to seek peace with the NPA-CPP as a way to solve the problem of armed violence in the Lumad homelands.
"The Philippine Government and its armed forces are pressing baseless, unwarranted criminal human trafficking charges against dozens of leaders from indigenous peoples 'communities, church workers and others working for civil society organizations in the conflict zones of Mindanao." said Brian Campbell, legal advisor to the group.
EANP was organized in 2007 to advocate for human rights restrictions on U.S. military aid to the Philippines, and continues to monitor the human rights abuses of the Philippine Army and the paramilitary groups under their command.
Their latest letter to the U.S. State Department focuses on the case of those Lumad in Eastern Mindanao charged under the anti-human trafficking laws. The government charges the act of finding refuge from armed violence perpetrated by the Philippine Army and their paramilitary groups, amounts to trafficking.
One of the victims of those baseless charges, Josephine Pagalan, along with two other leaders of Lumad communities, recently visited Washington and met with officials at the State Department and in Congress where they shared their own experiences living in communities that have been torn apart by armed violence.
Their stories have been validated by the report of the UN Special Rapporteur Chaloka Beyani on his visit to the Philippines, July 21-31, 2015. He described his alarm noting that tribal leaders decried the fact that "their communities were consistently being manipulated and divided and that they had been harassed and received threats when they expressed their opposition. Indeed some leaders and members of the indigenous communities have been killed over the past years reportedly due to their anti-mining activities."
"We believe that the only way for the human rights of the Lumad people to be protected is for the Philippine government to commit itself to a genuine and successful peace process that truly addresses the roots of the armed conflict. We are hopeful that the newly elected President will pursue that path to peace" noted Katrina Abarcar, a member of EANP and Global Council Representative for US, International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.
The EANP letter calls on Secretary Kerry and the US Government to raise concerns with the Philippine Government about the misuse of laws to combat trafficking-in-persons against Josephine Pagalan and others attempting to provide vital services in Lumad communities, and to down-grade the rating of the Philippines to a Tier 2 Watch List in their annual Trafficking in Persons Report until it no longer misuses trafficking-in-persons laws. It also asks the U.S. Government to demonstrate unequivocal support for peace initiatives by pressing the Philippine Government to renew peace negotiations with the NPA-CPP.