Solidarity Statement to the Cordillera IP Rights Defenders
“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness.”
Exodus 23:1, NRSV
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) expresses deep concern over the arbitrary designation of Cordillera indigenous peoples’ rights advocates Sarah Abellon Alikes, Jennifer Awingan, Windel Bolinget, and Stephen Tauli, as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) through ATC Resolution No. 41 s. 2023 weeks before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s State of the Nation Address. This action by the ATC undermines the legitimate demands of the people by silencing those who tirelessly work and advocate for the rights to life and land.
This baseless resolution not only paints a target on these individuals but will cause a chilling effect among civil society organizations working for human rights and thus, will further contribute to the country’s severely shrinking civic and democratic spaces. These indigenous peoples’ rights advocates have been actively involved in advocating and defending the rights of the indigenous peoples and national minorities. They have been at the forefront of standing against development aggression projects that are detrimental to the land and life of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines, such as large-scale mining projects and mega-dams that cause immeasurable environmental devastation that negatively impacts their communities.
Through the years, these rights defenders have long been targeted and had faced attacks because of the crucial and critical work in defending their land and the people. In 2017, Sarah Alikes was unjustly detained, facing trumped-up charges; Jennifer Awingan was also arrested and falsely charged with rebellion in January this year; in 2018, a trumped-up charge of murder was filed against Windel Bolinget but was later on dismissed; Stephen Tauli survived assault and abduction by state forces in August 2022. The ATC designation shows the continuing pattern of attacks against them, putting their life and liberty at risk.
The NCCP is in solidarity with our Cordillera land defenders, Alikes, Awingan, Bolinget, and Tauli. Their designation as terrorists is similarly malicious and baseless just like the cases against church people working for human rights who are charged with violating the Anti-terrorism Law like Rev. Glofie Baluntong of the United Methodist Church and Rev. Edwin Egar of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, both from our member churches. We earnestly pray for their safety and may they find strength and comfort in the knowledge that the people are with them in these challenging times knowing that they are not alone in the pursuit of justice and peace in our land.
We thus, reiterate our call to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Law as it is being used to stifle legitimate dissent and is chiefly used against activists and human rights defenders.
14 July 2023
REV. FELIPE B. EHICAN, JR.
THE MOST REV. JOEL O. PORLARES
DR. GAY B. MANODON
MA. KAY CATHRINE F. ALMARIO
MS. MINNIE ANNE M. CALUB
Acting General Secretary