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Rights worker survives gun attack in Ifugao

Victim linked by military to communists; in Cagayan de Oro, IFI bishop, groups seek local gov’t protection from Red-tagging

PROTECTION Bishop Felixberto Calang (right) of Iglesia Filipina Independiente shows Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno a folder containing records of incidents of Red-tagging involving members of their church. Calang met with Moreno to seek protection for IFI bishops and priests. —FROILAN GALLARDO

A human rights advocate accused by the military of supporting the communist New People’s Army (NPA) was shot and wounded by unknown men in Lagawe, the capital town of Ifugao province, on Tuesday.

Brandon Lee, 37, a member of the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM), was hit in the head and body during the attack in front of his house at 6 p.m. He was taken to Lagawe District Hospital and moved to another hospital in Nueva Vizcaya province.

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Lee also writes for Northern Dispatch, an alternative online news website.

In 2015, the military tagged him and other IPM members and activists of being NPA supporters. One of them, Ricardo Mayumi, who opposed a hydropower project in Tinoc town, also in Ifugao, was shot and killed by unidentified men on March 2 last year in Kiangan town.

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Another IPM member, William Bugatti, was gunned down in 2014 after he was branded in an Army report as “utak ng NPA” (brains of the NPA) in Ifugao.

Lee assumed some of Bugatti’s tasks at IPM, which included extending assistance to political prisoners.

Condemnation

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and the party list Bayan Muna condemned the attack on Lee.

According to CHRA, weeks before Lee was shot, soldiers from the Army’s 54th Infantry Battalion were frequently seen at the IPM office, as well as the houses of Lee and other officers of the Justice and Peace  Advocates of Ifugao.

“They [soldiers] spoke with them, tried to get information from them, and intimidated them,” the CHRA said in a statement.

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Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the attack showed “the type of government that we have when it threatens death to people like him who serve the poor and indigenous Filipinos so selflessly.”

Protection

Zarate added: “We should not allow this to continue. This madness must stop and should be investigated promptly, and the perpetrators should be brought to justice.”

In Cagayan de Oro City, a leader of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) led members of progressive groups in seeking protection from the local government after they were labeled as members or sympathizers of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA.

“It is becoming hard to do our duties because we are too concerned about our safety,” Bishop Felixberto Calang said.

Calang, together with human rights lawyer Beverly Musni and journalists Pamela Orias and JB Deveza of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), met on Tuesday with Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno and some city councilors to discuss the Red-tagging of activists.

He said they found tarps and graffiti on church walls and other public places denouncing IFI as a front of the CPP-NPA.

“Our members are shying away from going to our churches for fear they may be Red-tagged, too,” Calang said.

Like death warrant

He said he and other IFI bishops had since changed their schedules and routines as a security precaution.

Musni, a member of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao, said being identified as a communist sympathizer was “already a death warrant.”

She cited the case of lawyer Benjamin Ramos, a founding member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), who was murdered in Kabankalan City, Negros Oriental province, last year.

“We do not want any lawyer killed in Cagayan de Oro. This is the reason we sought protection from the local authorities. We are constituents here and it is their duty to protect us,” Musni said.

Orias, a reporter of Sunstar-Cagayan de Oro, recalled how her parents wept and asked her to resign for her safety when they found that she was described as a communist in social media.

Three other reporters were listed as communist supporters and sympathizers. They were Cong Corrales and Joey Nacalaban, editor and photo contributor, respectively, of Mindanao Gold Star Daily; and Jigger J. Jerusalem, correspondent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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TAGS: Brandon Lee, Ifugao Peasant Movement, IPM, rights worker
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