“The arrest of Belen is a very clear example of the dangers of red-tagging, resulting in violations to the right to life, liberty and security of human rights defenders, including indigenous women human rights defenders who are fighting for their communities’ land, resources and rights.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Authorities arrested on Sunday, Oct. 25, an Igorot woman leader who has been consistent in defending their ancestral land in Lubuagan, Kalinga.
According to the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a composite team from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Philippine National Police and Philippine Army came to the Western Uma and Lower Uma villages at 4:00 a.m. to search several houses, including that of Beatrice Belen, a leader of Innabuyog-Kalinga, the local chapter of Gabriela.
Belen, her husband and her two children were led outside of their home before the search was conducted. The police later claimed they found firearms and explosives, and proceeded to arrest and detain Belen at the Tabuk City Jail. The CHRA said Belen has been placed in a cell with male detainees.
In a statement, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, condemned the arrest of Belen. “Like other activists who were arrested on questionable legal bases, Belen has asserted that those allegedly seized in her home were not hers nor of any member of her family,” she said.
Palabay noted that before the incident, Belen was tagged as a communist by soldiers belonging to the Philippine Army’s 503rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army.
The arrest of Belen, Palabay said, is a “very clear example of the dangers of red-tagging, resulting in violations to the right to life, liberty and security of human rights defenders, including indigenous women human rights defenders who are fighting for their communities’ land, resources and rights.”
Staunch defender of ancestral land
In a statement, the CPA said that for decades, Belen has shown strong leadership in her community against destructive projects.
In 2012, the CPA said that Belen led the campaign against Chevron Energy company’s geothermal power project in Kalinga, “citing detrimental effects of the said project to lives and health of the community members, especially women and children.”
In 2018, Belen was awarded Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (Environmental Hero) for her sustained defense of their ancestral land from destruction by private companies.
The CPA further said that as Belen has continued to oppose the geothermal project and human rights violations in their village, harassment and threats against her also persisted.
Palabay called for the immediate release of Belen. She added that placing Belen in a cell with other male detainees is in direct violation of the Nelson Mandela Rules or the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Palabay said that the overcrowded and unsanitary prisons in the country are among the “most vulnerable places for women, where numerous forms of sexual violence are most likely to happen.”
Karapatan said Belen is the most most recent among Gabriela’s regional leaders who have been arrested on “fabricated charges.” Last July 7, Gabriela’s national vice chairperson, Jenelyn Nagrampa was also arrested in Camarines Sur.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas also expressed strong condemnation of Belen’s arrest.
“Facing a stinging rebuke of their red-tagging spree, the military has resorted to the use of state terror and naked force in silencing women’s rights defenders with the arrest of Manang Betty [Belen],” Brosas said.
Brosas appealed to the public to “strongly denounce Belen’s arrest in the same way that we stand for celebrities who are red-tagged by the military.”
Brosas lambasted the police and military “for once again planting evidence to detain another woman leader,” citing the cases of Reina Mae Nasino and Cora Agovida.
Based on Karapatan’s documentation, there are 102 women political prisoners, most if not all are women human rights defenders, who are languishing in various jails and detention centers in the country.