One of the first challenges I faced working in a Philippine human rights NGO was the working language. By this I don’t mean the often confusing mix of English and Tagalog, but the amount of abbreviations you can sometimes hear in just one sentence.
The first case I got involved with at TFDP I could’ve not understand a thing without knowing what are DENR, DAR and CARP, or in other words, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agrarian Reform and Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Not to feel like a complete idiot while just having an everyday conversation with someone from the Philippine NGO field, you also should be comfortable with acronyms for Department of Justice (DOJ), Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Department of National Defence (DND), Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and so on and so on.
However, the very first strings of letters that got me confused were the ones next to the family names on the folders beside my desk – What are all these EJKs, ARDs and HARs?
Here is an explanation for what an EJK and an ARD/HAR can actually mean in real life.
TULID EJK – Extrajudicial Killing of Elisa Tulid
19th of October 2013 Elisa Tulid was on her way home together with her husband Dannyboy and their 4-year-old daughter Melanie in the Mountains of San Andres, when a man holding a gun appeared from behind a coconut tree. Elisa got shot several times and died instantly while Dannyboy and Melanie miraculously were able to save themselves. Elisa was a leader of a peasant group and the killing was related to Elisa’s long fight for the small farmers’ land rights in the area.
The pretrial of the murder case was held a couple of weeks ago at Gumaca in southern Quezon province where we went to offer our legal assistance by prepping the public prosecutor about the case. In the Philippines the public attorneys and prosecutors are often overloaded with work – the prosecutor handling Elisa’s murder case told us he’s taking care of around 1000 cases a year. With providing our legal assistance we try to make sure that our “clients” – victims of human rights violations – are represented duly and justice gets done.
For Dannyboy, even just attending to a hearing at the closest courthouse from his home means a whole day of traveling – including a three-hour-hike down from the mountain he lives in to the closest bus stop. Like many farmers especially in the remote and isolated areas, he doesn’t know any English – the official language of the courts – or how to read or write. The western bureaucratic jungle simply is not the jungle where Dannyboy was raised to survive in. So it goes without saying that our assistance in the case does not only include legal advice but all the support possible for Dannyboy and his family.
LORETO & MARQUEZ ARD/HAR – Arbitrary Arrest and Detention / Harassment of Marites Marquez and Rosario Loreto
In the morning of September 27th last year in the village of Santa Ines, Marites Marquez and Rosario Loreto together with her 5-year-old son were on their way to the market to buy some goods to sell later on at their home villages in the mountains of Sierra Madre. While waiting for a jeepney to give them a ride, a group of army men approached them and “invited” them for questioning and to validate their identity. Since that day Marites and Rosario have been detained accused of crimes of kidnapping, serious illegal detention and robbery, in relation to an abduction of an army soldier by the rebel group New People’s Army (NPA).
Rosario and Marites are Agtas – indigenous people who live in scattered, isolated mountainous parts in the island of Luzon. One of the ancient traditions still practiced among Agtas is to wear a black ribbon on their neck for a year after their relative has passed away as a sign of mourning and respect. The only “evidence” against the women was that the alleged perpetrators had worn the same kind of black cloth on their neck as them.
Due to the lack of evidence and probable cause the prosecutor himself has filed a motion for the court to withdraw information. On the 9th of March the presiding judge is hoped to finally give a resolution to release Marites and Rosario immediately.
To further seek justice for these two mothers and their families we are now preparing to file cases against the people responsible for this severe violation of human rights. This is also part of the work that TFDP along with other NGOs is doing to change the culture of violence and disrespect towards human rights within the grassroots actors of law enforcement in the Philippines.