March 17, 2014

An Open Letter to President Benigno Aquino III Condemning the Massacre of Freddie Ligiw, Edgar Ligiw and Licuben Ligiw

Dear President Aquino,

We, the members of  the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines – Canada chapter, condemn in the strongest terms the brutal killing of Freddie “Fermin” Ligiw, Edgar Ligiw and their father, Licuben Ligiw on March 2, 2014 in Baay-Licuaan, Abra.  In solidarity with their family and indigenous community, we demand speedy justice for them. We call on you to immediate order an independent and impartial investigation, prosecution of those responsible for this heinous crime and speedy justice for the victims.

Elements of the 41st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) are believed to be responsible for the killing. On February 19, soldiers from this battalion forcibly took Freddie to serve as a guide in their operation against suspected New People’s Army combatants in the area. Subsequently, Fermin and his brother and father were reported missing and their dead bodies found on March 7. The 41st IB has a long record of human rights violations in Abra province that includes harassment and intimidation, political vilification, arbitrary arrest and detention of ordinary civilians.  

The massacre of the Ligiw family is just the latest in the spate of killings, abductions and similarly grievous human rights violations committed against leaders and members of people’s organizations that have been reported since January 2014. Freddie was a member of a youth organization, Sidakan-Anakbayan, and with his brother and father and other family members was member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance,  KASTAN – Kakailian Salakniban Tay Amin ti Nagtaudan (People Defending the Ancestral Land) and Baay Licuaan Stand Up for Your Rights that successfully resisted the exploration activities of Canadian company, Olympus Mining Co.

Even as we are writing this letter, another human rights advocate has been killed. Romeo Capalla was killed on Saturday, March 15, 2014 in Oton, Iloilo. The 65-year old Capalla was the chairperson of the board of directors of the Panay Fair Trade Center, a member organization of the International Federation of Alternative Trade.  
Mr. President, we are deeply troubled by the deafening silence of your administration in the face of this brutal violence committed by state agents against citizens of your country. Your government’s commitment to human rights has lost credibility.  The Aquino government is following the pattern of past President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who played deaf and blind to the extrajudicial killings that escalated into a crisis during her administration, which to this day, has remained unabated.  Our observation is supported by the occurrence of extrajudicial killings almost every week since the beginning of 2014:
  • Marcelo Monterona, killed on January 5 in Maco, Compostela Valley
  • Arman Padino, killed on January 13 in Hacienda Dolores in Pampanga
  • Henry Orbina,  killed on January 30 in Cabid-an Sorsogon City
  • Rolando Ambungan, killed on January 31 in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte
  • Julieto Lauron, killed on February 5 in Haindangon, Valencia City
  • Rosauro Rayteran, killed on February 6 in San Pascual,  Libon, Albay

    The pattern indicates to us that the Philippine government is intensifying its implementation of the Operational Plan Bayanihan.   It is cynical of the Philippine government to be ramping up the counter-insurgency war, which the United Nations and human rights organizations around the world have pointed to as the root of the extrajudicial killing crisis, while seeking a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
    We call on the Philippine government to
  • Immediately order an independent, impartial and competent investigation into the killing of Freddie “Fermin”, Edgar and Licuben Ligiw and speedy prosecution of those responsible for the crime in order to render speedy justice to the victims
  • Pull-out the 41st IBPA and all military troops from Abra to ensure that the investigation is independent and impartial
  • Immediately order the formation of an independent fact-finding and investigation team composed of representatives from human rights groups, the Church, local government, and the Commission on Human Rights that will look into the above mentioned incidents of human rights violations, and to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators.
  • Effect the immediate withdrawal of Oplan Bayanihan, the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency program to demonstrate its serious intent to observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all the major Human Rights instruments that it is a party and signatory to.
  • Resume the formal peace talks of the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to discuss the roots of the armed conflict, and  an end to militarization of communities
Justice NOW for the Ligiw family! Stop the killings NOW! End impunity NOW!
Akdaan (Toronto, Ontario)
Anakbayan – Toronto (Toronto, Ontario)
Asilo (Toronto, Ontario)
Basics Community News Service (Toronto, Ontario)
BAYAN - Canada
Beaconsfield United Church (Montreal, Quebec)
Beaconsfield Initiative
Binnadang-Migrante (Toronto, Ontario)
Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Centre d'appui aux Philippines - Centre for Philippine Concerns (Montreal, Quebec)
Centre des travailleuses et travailleurs immigrants - Immigrant Worker's Centre (Montreal, Quebec)
Filipino Christian Fellowship, Toronto, Canada
Filipino Migrant Workers’ Movement (Toronto, Ontario)
Gabriela – Ontario (Toronto, Ontario)
IWworkers - Association of Filipino Women Workers (Toronto, Ontario)
Migrante Canada
Migrante – British Columbia
Migrante - Ontario
PATAC (Toronto, Ontario)
Philippine Solidarity Group – Toronto (Ontario)
United Church of Canada
Logan Sellathurai - Retired Trade Union Activist
Rev. Stuart Lyster, retired United Church Minister

*The International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP)  is a global network  of organizations  outside the Philippines who are concerned about human rights Philippines and committed to work for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.