March 21, 2023

Rights groups have criticized the government’s crackdown on activists in northern Luzon following the arrest of Cordilleran activist Jen Awingan in Baguio City on Jan. 30.

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance, in its statement, said the arrest of Awingan is part of the government’s systematic attacks and criminalization of activists work in northern Luzon.

Joint operatives from the Baguio City Police Office City Intelligence Unit and Regional Mobile Force Battalion 15 have arrested Awingan in her residence in Barangay Pinsao.

The arrest was based on the warrant issued on Jan. 24 by Abra Regional Trial Court Judge Corpus Alzate for rebellion with no bail recommended.

The case stemmed from the complaint of Privates First Class Reymond Galo and Randy Cinco of the 24th Infantry Battalion, who survived an ambush by alleged New People’s Army rebels in October 2022 in Gacab, Malibcong, Abra.

Families of PFC Ariz Bautista and Jimmy Viernes, who were both killed in the attack, were among the complainants.

Awingan was tagged by the government as the secretary of Regional Urban White Area Committee of the Ilocos-Cordillera Regional Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The BCPO took custody of Awingan for the documentation then transferred her to the Abra Provincial Jail, while her family accompanied her. 

Awingan of Barangay Limos, Pinukpuk, Kalinga is a member of the CPA Research Commission. She is one of the founding members and served as the coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Indigenous Youth Network, now Asia Young Indigenous Peoples’ Network.

She is the mother of Kilusang Mayo Uno International Officer Kara Lenina Taggaoa, who was earlier charged for direct assault and robbery filed by the police before a Quezon City court and is currently out on bail.

Awingan’s husband, Ronald, is the president of the Union of Faculty and Employees of Saint Louis University.

Last year, Awingan sought the assistance of the Commission on Human Rights-Cordillera following a series of harassment by individuals who introduced themselves as military personnel.

Aside from Awingan, six other activities were also included in the warrant of arrest, four of whom are also members of CPA including Windel Bolinget, Steve Tauli, Lulu Gimenez, and Sarah Alikes. 

Respondents Niño Oconer and Florence Kang are activists from the Ilocos region involved in peoples’ welfare and development campaigns.

The CPA said the accused were identified as perpetrators in the case without clear evidence and without due process.

The group added the seven activists are all victims of human rights violations at the height of Executive Order 70, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

Other international and local groups demanded for the government to end the attempt to silence activists that give much needed services to far-flung communities. – Ofelia C. Empian