A Statement of Concern by the University Council of UP Baguio

The University Council of the University of the Philippines Baguio condemns the abductions and killings of activists and journalists nationwide, and demands justice for all the victims of disappearances and summary executions under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. We deplore the inability of the government to protect its citizens, and we strongly call on the authorities to hasten the investigation and prosecution of those responsible.

Independent bodies monitoring the disappearances and killings of activists and members of media under the Arroyo administration have placed the figures between 271 and 717 with no signs of let-up despite the indignant protest of various organizations and institutions here and abroad.

The University Council expresses outrage over the killings on July 31 of Bayan Muna regional coordinator Alyce Omengan-Claver (who was shot in Kalinga along with husband Dr. Constancio Claver, Bayan Muna chairperson in the area), League of Filipino Students provincial spokesman Rei Mon Guran in Sorsogon, and Tanod tabloid photojournalist Prudencio Melendres, who was gunned down in Malabon, Metro Manila.

We are concerned for the safety of University of the Philippines students Sharelyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, and their farmer companion, Manuel Merino, who were abducted in Bulacan by unidentified men on June 26. Major General Jovito Palparan, commander of the Army's 7th Infantry Division that operates in the region, was quoted by the media to have said that the three were members of the communist New People's Army and were collecting money from fishpond owners in the area. UP records show however that Karen Empeno is a Sociology major doing research in farming communities in Hagonoy, Bulacan for her undergraduate thesis, while Sharelyn Cadapan, who is pregnant, is a former student council officer at the University who works as a researcher for a farmers' group in Bulacan.

We decry the killing of Rafael Markus Bangit of Kalinga who was shot by unidentified gunmen in Echague, Isabela on 8 June, along with high school principal Gloria Casuga. Rafael Bangit was a staff member of the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance working with village elders in Kalinga to resolve conflicts in the area, while Gloria Casuga was caught “in the crossfire.” Previous summary executions have also hurt and killed people who were apparently not in the hit list but were with the intended targets at the time of the attacks.

As an academic institution, we cannot remain silent on these extrajudicial executions. Justice, freedom of speech and the need to be critical on issues about the people and the country are values that we encourage in the University of the Philippines. Just like Karen Empeno and Sharelyn Cadapan, many of our graduates go back to the communities to serve. If we have taught them well, they would cry out against injustice and violations of human rights whenever they see one. We want them to be able to do this without fear and trepidation, and not to become victims of abductions and summary executions. The worst that could happen is that they live in fear, submit themselves to intimidation, and be silent witnesses to injustice and inequity.

The University Council calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Karen Empeno, Sharelyn Cadapan, Manuel Merino, and other victims of abductions. And we call on the UP Baguio community to demand for an immediate end to abductions and summary executions of activists and journalists in the country, to demand justice for all the victims, and to make a strong stand against these violations of human rights.

(24 August 2006)

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