20 July 2018
Manila, Philippines/Chiang Mai, Thailand

Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD) condemns the recent arrest of 13 human rights defenders (HRDs), including one woman human rights defender (WHRD), in General Santos City, Mindanao, the Philippines, on 4 July 2018. While 11 were released on 6 July 2018 after community supporters raised the bail sum of PHP 36,000 (about USD 670) per person, two remain detained. Those on bail face charges of obstruction of justice and resisting the service of arrest warrants.

This latest development in Mindanao emphasises the worsening situation of human rights, ever since martial law was declared over a year ago. Since then, aerial strikes in Marawi and military intervention have displaced communities and shown the Philippines government’s blatant disregard for human life and people’s rights. At the same time, human rights defenders working tirelessly to protect people’s rights are attacked for doing legitimate human rights work.

Misun Woo, APWLD Regional Coordinator says: “We remain extremely concerned about the increased death toll and arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders in the Philippines. Just three days ago, the government of Philippines indicated that they will report next year at the UN High Level Political Forum on the progress they are making in commitments to the 2030 Agenda.  The government should be asked how it sees any progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or on human rights when militarism and violence are used to govern, and when women human rights defenders are treated as enemies or terrorists for voicing dissent.”

Filipinos protesting against martial law in Marawi. Photo: Tindeg Ranao

Militarisation in Mindanao and in the Cordillera put indigenous communities and human rights defenders at risk, with particular consequences for women human rights defenders. In November 2017, APWLD joined others in the Philippines to mourn and express outrage at the murder of Elisa Badayos, who was shot at along with 30 other human rights defenders during a fact-finding mission into violations committed by military and private militia in Negros.

In March 2018, the Philippines Department of Justice put forward a petition via the Human Security Act of 2007 (RA 9372), naming over 500 activists as terrorists. This lists includes members and close allies of APWLD from our human rights and development justice work.

These events demonstrate that the current government is targeting defenders across the Philippines, as it continues to show callous disregard for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and UN General Assembly’s resolution on protecting women human rights defenders.

Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of KARAPATAN, voiced her concern for W/HRDs  in danger. “Filipina human rights defenders continue to be attacked. The recent incidents in Mindanao and over 500 activists being listed as terrorists make it evident that this government is putting us on its order of battle. Despite rage and frustration over the insecurity we face, we call on the Duterte administration to cease harassing W/HRDs and uphold all its commitment to international human rights.”

APWLD continues to express deep concern for the many women and human rights defenders in the Philippines who remain at risk. As the Philippines currently holds a seat in the Human Rights Council, more is expected of the government and how it stands for the rights and fundamental freedoms of its people. Thus, we hold the Philippines accountable to this responsibility and urge them to:   

  • Adhere to and respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and all major Human Rights instruments that it is a party and signatory to;
  • Effectively address and immediately prosecute and punish human rights violations by agents of the State and non-state actors;
  • Stop the criminalisation of the work of activists, human rights defenders, and political dissenters through the practice of filing trumped-up criminal charges;
  • Respect and uphold the rights of W/HRDs and cease threats, intimidation and harassment against them;
  • Repeal draconian laws like the Human Security Act of 2007 and all legislative, administrative, executive and judicial acts that violate human rights;
  • Draft and pass a bill protecting the rights of human rights defenders and protect them from various forms of reprisals.


7 July 2018: Karapatan demands immediate release of 13 rights defenders, development workers arrested in General Santos City


16 March 2018: Statement: Women Human Rights Defenders are NOT Terrorists!


29 November 2017: APWLD Calls on International Community and States to Recognise and Protect Women Human Rights Defenders’ Work


6 August 2017: Letter To President of Philippines on Threats Received by Cristina Palabay


15 June 2017: Press Release: Asia Pacific Women Human Rights Defenders Express Solidarity With Marawi and Mindanao http://apwld.org/press-release-asia-pacific-women-human-rights-defenders-express-solidarity-with-marawi-and-mindanao/

For further information, please contact:

Karapatan Team, Cristina Palabay, cristina.e.palabay@gmail.com+63 9173162831 (Philippines)

APWLD Urgent Response Team, Marion Cabrera, marion@apwld.org; +66 913 019 843 (Thailand)