H.E. Benigno Aquino III,
Republic of the Philippines,
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel,
I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com.
I came to know about the situation from Front Line – The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
On 13 September 2012, human rights defender Mr Genesis Ambason was killed just outside Sitio Tambo, Barangay Binikalan, San Luis, Agusan del Sur, Mindanao. It is reported that members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) of the 26th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were responsible for the killing. Genesis Ambason was the Secretary-General of Tagdumahan, a grassroots indigenous organisation that has been campaigning against the entry of large-scale mining ventures into their ancestral domain. He had also campaigned for the release of community members who had reportedly been illegally detained by the military.
On 13 September 2012, Genesis Ambason and several companions were travelling from Barangay Balit to Sitio Tambo when their motorcycle broke down. The driver turned back with the motorcycle and Genesis Ambason, his parents-in-law and two nephews decided to continue their journey on foot. At approximately 8:00 pm, after it had grown dark, they stopped to rest around 200 metres from Sitio Tambo and within sight of the 26th Infantry Battalion military detachment. A few moments later, they heard approaching footsteps and shots were fired at them before they could shine a torch in the direction of the footsteps. Genesis Ambason’s companions fled as shots continued to be fired, but the human rights defender was unable to flee due to being hit by a bullet.
On 14 September, at approximately 6:00 am, the tribal chief of Sitio Tambo discovered Genesis Ambason’s body approximately 130 metres from the military detachment. His corpse had six gunshot wounds, there was dark bruising on his face and chest and he had lost all of his teeth. It is believed that the human rights defender may have been tortured prior to his death.
Artemio Sublidan, commander of the 26th Infantry Battalion, has reportedly stated that the shooting of Genesis Ambason took place during an armed encounter with elements of the New People’s Army. The witnesses to the shooting now fear for their lives. Furthermore, at the time of the killing the human rights defender was wearing a money belt containing 18,000 pesos in cash (approximately EUR 333), and the CAFGU has reportedly refused to return it to Genesis Ambason’s family.
Local human rights organisations have previously complained that the elements of the AFP which were deployed to San Luis prioritised the protection of large-scale mining ventures. This has reportedly led to the violent suppression of those leading the efforts of the local indigenous communities to have these ventures removed from their ancestral territory.
On 28 September 2009, Mr Aladino ‘Datu Mansubaybay’ Badbaran, then Chairperson of Tagdumahan, was assassinated by unidentified individuals believed to form part of a paramilitary group.
I condemn the killing of Genesis Ambason, and believe that it was directly motivated by his peaceful and legitimate activities in the defence of human rights. In light of the reported pronouncements made by elements of the AFP claiming that the killing took place during an armed encounter, I am seriously concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of the individuals that were with Genesis Ambason at the time of the attack.
I urge the authorities in the Philippines to:
1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the killing of human rights defender Genesis Ambason, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Genesis Ambason’s family, particularly those that were with him at the time of the attack;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the Philippines are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com