Alarm raised after posters of activists ‘wanted’ for raps junked in July 2016 appear in Davao City

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One of the wanted posters in Davao City. (courtesy of Karapatan-SMR)

MANILA, Philippines — A human rights group has raised concerns over what it called an “escalation of black propaganda” against progressives after “Wanted” posters of activists slapped with criminal charges began sprouting on the streets of Davao City.

The hitch is, the kidnapping with serious illegal detention charges against them for supposedly abducting and forcibly lumad at the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, had already been dismissed in July last year.

Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region, whose secretary general, Hanimay Suazo, is one of the activists on the posters, called the “smear campaign … another of the state’s cheap tricks to intimidate and harass leaders and members of progressive organizations.”

The others pictured on the posters, a copy of which was obtained from Karapatan-SMR, are: Pasaka Confederation of Lumad chairman Kerlan Fanagel, Kharlo Manano of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, Benedictine nun Stella Matutina, who was recognized with a German human rights award for her work among the lumad and peasants of Mindanao, Exodus for Justice spokesman Jurie Jaimie, Save our Schools Network spokesman Rius Valle, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-SMR’s Sheena Duazo, and Gabriela-SMR secretary general Mary Ann Sapar.

They are among 15 activists slapped with the criminal charges over the Haran refugees, thus their collective moniker, “Haran 15.”

The charges against them were dismissed when the supposed complainants all recanted their statements.

Valle, whose organization works with schools set up by civil society and religious groups in lumad communities that have often been targeted by the military and various militias, saw the appearance of the posters as a “build up to the massive crackdown” that President Rodrigo Duterte had threatened on what he claims are “legal fronts” of the communist revolutionary movement after he broke off peace negotiations with them.

“They are conditioning the public,” Valle said. “This is a clear threat and harassment of progressive leaders.”

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate, who had been separately charged with serious illegal detention, kidnapping and child abuse before the Office of the Ombudsman, also over the Haran refugees, also slammed the appearance of the posters.

“Clearly, the resurrection of the wanted posters is meant to mislead the public; more importantly harass and vilify the progressive leaders — and even (more) dangerously — make them open target even for physical harm under the current situation,” said Zarate, a native of Davao City.

The charges against Zarate and the Haran 15 were filed soon after clashes broke out in July 2015 between the refugees and police who attempted to forcibly evict them from their sanctuary on the behest of North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco, who claimed she wanted to “rescue” the lumad from groups she accused of “exploiting” them.

Before the “rescue” attempt, Catamco, accompanied by military officers, visited the Haran refugees who rebuffed her bid to convince them to return home to the communities they fled after soldiers and militias occupied their villages and schools.