Student leader remains strong despite continuing repression
September 19, 2023

Student leader John Peter Angelo Garcia has become the latest target of the military’s baseless accusations.

By JACINTO LINGATONG
Bulatlat.com

SANTA CRUZ, Laguna – “I am a human rights defender, not a terrorist.”

This is the statement of John Peter Angelo Garcia, a young activist based in Southern Tagalog. He is now included in the list of people facing trumped-up charges for supposedly violating the country’s anti-terror law.

“No one is safe under Marcos Jr.’s de facto Martial Law. Progressives and human rights defenders, especially, are targeted by the state,” Garcia, third nominee for the 40th student regent of the University of the Philippines (UP), said.

Garcia was chair of the Youth Advocates for Peace with Justice-UP Los Baños (YAPJUST-UPLB) in 2021. He has been a vocal advocate for human rights, both within and outside the university. He also serves as UPLB Convenor of the Defend UP Network and volunteer paralegal of Karapatan Southern Tagalog.

Since 2021, he has actively participated in humanitarian missions to investigate human rights abuses committed by state forces throughout the Southern Tagalog region.

Garcia’s advocacy for peace based on social justice made him a target of state forces, his fellow human rights defenders in the region said.

“The government uses such tactics as weapons against ordinary citizens who are merely concerned and protesting widespread human rights violations. State forces aim to conceal those violations,” he said.

As a student activist

Garcia led the campaign to institutionalize the “Safe Haven Resolution” in UPLB.

The Safe Haven Resolution urges the UPLB administration to ensure the protection of students from the presence of armed forces on campus.

“At UPLB, the student body, led by the UPLB University Student Council and YAPJUST-UPLB with Garcia as their chairperson, successfully passed the Safe Haven Resolution. Garcia’s determination and commitment to implementing this resolution and ensuring academic freedom on campus were evident. He carries this resolution in all the campaigns he participates in,” Nimuel Yangco, also a 40th UPLB Student Regent nominee, said.

A bigger fight for rights

Aside from being an active student leader, Garcia participated in fact-finding and humanitarian missions.

He was among the paralegals who investigated the death of Kyllene Casao, a nine-year-old girl who died in an alleged encounter between the New People’s Army and the 59th Infantry Battalion last year.

Here, Garcia experienced red-tagging from military forces when the humanitarian team he joined was blocked by the 59th IBPA.

Read: Soldiers blocking rights groups’ access to father of minor slain in ‘fake encounter’

“When I heard about the killing of Kyllene Casao, I felt a mix of sadness and anger. It’s sad because a nine-year-old child lost her future and was stolen by the 59th IB. I knew I had to take action, so I joined the fact-finding mission to seek justice for Kyllene and other victims of the 59th IB,” Garcia said.

Trumped-up charges

In the trumped-up case against one of the Southern Tagalog activists, a certain Sgt. Jean Claude Bajaro of the 59th IBPA claimed that Garcia was among those who conducted a so-called “tour of duty” with the NPA in 2021.

Bajaro claimed that Garcia was known as “Tango” during his alleged association with the NPA.

The 59th IBPA’s relentless campaign of intimidation and false accusations continues to turn Southern Tagalog into a testing ground for the misuse of the draconian anti-terror law. Earlier this year, the same military unit filed Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA)-related complaints against young human rights defenders Ken Rementilla, Jasmin Rubia and Hailey Pecayo.

At least 19 Southern Tagalog activists have been charged with violating the country’s terror law while some are being implicated like Garcia.

In a statement, Karapatan Southern Tagalog said that it is “evident that the accusations against Jpeg Garcia and other dedicated human rights defenders are nothing more than attempts by the 59th IBPA to divert attention from their reign of terror, characterized by brutal human rights violations in Batangas’.”

Read: Fake encounters vs. Reds in Batangas result in 2 civilian deaths

Read: Terror reigns in Batangas as soldiers intensify operations against civilians

Karapatan Southern Tagalog reported that the Southern Tagalog region tops the list of most ATA cases in the Philippines and tagged the region as an “experimental laboratory” of this terror law, adding that “amid the worsening climate of repression and impunity under the Marcos Jr. administration., state forces continue to weaponize laws against human rights defenders.”

“Real terrorism involves the indiscriminate use of bombs and gunfire in rural areas. However, the government is unwilling to acknowledge this, which is why they are shifting the blame and are instead accusing us of terrorism,” Garcia said.

Garcia calls on human rights activists, peace advocates, members of the clergy, and all supporters of freedom, to join their campaign in defense of these advocates and stand together against the escalating political persecution and crackdown on progressive voices.

“Maybe in another lifetime, we won’t have to worry about terror tagging, illegal arrests, extrajudicial killings, and other serious abuses that the state can subject us to,” Garcia said.

“But for now, we keep fighting until we get there,” he added. (JJE, RVO, DAA)

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