Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, issued the following statement today (8 June) on the human rights situation in the Philippines:
The human rights situation in the Philippines continues to give cause for great concern: I am shocked by the detention of Pastor Dan Balucio, who belongs to the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, and of Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa, spokesperson of the youth organisation of an opposition political party. Furthermore, action has been taken against Pastor Balucio’s church on the grounds of terrorist allegations which lack any transparency. Its accounts have been frozen.
I call on the Philippine Government to release Pastor Dan Balucio and Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa without delay and to end the harassment directed at the United Church of Christ. I urge the Philippine Government to comply with the rule of law principles and rights guaranteed in the Philippine constitution and to protect them in a consistent and transparent manner as well as to ensure that perpetrators are called to account, human rights respected and human rights defenders protected. This is especially important during the current COVID‑19 pandemic, which is an existential threat to vulnerable population groups in particular.
Pastor Dan Balucio is also secretary-general of Bayan-Bicol, the regional organisation of an alliance of political opposition parties which are committed in particular to supporting workers and farmers in the Philippines. He was arrested in Sto. Domingo in Albay province on 2 May 2021 for allegedly being in possession of arms and on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organisation. He has been in detention ever since.
Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa, the spokesperson of the youth organisation of an opposition political party, was also arrested in Bicol the same day.
During the last few weeks, there have been several arrests of human rights activists in the Philippines which follow this pattern. Human rights organisations believe that the alleged discoveries of weapons caches are being used as a pretext to justify the arrest of critics of the government.
The United Church of Christ of the Philippines, to which Pastor Balucio belongs, has around 1.5 million members and focuses on the access to education and protection of indigenous groups. The church is accused on a regular basis, without any evidence being produced, of supporting the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which is listed as a terrorist organisation, as well as its armed branch.