Home / News / Urgent Appeals / UPDATE (Philippines): Forcible abduction and disappearance of an activist in Baler, Aurora

UPDATE (Philippines): Forcible abduction and disappearance of an activist in Baler, Aurora

March 17, 2006

UPDATE ON URGENT APPEAL UPDATE ON URGENT APPEAL UPDATE ON URGENT APPEAL

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION- URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Update on Urgent Appeal

17 March 2006

[RE: FA-36-2005: PHILIPPINES: A learning center run by religious groups allegedly torched by military agents in Aurora, Luzon]
-----------------------------------
UP-048-2006: PHILIPPINES: Forcible abduction and disappearance of an activist in Baler, Aurora

PHILIPPINES: Abduction and forcible disappearance; violence against human rights activists by military; inadequate investigation; absence of an enabling law to seek justice, remedies and prosecute perpetrators of disappearance
-----------------------------------

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received further information from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) stating that Joey Estriber, a programme officer of the Bataris Formation Center, was abducted and forcibly disappeared on 3 March 2006. Estriber’s whereabouts continue to remain unknown.

On March 3, at around 6:20pm, Estriber was on his way home when forcibly dragged by four armed men towards a tinted maroon van parked nearby. The get-away van had no license plate number. Estriber was at the time waiting for a ride along San Luis Street corner Burgos Extension when abducted. Estriber yelled to get attention but bystanders thought he was joking. One of the abductors grabbed Estriber while the others subdued him before speeding towards the southbound direction.

Later at 6:45pm, Estriber supposedly sent an SMS message saying: "Huwag kayong mag-alala, ok lang ako" (Don't worry, I'm alright) to his relatives. But when he was asked of his whereabouts he replied: "Nagtatago ako" (I'm in hiding). The recipient of the messages, however, doubted if indeed it was Estriber who had sent the message. After that, Estriber’s number could no longer be contacted.

When they came to know of the abduction, his relatives and co-workers immediately went to the police station to report the incident. It is reported that an hour before the incident, the van involved in the abduction was seen parked in front of the Aurora Electric Company, a few meters away from an Internet café where Estriber went. Witnesses also noticed the presence of suspicious looking men near the place.

After being informed by the relatives, members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) from Baler Police Station immediately put up checkpoints in various areas but failed to recover the victim or trace his location. Estriber’s family called up radio stations calling upon those that may have knowledge of the victim’s whereabouts to come forward. However, they failed to get any response. Estriber’s forcible abduction and subsequent disappearance is having a profound effect on his children.

Estriber’s abduction is yet another incident of violence and harassment against staff members of the Bataris Formation Center. On 14 December 2005, two of their colleagues were threatened with arrest when they removed a streamer critical of them in San Luis, Aurora. On 25 December 2005, a section of the Bataris Formation Center building was torched. Please see our previous appeals: FA-36-2005. On 15 February 2006, a group of military led by 1st Lt. Tony Pilas went to Bataris’ office looking for Josie Panginen and Nilo Serrano, staff members working for Bataris’ network. The group spoke rudely to Bataris’ staff but later left when local officials from the Baler Provincial government intervened. On 16 February 2006, 1st Lt. Pilas publicly pronounced in an interview on radio station dzJO FM that he had in his possession a list of the military’s "Order of Battle" (OB), which included various People's Organization (Pos) and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs).

On February 28, four soldiers attached to the 48th IB wearing plain clothes led by 2nd Lt. Molina went uninvited to a workshop on Charter Change at the Mt. Carmel College to which disappeared victim Joey Estriber was then the guest speaker. The presence of Molina and his men was deeply suspicious even though they claimed they wanted to participate in the said workshop.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write letters to the agencies listed below requesting them to exhaust all means in locating Joey Estriber’s whereabouts. Allegations into the possible involvement of elements of the Intelligence Group of the Philippine Army of the 48th Infantry Battalion (IB) into Estriber’s disappearance must be investigated. The Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Office must commence an impartial investigation into allegations of violence, threats and harassment allegedly perpetrated by elements of the 48th IB against staff members of the Bataris Formation Center. They must be suspended or restricted from their official duties once the investigation commences, and charges must be filed if the allegations are found to be true. Finally, please urge the Philippine government to take effective measures to enact the proposed Act Defining and Penalizing The Crime of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (HB 1556) and consider it a priority. The enactment of this bill should be in accordance with the provisions of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Suggested letter:

Dear ____________,

PHILIPPINES: Forcible abduction and disappearance of an activist in Baler, Aurora

Name of victim: Joey Estriber (37), married with four children. He is the programme officer of Bataris Formation Center and a radio anchor/commentator of program "Pag-usapan Natin" (Let's talk) over local radio dzJO in Baler, Aurora
Name of alleged perpetrators: Intelligence Group of the Philippine Army of 48th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army under the command of Lt. Col. Joselito Kakilala
Place of incident: Burgos Street corner San Luis Street, Baler, Aurora province
Date and time of incident: 3 March 2006 at around 6:20pm

It has come to my attention that Joey Estriber, programme officer of the Bataris Formation Center, was forcibly abducted and disappeared on 3 March 2006. I have learned that four armed men allegedly forcibly abducted Estriber and took him onboard a get-away van while he was waiting for a ride on his way home. His whereabouts remain unknown.

I am deeply concerned by this further incident of violence, threat and intimidation against staff members of the Bataris Formation Center. I am aware that prior to Estriber’s abduction, there were various instances when Estriber and his group were harassed and spied upon by the elements of 48th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. According to the information I received, on 14 December 2005, two of Estriber’s colleagues were threatened with arrest after they removed a streamer critical of them in San Luis, Aurora. On 25 December 2005, a section of the Bataris Formation Center building was burned down. On 15 February 2006, military agents led by 1st Lt. Tony Pilas went to the Bataris Formation Center’s office allegedly harassing some staff members. On 16 February 2006, 1st Lt. Pilas pronounced in public of having in his possession a list of the military’s "Order of Battle" which included members of People's Organization (Pos) and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). No further investigations were conducted in this matter.

I am deeply concerned by the authorities inadequate action to investigate these matters prior to Estriber’s abduction. Estriber himself had experienced being allegedly spied on. On 28 February 2006, a group of military led by 2nd Lt. Molina of the 48th IB and his men appeared in a workshop at the Mt. Carmel College uninvited. Estriber was the guest-speaker at the workshop.

That the concerned authorities have not thoroughly and impartially investigated this case despite being essential in the investigation to locate the victim’s whereabouts is entirely unacceptable. The alleged perpetrators have not been investigated to answer to the allegations made against them. I am unaware of any restriction or sanctions placed upon Molina and his men as part of any investigation into the case.

I urge you to exert all means to locate Estriber’s whereabouts. Should there be any development in this case, Estriber’s family and relatives must be informed accordingly. Any actions taken by the government must be in accordance with the provisions of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance adopted on 18 December 1992 to which the Philippines is State party.

Finally, I take this opportunity to urge you to consider the passage of the proposed bill in Congress “An Act Defining and Penalizing The Crime of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (HB 1556” as a priority. The negligible effort in having this law enacted without delay is a matter of concern as it is essential to ensure for the protection of rights of disappeared victims and their families.

I trust that your intervention in this case is forthcoming.

Yours sincerely,


--------------------

PLEASE SEND LETTERS TO:

1. Ms. Purificacion Quisumbing
Commissioner
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188
Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Email: drpvq@chr.gov.ph

2.P/DIR Gen. Arturo Lumibao
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2726 4361/4366/8763
Fax: +63 2724 8763

3. Mr. Orlando Casimiro
Deputy Ombudsman
Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and
Other Law Enforcement Offices
3rd Floor, Ombudsman Bldg., Agham Road, Diliman (1104)
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +632 926 9032
Fax: +63 2 926 8747

4. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
President
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel
Manila 1005
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80
Fax: +63 2 736 1010

5. Gen. Generoso Senga
Chief of Staff
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
Armed Forces of the Philippines General Headquarters Offices (AFP-GHQ)
Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES

6. Mr. Diego Garcia-Sayan,
Chairperson
UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
C/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Fax: +41 22 917 9006
E-mail: urgent-action@ohchr.org

7. Prof. Manfred Nowak
Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture
Attn: Mr. Safir Syed
C/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9230
Fax: +41 22 917 9016 (general)
E-mail: ssyed@ohchr.org


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ahrchk@ahrchk.org)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID :
UP-048-2006
Countries :
Share |
Subscribe to our Mailing List
Follow AHRC
Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.