An article by Mr. Temogen Tulawie published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PHILIPPINES: “Guilty until proven innocent”

“Sige ka, magiging Cocoy ka”

This line has become part of the equation to scare Human Rights workers and the people in Sulu away from the very thing that is inherent to human — their rights. The Tausugs are being turned into a bunch of walking zombies apathetic to state abuses and pass them off as another foul meal gone into their stomachs. By making a case out of me, the Sulu local government has so far been relatively successful in their tactics to shut people’s voices from speaking out and having a take on what is right and wrong in their own community. But so long as there are Tausugs who know believe in the sanctity of Life, the government can never debauch the very purpose of its existence — to protect its people. There’s always one out of ten souls who dare and resist to be gagged and mummed and they serve as that sliver of light all throughout our struggle. With that, I cannot say that the Voldemorts of Sulu local government are wholly successful in their attempt to silence us.

Around at the same time today last year, my wife received my arrest warrant at our home in Jolo, Sulu. I was charged of Multiply Frustrated Murder with Use of Explosive under RA 9615 for, the warrant claims, bombing Governor Abdusakur Tan near the local provincial office in Sulu. I never had the chance to read and see it myself, I was not at home during that time. My wife called me up and told me about it in an unperturbed manner. Since then, I never got the chance to go back home and see my kids running and lounging around the house or in their schoolbags and lunchboxes going to and back from school.

I received a diarrhea of criticisms, for one, “If he is really not guilty, why doesn’t he submit to the law and come out clean?” This is precisely why I chose Human Rights advocacy to be my lifetime endeavor. In the Philippines, let alone in Sulu, the law does not work for the people to whom it is supposed to be serving. The assumption “innocent until proven guilty” has never been the case but otherwise; you are “guilty until proven innocent” and, chances are, you’d be locked away in oblivion. No way. Allowing them to get me would be unwise. I refuse to be a victim. I refuse to participate in the ridiculous and unfounded verdict of the state against me. The state needs me to justify their own lies and shamelessness.

A year after this so-called hiding, I say this is probably both the best and worst time of my life. The life of an HR advocate is no joke. If it’s worse in the rest of Philippine regions, it’s worst to be one in Sulu. One year outside Sulu allowed me to get a good grasp of my community’s social ills. To sow chaos in the hearts and minds of Tausugs whose sole aspiration is the Right to Self-determination, the national government’s divide and rule tactic has worked quite well. Now, as non-Muslims see it, it’s Muslims against Muslims. Puppet leaders are installed to create an illusion of self-governance and oppress any hints of assertion of historical and political rights. The state is the larger enemy. The Philippine state is the womb of all sins committed against the people of Sulu which keep us broken, divided and swamped in all of these wrong intentions.

Sulu is possibly the vaguest or most complicated thing one would ever encounter. HR workers has to battle against the damaging consequences of governance tailored to suit the vested interests of those in power — autocracy and anarchy combined. The parasitic nature of both is out there ruining the lives of our common people. The leaders and followers are caught in a corrupted “Lord-and-Slave” mindset where the autocratic Lord sanctions the lawlessness of its followers cultivating a medieval attitude of shamelessness known to any man. As a result, everyone becomes a warlord.

This explains the nerve of the state and its armed forces to bomb us while we’re praying during Eidl Fitr, to declare an unnecessary State of Emergency and create the Civilian Emergency Forces (CEF), to perpetrate HR violations through massacres and mass killings, to shrug gang rape off, to ignore the mushrooming of communities of drug-pushers, among others. There are no words to describe the local government of Sulu today but a huge perversion of the idea of an Islamic community. Root of the ill is simple. It is nothing more but ego, pride and politics of human relationship. One wants to rule over the other. And, at the expense of Tausug lives.

Massacre of innocent civilians and families in Sulu hinterlands is already a common phenomenon in Sulu and why it has become so is due to the law that is selective and state that is oppressive. At the risk of being redundant, it is clear how this create terrorists in the minds of the public, and justify wars and ultimately the bulk of national expenditure allotted to the Philippine military. Have you ever heard of massacre victims to whom justice has been served?

During the 2009 State of Emergency, wives, mothers and daughters of victims of warrantless and random arrests came to my house and sought any form of help. I tried to negotiate with Governor Tan only to get a wild and heartless reply, “There is nothing we can do if they are poor and cannot afford lawyers.” Have you ever heard if justice has been served to these victims?

I am not sure how many of you — Filipinos, the national government, Philippine media — knew about the condemnable 2009 gang rape in Sulu where it is not anymore safe for students and young girls to roam around the town even in broad daylight. And the local government has the face to tell us that there should be a news blackout on gang rape because the province is already suffering from bad image. More so, Sulu became a landfill of garbage with such a garbage attitude of local leaders. Have you ever heard of a single gang rape victim who saw her perpetrators being brought to justice?

Answers are NO, NO and NO. The state and the media could not care any less because the victims are Muslims. And therefore no way am i gonna submit to their theatrical exercise of their law. The act of oppressing and silencing me is an act of admission that the government has an unimaginable abuses to hide.

Why am I not in Sulu right now?

First, I need to raise this issue into the national scale where there would be a relative application of the law otherwise I would be completely at the mercy of manipulative hands of local executive and judiciary branch whose services have a corresponding price. I cannot afford their services.

Second, I wouldn’t want this to turn into another family feud or families against families as I have very good friends from the side of the Tans. As reprehensible the culture of family feud as it may be, there can never be any good reason to involve other family members who do not wish to be in the middle of this conflict. Every single Tausug would know the trouble of a family feud in Sulu. It is very clear that this conflict is not a personal one between me and Governor Tan as I have experienced this same kind of harassment from previous Sulu governors. The real issue at hand is that of Tausugs being made defenseless and helpless against the state abuses.

Third, I am obliged to share that sometime in June and July 2009 when I was invited for questioning, my families and supporters armed themselves to prevent the authorities from getting me. Schools, government offices and institutions, private establishment temporarily closed down due to the panic created by the possibility of armed conflict between the two families. The disruption of classes, official and business activities is inexcusable. It defeats my purpose of working for the betterment of my community.

Whether we admit it or not, Sulu is down the gorge of moral decadence. In the course of the Bangsamoro people’s fight for change, divide-and-rule tactics successfully ambushed us, and not choosing to stand up again is definitely something our sons and daughters from the next generation will condemn us for. There can be no other option but for the Tausugs to unite again for we are slowly dying. We are a life gradually turning chlorotic and arid.

It is our responsibility to fight for this right to life—a fight that I do not intend to abandon—one that gives me more reason to face the malicious charges filed against me. I am very much willing to face my accuser, but not in any of the courts in Sulu as they have already been rendered incompetent to handle my case since my accuser has virtually become the judge and executioner in my home province.

Lastly, I would like to thank all the peacekeeping forces and organizations who ceaselessly believe in the strength of peace, understanding and unity, in the strength of Tausugs to achieve the genuine Right to Self-determination, and in the strength of possibility that Sulu can still serve as a portion of Ummah to all the adherents of Islam.

Sulu Human Rights Defender


The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

About the Author: Mr. Temogen Tulawie is a prominent human rights defender in the province of Sulu, southern Philippines. He is now in hiding after he was laid with legally flawed and politically charged criminal cases by a powerful politician critical of his human rights work.


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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Document ID :AHRC-ETC-031-2010
Countries : Philippines
Date : 08-10-2010