22 October 2013, Iligan City—Sr. Ma. Famita N. Somogod, Sub-Regional Coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Northern Mindanao (RMP-NMR), condemned the non-stop surveillance and harassment being perpetrated against her organization.
“The latest of which was on 30th September 2013, when a certain ‘Francis’ barged into our office and introduced himself as a personnel from the Australian Aid or AusAID,” said Sister Famita.
“On that day, the man discussed about the ‘work’ of AusAID, and asked me and two of my staff about our works and the current areas where we are doing interventions,” the nun furthered.
In suspicion, Sister Famita said they did not entertain ‘Francis.’ “How come a donor agency, without following any protocol, suddenly came into our office without informing us even a day before?” she emphasized.
RMP-NMR immediately wrote AusAID and verified about ‘Francis.’
On 07 October 2013, Rebecca Ongtaco, Head of Finance and Risk Manager of AusAID Philippines replied: “Please be informed that AusAID does not have any employee named ‘Francis’ or anyone who was authorised to contact RMP-NMR office.”
“Rest assured that we shall investigate this matter by contacting our Mindanao-based implementing partners who may be able to shed light on this concern,” added by Ongtangco via e-mail.
In another email sent today to RMP-NMR, Ongtangco further said: “Our verification with our Mindanao based implementing partners on whether or not any of their staff contacted your office on 30 Sept. 2013 resulted into negative responses.”
The latest incident strengthened RMP-NMR’s analysis that they are being targeted because of their human rights work for the rural poor.
In February 2013, Kenneth Flloyd Navarro, Projects Officer of RMP-NMR was tailed for several times. He feared for his life, and hid. He was dislocated from his work, and has never surfaced since.
Long-time RMP-NMR lay co-worker Joel Q. Yagao, was filed with murder charges, and was arrested on 09 September 2013. Yagao has been responsible for sound agrarian campaigns in Misamis Oriental. He is now being detained at the Gingoog City jail.
“We believe that the state security forces are doing all these surveillance and harassment to hinder us from going to rural areas and report about the degenerating human rights situation of the village folks brought by militarization,” Sister Famita concluded.
The nun has just arrived from the Human Rights Defenders’ Platform in Dublin, Ireland conducted on 9-11 October 2013. In the Platform, she shared to an international audience composed of human rights defenders the attacks experienced by RMP-NMR and other church workers in Mindanao for defending land rights, and the civil and political rights of the rural poor.
Organized by Frontline International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (Frontline Defenders), the Platform was attended by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Mr. Maina Kiai, and by various Irish officials.
Frontline Defenders recently assisted RMP-NMR in improving physical security of their office in Iligan City.