The Philippines: Peaceful march of war refugees in Zamboanga City stopped

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 11, 2013) – Police stopped the peaceful march of a huge group of war refugees and human rights advocates in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines.

Police said the group had no permit when they marched to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the International Declaration of the International Human Rights Day.

The regional chapter of the human rights group Karapatan criticized local authorities for stopping the march. “It is ironic that the Philippine government which is a signatory to the declaration has failed to uphold the right of the people to peaceably assemble by repressing such very important people’s right,” Bishop Antonio Ablon, chairman of Karapatan in Western Mindanao.

The refugees, who comprised Bangon Zamboanga, a newly-organized people’s organization of the victims of the Moro National Liberation Front siege of Zamboanga City in September, marched for about two kilometers from their evacuation site at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Stadium when blocked by the police after organizers failed to show a permit from City Hall.

But Karapatan said it had earlier sent a courtesy letter to the city government for the “Lakad Para sa Karapatang Pangtao” but local officials rejected this prompting the refugees to march and invoke their right to a peace assembly.

The Bangon Zamboanga also tried to give a copy of a Memorandum of Agreement to Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar, but was also ignored. The MOA contained the following – the continuation of food support and rice supply for those who are still in evacuation centers; medical support to the evacuees; and the return of the evacuees to their respective places and financial support for the construction of their houses.

More than 100,000 residents in 15 villages here were displaced by three weeks of street battles between separatist rebels and security forces that killed and wounded over 400 people. (Mindanao Examiner)