Group demands release of Lumad rights defenders

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This article is available in Pilipino

A group of national minorities and indigenous rights defenders picketed at the Quezon City Hall of Justice yesterday, June 7, to reiterate their call for the release of Julieta Gomez and Niezel Velasco who were arrested in July 2021. The protest was held alongside with the hearing of the criminal charges filed against the two.

Police and 4th ID elements arrested Gomez Velasco on July 16, 2021 in Barangay Pansol, Quezon City. The two were charged with murder, multiple attempted murder and multiple attempted homicide. They were also charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives which were supposedly confiscated when they were arrested.

Gomez is a Manobo from San Luis, Agusan del Sur who is a member of the Council of Indigenous People’s Organizations in Caraga. Velasco, on the other hand, is the coordinator of Bread for Emergency and Development, an institution that is active in providing aid and assistance to disaster victims in Caraga.

The Katribu Kalipunan ng Katubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas demanded the immediate release of the two and the dismissal of the charges the state fabricated against them. “Their unjust imprisonment for nearly three years is a stark example of the lengths to which their persecutors will go to stifle their advocacy,” Beverly Longid, Katribu national convener said.

Homicide and murder charges against Velasco have been dismissed but new charges have been filed against her bearing the accused’s name Mary Jane Velasco. The prosecutor irrationally insists that Mary Jane and Niezel are one and the same.

Longid insisted, the harassment and trumped-up charges faced by Gomez and Velasco are part of the larger issues suffered by the national minority in the Philippines. “[They face] land grabbing, environmental degradation, and militarization, underscoring the urgent need for genuine recognition and respect for their rights,” Longid said.

AB: Group demands release of Lumad rights defenders