Three brave women and the state

It’s not uncommon or new for human rights defenders, activists, and community organizers to face trumped-up charges such as murder and kidnapping.

This is a common tactic used to repress those who help marginalized communities and sectors, but it does not make it less vindictive.

However, a new layer of cruelty is added when we look at three women activists who were arrested recently despite their old age and illnesses.

Firstly, there’s Elisa Tita Lubi who serves as the chairperson of Karapatan, a non-government organization that advocates human rights and fights against HR abuses.

Lubi was arrested last year, in 2021, in Marikina as she was charged with attempted murder.

This murder allegedly happened in 2018 during an encounter between the NPA and the Philippine Army’s 89th Infantry Battalion and 10th Infantry Division in Davao City.

When Lubi was arrested, she was already 78 years old. In 2018, she was 75. Tita Lubi also suffers from hypertension and arthritis. Based on her age and health conditions alone, how could she be involved in an armed encounter?

Second of the three is Adora Faye de Vera, a Martial Law victim, and survivor.

She was arrested just last August 24, 2022, over alleged murder and frustrated murder, according to the PNP. She is also being tagged as a communist rebel leader in the Visayas.

During Martial Law, Adora was arrested twice—the first time, she was raped and tortured; the second, she was shot in the leg. Ron de Vera, her son, recalled how difficult it had been for their family since Marcos Sr.’s time, when his mother was arrested and his father just disappeared.

On August 30, 2022, at the commemoration of International Day of the Disappeared, he said, “Lahat tayo may karapatang mabuhay, hindi ganitong buhay. […] Kuwerenta’y uno na ‘ko ngayon, ganito pa rin. Walang pagbabago.”

Ron de Vera also demands the dismissal of fabricated charges, the release of his mother, and her immediate transfer to Manila where she can get proper medical care. Adora is now 66 with chronic asthma and anemia.

Injuries she sustained from the illegal arrest also remain unattended.

Last of the three is Atel Hijos who serves as the Secretary General of Gabriela Caraga.

She was also a former public school teacher and a founding member of Women’s Alliance for True Change (WATCH)—Mindanao, a movement led by women who struggled against the Marcos dictatorship.

Hijos was arrested most recently, just last August 30, 2022, in Butuan City.

There were warrants of arrest on charges of murder, kidnapping, and serious illegal detention.

Authorities are asserting she combatted with soldiers in 2019 and kidnapped a militiaman in 2018.

They are pinning her as a combatant involved in armed encounters at the age of 76.

In 2018, she was 72; in 2019, she was 73. How could she be a fighter at that age?

In addition, she also has difficulties walking, suffered a mild stroke and now has pulmonary tuberculosis, hypertension, and Alzheimer’s disease.

She already has difficulty moving around yet she’s being accused of being armed. The dissonance is palpable.

All three of them, Tita Lubi, Adora de Vera, and Atel Hijos, have stood and fought with the marginalized.

They have dedicated their lives to helping those who have suffered abuse and injustices.

Despite their old age, they have chosen to fight in ways that they can. Yet they are being charged for ‘fights’ they couldn’t have done as senior citizens.

Our nation is dealing with many societal problems which these brave elderly women have committed to responding to and yet they are repaid by being arrested.

As Filipinos, we are taught to respect the elderly, and yet the state disrespects them by filing trumped-up charges against them, by arresting them when they fully know that these women are feebler because of their age.

The state is allowing this to happen to them despite the service they have done.

What is being done to Ludi, de Vera, and Hijos are also gross violations of the human rights of elderly as promulgated by the United Nations General Assembly.

These rights, recognized in the UN Principles for Older Persons include:

(1) Older persons should have access to social and legal services to enhance their autonomy, protection, and care;

(2) Older persons should be able to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms when residing in any shelter, care or treatment facility, including full respect for their dignity, beliefs, needs and privacy and for the right to make decisions about their care and the quality of their lives;

(3) Older persons should be able to live in dignity and security and be free of exploitation and physical or mental abuse;

(4)Older persons should be treated fairly regardless of age, gender, racial or ethnic background, disability, or other status.

As for me, I believe in respecting our elders, especially those who have fought for freedom and justice, so I express my full support for Lubi, de Vera, and Hijos and I amplify the call for the release of both de Vera and Hijos who remain detained.

Elderly women are already oppressed twice, they must not be oppressed a third time.

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