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3 Human Rights Issues That Made Headlines This December

Despite the festive holiday spirit, controversies are still on the headlines this December.

We can all agree that 2020 has been quite an eventful year, mostly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantine, and the race against time to find a vaccine.

We all learned to live in isolation, away from family and friends, and not being able to see them for months on end. Many also lost their livelihoods, while some started new businesses to get back up. But despite these major changes, some things remain the same. (Read: CHR Probes Cebu Resort for Discrimination of Child with Autism)

Even before the pandemic, the Philippines has been in the headlines for illegal arrests, extrajudicial killings, and human rights violations. In fact, just this December— despite it being a month of celebrations— several issues like these have angered the public.

My Pope lists three of these controversies that have been making noise this month.

Arrests on Human Rights Day, December 10

Human rights and labor rights defenders stage a protest caravan in front of Camp Karingal in Quezon City on December 11, 2020. (Photo from George Calvelo / ABS-CBN News)

Human Rights Day is celebrated every December 10 to remind everyone about their basic rights, how to protect them, and to call out those who violate them. But contrary to the purpose of this occasion, this year’s Human Rights Day saw the arrest of seven individuals.

Manila Today editor and journalist Lady Ann Salem and Unionists Dennise Velasco, Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Raiselle Astudillo, Jaymie Gregorio, Joel Demate, and Rodrigo Esparago were all arrested on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

It is to be noted that activists and those who have been red-tagged in the past faced the same charges when arrested by the police. Rights group Karapatan has called on authorities to release the seven, saying, “This fascist regime will stop at nothing to bare its fangs against activists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, and critics as it ramps up its crackdown on dissent in the most brazen of ways.”

As of writing, the arrested individuals have not yet been released. (Read: 5 Religious People Who Were Detained in Their Fight for Human Rights)

Red-Tagged Doctor Killed on December 15

Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan, Guihulngan city health officer, was shot dead by unknown killers along with her husband on their way home on Tuesday, December 15. (Photo from Eleseo Villagracia Iii / Guihulngan City Government /

While driving home after a day at the office, Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband Edwin were shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen. The couple sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital they were brought to.

Before her passing, Sancelan was the head of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) in the city of Guihulngan in Negros Oriental. Her husband was also a local government employee.

Reports say Sancelan was on top of a ‘hitlist’ made by an anti-communist militia group, ‘Kagubak,’ for her alleged involvement with a command of the New People’s Army (NPA). Some of the individuals in the hitlist together with the doctor were also killed in the past years. (Read: Women’s Rights Around the World: How Far Have We Really Come?)

Dr. Sancelan and her husband are the latest victims of armed violence in Negros Island. Back in August, Karapatan staffer Zara Alvarez was killed in Bacolod, just a week after National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Ka Randy Echanis was killed in his home in Quezon City.

Christmas ‘Prank’ by Cebu Police on December 15

Photos from PCOL Josefino D Ligan Facebook Live

Law enforcement authorities are once again in a bad light for a Christmas prank they pulled on several individuals. Dubbed “Arestoguinaldo,” police from the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) would “arrest” unsuspecting citizens— complete with fake warrants of arrest— and bring them to a police vehicle. After that, other police will surprise the “suspects” with Christmas gifts like groceries and basic necessities.

Many netizens reacted negatively to the insensitive prank, given the rampant killings and arrests that have been happening in the past few months. They said that the prank isn’t funny and that warrants of arrest should always be taken seriously and not used for antics like this. 2019 Bar Topnotcher Diane Azores even tweeted saying, “Aside from being not funny at all, this may also constitute as falsification of a public document.” (Read: Prank No More: House Bill to Penalize Cancelled Food Delivery Orders)

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Debold Sinas said the gimmick wasn’t an order from his office. He added that he will look into it and if he sees that it causes anxiety to the public, the CPPO will be ordered to stop.

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