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Philippines: International outrage at attempted extrajudicial killing of education union members

Two members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the Education International affiliate in the Philippines, were targeted in an armed attack on their school. One suffered multiple gunshot wounds and is currently in hospital, with the union reporting she is being held prisoner by police forces.

 

Classroom shooting targets teachers

On the morning of 15 October, teachers Zhaydee and Ramil Cabañelez were shot at by masked men in their classroom, in the presence of their students. While Ramil was unscathed, his wife Zhaydee was struck by six bullets. Mrs Cabañelez was carried to hospital where she is currently receiving medical care.

Zhaydee and Ramil Cabañelez are teachers and members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in the Philippines. In 2016, Zhaydee received the Outstanding Teacher Award fromthe Department of Education. The couple are among the few teachers who have decided to reside full-time in their isolated community to deliver education.

 

Hostages in hospital

According to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the couple are being held hostage in their hospital room in the city of Valencia and are being denied the right to receive visitors. A solidarity visit conducted by members of ACT and staff of the Commission on Human Rights on 23 October was blocked by eight armed police officers stationed at the hospital. This was despite the visit being agreed the previous day with Ramil Cabañelez and the couple being in desperate need of moral, financial and legal support from their colleagues.

However, police forces did provide access to the couple to a reporter from a government news agency. The couple informed their union that the reporter misquoted them and twisted their statements in order to deny their affiliation to ACT.

Police attention seems to be focused on keeping the two victims isolated and not on investigating and identifying the perpetrators of the crime. Students’ parents have reported to ACT that the police had not visited the school and that students were the ones who gathered the bullet shells left at the scene of the shooting.

 

Strong condemnation from the union movement

Since the end of 2018, members of ACT have been subjected to state-sponsored profiling, red-tagging, vilification, harassment, intimidation and threats. This is part of a larger trend where progressive movements and individuals critical of the Duterte administration are being systematically targeted.

David Edwards, Education International General Secretary, stated: “These blatant infringements of human and trade union rights must stop now. This is not something the global union movement or the world can tolerate. We stand in full solidarity with our colleagues in the Philippines and call on the international community to take immediate action against the Duterte government. Innocent lives are at stake.” The global union movement is mobilising for a special action day in solidarity with colleagues in the Philippines on 10 December – International Human Rights Day.

On 25 October, ACT organised a press conference and released an official statement regarding the attack against Zhaydee and Ramil Cabañelez and the ensuing police action. Raymond Basilio, ACT General Secretary, stated:

“ACT denounces such grievous attacks to our ranks. As educators, it is our utmost duty to defend human rights and uphold peace, justice, and democracy. We demand for state security forces to lay their hands off our teachers and schools! We implore the police to do their job of conducting a genuine and earnest investigation of the case and pursue the perpetrators of the crime! We call on all concerned government institutions to exert all efforts to protect the Cabañelez couple from continuing threats and attacks and secure their welfare and well-being. We will remain steadfast in this fight until justice is served to our colleagues.”