• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines

Manifesto of Unity to Stand with Bestang

January 28, 2023

We, as peace-loving and rights-upholding people, express our support and solidarity for indigenous rights defender Sarah ‘Bestang’ Dekdeken as she faces continuous judicial harassment for her activism and work as the secretary-general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.

Bestang was convicted of cyber libel after a local court ruled in favor of the charges made by former Cordillera police chief R’win Pagkalinawan on the truthful remarks she made regarding the police director’s role on the dismantling of the Chico Dam Struggle heroes monument in Tinglayan, Kalinga.

We stand that Bestang’s conviction was in error. Her remarks that were subjected to the court’s ruling were true and backed up by the community, concretized through resolutions and reports from April 2021. In fact, the Butbut tribe themselves had put the monument back up after reiterating that the police were to blame for its destruction.

We believe that the court’s ruling is another manifestation of the weaponization of the law by powers-that-be. This is not the first time that a government official in this country has wielded judicial remedies to intimidate—and silence—critics and truth-tellers.

We stand by Bestang’s credibility and integrity as an activist and development worker. For the longest time, Bestang’s work for indigenous people’s rights and human rights has resonated in her homeland—the Cordillera—and beyond. She has been instrumental in forging solidarities with other struggling peoples for the defense of the ancestral land and for the right to self-determination.

These precarious times warrant our strengthened unity to guard Philippine democracy from attacks at all fronts. At a time when truth-telling is challenged, we vow to defend it by standing by truth-tellers like Bestang and other human rights defenders and media workers.

Democracy dies in darkness. We shall keep it lit through our continued solidarity and action.

Stand with Bestang!
Fight for judicial independence! Decriminalize Libel!
Stop the political persecution of human rights defenders!
Stop the attacks!

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