Thursday, November 5, 2009

Human Rights Activists – Danilo Andres Reyes

Danilo, as he is known to his friends and colleagues was born in Tagum, Davao Del Norte, the Philippines in 1979. He graduated from the Lagao National High School in 1995 and in the same year entered the University of Mindanao where he gained a BA (AB) in Mass Communications graduating in 1999. He also did post graduate studies in English. In order to support himself during his studies Danilo worked in a handy craft shop earning five pesos an hour. In the morning before going to university he would sell dried fish in the market. It was during his years at university that Danilo became involved in the student movement attending rallies and discussion meetings on such issues as increases in tuition fees and general issues of social concern such as price hikes.

Danilo’s first paid job was writing for a local weekly newspaper, the Southern Review in General Santos City. His first introduction to human rights violations and abuse by the police was when he was working for the Sun Star Newspaper, also in General Santos city. Part of Danilo’s beat was the local police station where he had, what he thought, was a good rapport with the officers. It was on the occasion of the arrest of several men for alleged terrorist activities in 2001 that Danilo witnessed the extent of police brutality. It was a big case which, at the time was covered extensively in the country’s press. Following their arrest the suspects were taken to the station where Danilo tried to take their photographs. The police officer in charge grabbed his camera and warned him to keep out of the way. The men were taken into the officer’s room and shortly after Danilo heard their cries of pain.

Following this introduction to the realities of human rights abuses Danilo then went on to join an organisation documenting abuses by the military and police in Mindanao. This was during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s all out war against the Moro Rebels in 2003. One of Danilo’s memories is of having an after work drink with a colleague at a sari sari store just a hundred yards away from the army camp. When the soldiers started their bombardment against the advancing rebels the ramshackle shop and the ground beneath them shook. While the other customers fled Danilo and his companion continued drinking, much to the delight of the proprietor. Such was the level of Danilo’s desensitisation to the situation.

It was during this period that Danilo started sending documented cases to the Asian Human Rights Commission, and when his contract with the human rights organisation ended he was offered an internship with the commission.

Danilo’s commitment and ability was immediately recognised and when he finished his internship the commission offered him a position in a branch office in Manila where he worked on general human rights issues and more importantly, the appalling problem of the extrajudicial killings that were then taking place in the Philippines in huge numbers. An estimated 700 people consisting of grass root and human rights activists were killed or forcibly disappeared during this period.

Now, back in Hong Kong, Danilo continues his work in human rights and is also active with several groups offering assistance to overseas workers, including cancer survivors from the Philippines which number in the hundreds of thousands in the territory. He is also a columnist with United Press International (Asia).

The following newspaper article is a report on the capture of the terrorist which Danilo witnessed when working as a journalist for the Sun Star.

Filipino hostage leader is captured
Richard Lloyd Parry Asia Correspondent - The Independent - Tuesday, 10 July 2001

Filipino troops yesterday seized one of the senior commanders of Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic guerrilla group that has kidnapped and ransomed dozens of people in the southern Philippines. Najmi Sabdula, whose alias is Commander Global, was captured in the town of General Santos on the southern island of Mindanao, 560 miles from their lair on the remote Jolo Island.

Philippines officers said he was responsible for the Abu Sayyaf raid five weeks ago on a luxury island resort and the kidnap of 20 tourists, including three Americans. Since then the guerrillas have humiliated the Philippines armed forces, slipping through the jungle with their hostages with thousands of soldiers and Special Forces in hot pursuit.

Lieutenant-General Jaime de los Santos said: "The capture of Commander Global is a great setback for the ASG [Abu Sayyaf Group]. I think, with this capture, we expect to get further information on their operations."

Brigadier-General Edilberto Adan, a military spokesman, paraded Global on a televised news conference in Manila, saying: "The number one effect is psychological. Now they are realising that wherever they go, they can be captured. They might be able to stage a raid, but they will be pursued and they cannot hide."

The captured guerrilla stood with his hands cuffed and his shoulders bowed, and shook his head in answer to reporters' questions. Three other members of the ASG – identified as Saltima Alih, Alex Sabdali and Jamar – were also captured, after a tip-off that they were in a house close to the airport of General Santos.

Rigoberto Tiglao, a spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said: "We see it as another indication that the Abu Sayyaf network is being gradually, but surely dismantled. We see that we're turning the corner now in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf."

But the effect on the ASG remains to be seen. Yesterday, army spokesmen were describing their captive as a mastermind. "He's the think-tank of the group," Colonel Danilo Servando said. "He hatches the plan and other groups carry out the mission."

In reality, Abu Sayyaf, which claims to be fighting for an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines, is a loose organisation of bandit groups led by individual commanders of equal rank. Several commanders have childish nicknames: there is a Commander Robot and a Commander Boy, as well as a Commander Global, who was nicknamed, like a classroom swot, because of his impressive learning and international perspective. Global and Robot organised the ASG's first kidnap of foreign hostages, from a Malaysian resort island in spring last year. As much as m (£18m) in ransom was paid for the release of the mixed group of Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Malaysian and South African hostages.

Negotiators and intermediaries who met Global describe him as quietly spoken and intelligent, with a distinctive bullet scar on his right cheek. "He's very silent, a good listener, because he listens to what you say and then he'll refute you," one negotiator said. "It's true that he's a thinker – he thinks globally."

Philippines television said the press conference had been delayed after soldiers and police squabbled over the five million pesos (£65,000) offered for Global's capture. (Please see the AHRC Statement PHILIPPINES: Policemen squabble in open court over custody of a detainee for bounty at:

Thousands of wanted posters, with photos of him and five other Abu Sayyaf commanders, have been put up across Mindanao and dropped by plane into the jungle.

Abu Sayyaf commanders are still holding an American missionary couple, who were seized from the resort in May. A third American hostage, Guillermo Sobero, is reported to have been beheaded by the rebels, although there has been no sign of his body.

(Additional text by Stewart Sloan)

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