Five women, five stories, one struggle: Bulatlat shares lived realities of human rights defenders

CHEERS TO Bulatlat for two follow-up stories posted on November 29 and December 1, which deserve the same recognition as the first three stories on women human rights defenders that CMFR previously cheered. The report was in fitting observance of International of Women Human Rights Defenders’ Day on November 29 and was on women human rights defenders’ resolute courage to keep fighting “for and with the people.”

Both follow-up stories focused on Church women defending Indigenous People’s (IP) rights, one in Mindoro and the other in Mindanao. The stories also showed that because of their work, they have been attacked by state forces. 

The story by Anne Marxze Umil featured the life of a clergywoman, Rev. Glofie Baluntong, who has been serving Mangyans in Mindoro through countless relief and rehabilitation programs. 

Growing up in a family serving the church, Baluntong described the need to serve as her calling. A deaconess for 24 years and an ordained clergy person since 2014, Baluntong recalled that harassment against her began after she allowed members of a fact-finding team of Karapatan to spend the night in their church in 2019. Karapatan was assisting families in claiming the bodies of  guerilla fighters  killed in a clash with the military. 

“I let them in because the church is always open to those who need it,” Baluntong said. Since then, state forces have told her she’s under surveillance, took pictures of her and the church, asked numerous times why she gives relief goods to Mangyans, and accused her of being seen in a camp of the New People’s Army. 

This August, Baluntong, along with others, was charged with attempted murder, for an incident that allegedly happened in March. Baluntong was aware she was providing necrological services somewhere else at the time of the incident. She is currently out on bail, but she has temporarily halted doing work on the ground as a safety measure. 

Meanwhile, Marc Buntag and Aira Siguenza featured the lives of two missionaries – Srs. Edith and Rebecca (full name withheld upon their request) of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), which has  helped IP communities in Mindanao since the Martial Law era.

IPs have long been deprived of social services, but the report noted that since the declaration of Martial Law by former President Rodrigo Duterte in Mindanao, Lumad communities have been threatened with attacks by the military. These included setting up encampments in their vicinity, and the destruction and closure of Lumad schools. 

The desperate situation of  IPs has forced them to ask for help, and their only sanctuary is the church, where they are sheltered for months until the soldiers leave their communities. Apart from shelter, RMP also provides medical assistance for rural communities, builds cooperatives, and finds scholarships for the farmers’ children.

This work subjected RMP to relentless attacks such as “red-tagging” and claims that they “finance terrorism.” They have also had to contend with other challenges such as red-tagging by state forces, their limited means of communication, and making long walks because of the state of rural communities.

All in all, despite the challenges and serious threats to their own lives, the two stories showed how these women of the church continue to stay true to their calling and uphold their church’s mandate “to love and serve God and the poor.”