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Philippines

Philippine nun blames military in rights defender shooting

American human rights activist left fighting for life after attack

Sherwin De Vera, Baguio City

Sherwin De Vera, Baguio City

Updated: August 12, 2019 08:45 AM GMT
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Philippine nun blames military in rights defender shooting

Activists stage a demonstration in the northern Philippine city of Baguio on Aug. 7, a day after unidentified gunmen shot human rights activist Brandon Lee. (Contributed photo)

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A Catholic nun has accused the military of being behind the shooting of a human rights defender in the northern Philippine city of Baguio last week.

"It's the military," said Good Shepherd nun Genoveva Dumay who works with farmers and political prisoners in the northern region of the country.

Gunmen shot and badly wounded Brandon Lee, an American citizen who works as a volunteer for a farmers' organization, on Aug. 6.

The nun said Lee had told her that soldiers had been following and harassing him.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala denied the allegation.

"The Philippine army is people-centered, thus we strictly adhere to the provisions of human rights," he said. 

Lee, who is married to a Filipino woman, is fighting for his life after being shot several times.

Philippine authorities say a special task force will investigate the shooting.

Lee, 37, a paralegal volunteer for the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM), was allegedly "red-tagged" or declared a communist rebel sympathizer by the military in 2015.

"He told me that he was being tailed by military people," said Sister Dumay who has worked with Lee on several occasions, particularly on human rights issues.

"I saw how he worked with the peasants. They were not rebels, and they were not armed," said the nun.

"My congregation and we, as a church, condemn the attacks by the military against Lee, IPM members, and those defending human rights," she said.

Lee took up permanent residence in the Philippines in 2010, joined the IPM the same year and wrote for the local news agency Northern Dispatch.

The shooting saw Lee become the third IPM member to be attacked.

In 2014, William Bugatti, another paralegal officer was shot dead after being tagged a communist rebel. The same fate awaited Ricardo Mayumi, who was killed in March 2018.

The tribal group Sandugo claimed that 49 tribal community members across the country have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016.

"Those who support our plight are also being targeted," said Kerlan Fanagel, a Sandugo spokesman.

He said military operations against suspected communist rebels have intensified in tribal communities, resulting in forced evacuations.

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