Update on the case of CPA Regional Council Member Stephen “Steve” Tauli

Update on the case of CPA Regional Council Member Stephen “Steve” Tauli

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance strongly condemn the recent abduction, mauling, illegal detention and psychological torture of Stephen “Steve” Tauli, last August 20, 2022, by State security forces. A week now after his release, Steve and his family are reeling from the deep trauma caused by the incident, especially since the threats to his life are still continuing.

On the night of August 20, 2022, at around 6:45 pm, Steve went to buy some things in the mini-grocery store near the CPA Office in Barangay Appas, Tabuk City after his companions in the office had left. Also at that time, most of the neighbors around the office had gone to attend a birthday party.

As he was leaving, 5 men suddenly grabbed him, blindfolded and handcuffed him, then mauled him and forced him into a black van while he was desperately struggling and screaming for help. While in the moving van, Steve immediately and repeatedly demanded his captors to identify themselves and their units, but they refused. He also pleaded that if they had any case against him, they should use legal means by filing a case through the courts and bringing him to the police station or military camp instead of bringing him to an unknown location. Here, the men started to lecture Steve about the NTF-ELCAC and its objective of stopping the insurgency problem in the country. They interrogated him about his work and some people he allegedly has links with. They wanted him to confirm the identity of certain people and their links with the CPP-NPA. After about an hour of questioning, the men again brought Steve to a vehicle and traveled for about 2 hours before stopping at another house that seemed secluded and far from populated areas. Here, they continued the interrogation and tried to convince Steve to cooperate with them by signing a sworn statement admitting the supposed position he was alleged to hold in the CPP-NPA leadership. They said that he could help them by neutralizing certain persons they identified as leaders of the CPP-NPA in the Cordillera region. This went on for several more hours. The whole time, Steve was blindfolded and handcuffed, while being threatened that they could kill him anytime if he would not cooperate.

Steve feared for his life, knowing what had happened to his friend and fellow activist James Balao who was abducted in 2008 and was never surfaced. Steve also started to imagine the distress that his family and colleagues must be experiencing with him suddenly gone missing. He didn’t know what was happening outside or what his friends were doing to find him. His captors kept trying to force him to sign a sworn statement they prepared saying that they would let him go if he signed and that anything could happen if he refused. Under such circumstances and under duress, Steve agreed to sign the statement. They removed his blindfold and he saw his captors but they were all in full masks. They made him sign and then read the statement while being recorded through video. They then threatened him not to report what had happened and to comply with what he had signed, otherwise, they would harm him, his family, and his colleagues.

On the evening of August 21, 2022, he was released by his abductors and threatened that if he does not cooperate with them, he knows what would happen next. He was made to walk to the CPA office from where he was dropped off and was found in shock and daze by the CPA-Kalinga staff who were continuing the search that night.

Steve, like other CPA leaders and members, was subjected to redtagging, surveillance and harassment before the incident. The abduction came at a time while an ongoing campaign on the Saltan Dam was being launched by CPA-Kalinga and just right after leaders and members of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance filed a petition for a Writ of Amparo at the Court of Appeals because of the continuing redtagging and attacks against human rights defenders.

We are of the firm belief that the swift response of family, colleagues, and the wider community to immediately search for him, government officials who stood by their mandate to protect their constituents, and the public outcry forced his abductors to release Steve Tauli. His was a near-death experience in the hands of his abductors who clearly were part of the State security forces.

We sincerely and deeply thank everyone for your concern and actions in the search for Steve Tauli. We appeal for your continuous support as his ordeal is not yet finished and justice has to be pursued. This will be a difficult battle given the prevailing culture of impunity in the country and disinformation already being spread about the incident. As attacks on civil and political rights are heightening, we call on everyone including State security forces to be reminded of the value of human rights and dignity and the people’s collective responsibility to protect and assert these, especially during the most difficult times of tyranny.#