By Visayas Today
In what human rights advocates said was a clear victory and an indictment of government’s ham-fisted efforts to stifle dissent, 32 of 57 persons arrested and detained following simultaneous raids on what authorities claimed were communist rebel safehouses in Bacolod City on October 31 were released on Wednesday, November 6, after prosecutors cleared them.
Those who walked out of detention at the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office were 21 laid-off workers of Vallacar Transit Inc., which operates the Cere Bus line, and 11 members of the cultural group Teatro Obrero.
All of them were arrested at the office of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Barangay Bata where authorities claimed to have recovered 32 guns.
A number of minors who were also rehearsing with Teatro Obrero at the Bayan office had been released earlier.
Wednesday’s releases left only 11 persons in detention and facing criminal prosecution.
of them are charged for non-bailable offenses:
1. Cheryl Catalogo
2. Karina Mae Dela Cerna
3. Albert Dela Cerna
4. Noly Rosales
5. Proceso Quiatzon
6. Romulo Bito-on
7. Mermalyn Bito-on
The Bito-on couple, who were nabbed during a raid on their home, are accused of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
The others, who were arrested in the raid on the Bayan office, were charged with illegal possession of multiple firearms.
charged with illegal possession of firearms, a bailable offense, are:
1. Anne Krueger
2. John Milton Lozande
3. Danilo Tabora
4. Roberto Lachica
Krueger, a community journalist from alternative media outfit Paghimutad, was arrested at the Bacolod office of women’s organization Gabriela, from where authorities claimed to have recovered two .38 caliber revolver and ammunition.
Lozande, secretary general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, was also nabbed at the Bayan office, while Tabora and Lachica were at the NFSW office when it was raided.
Aside from the firearms and explosives charges, Lozande, Rosales, the Dela Cernas, who are father and daughter, Catalogo and Quiatzon are also set to be charged for human trafficking.
Immediately after the raids, a joint military and police operation under the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the Army proclaimed a major victory and predicted the imminent destruction of the communist rebel movement on Negros.
The military had also claimed the offices of the organizations that were raided, particularly the Bayan office which occupies a large compound, were training facilities where the rebels were supposedly molding “child warriors.”
However, the organizations, all tagged as rebel “fronts,” denied the accusation and insisted the guns and explosives supposedly seized had been planted.
It turned out the laid-off Ceres workers were consulting Rosales, who heads the Kilusang Mayo Uno labor union, about their dismissal from work.
The Teatro Obrero members, on the other hand, were rehearsing for a play, “Papa Isio,” about the legendary hero of the revolution against Spain and the war against the American colonizers, which they were supposed to have presented on November 5, which commemorates the liberation of Negros from the Spaniards.
Former Bayan Muna representative and Bacolod native Neri Colmenares, who visited the detainees with Representatives Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna and Arelen Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party, said he expected the release of the 32 detainees to substantially weaken the cases against the remaining 11.
“The release of the majority of the people arrested during the raids essentially means that the charges against them are not true,” he explained.
Incidentally, it took them more than two hours, or close to the end of visiting hours at 5 p.m., to gain access to the detainees and escort those to be released out of Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. after police guards refused them entry, saying they were under orders from Col. Romeo Baleros, the provincial director.
Lawyer Joemax Ortiz, counsel of the laid off transport workers, slammed authorities for arresting and forcing them to “go through the inconvenience of proving their innocence” when “they should have been released then and there because they were clearly innocent.”
Progressive groups said the Bacolod raids and the arrest of other activists in Manila signaled the start of a widespread crackdown on legal dissenters and critics of government. #