NUJP on the 70th anniversary of the International Human Rights Day

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is terribly unfortunate that seven decades since this landmark document was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, this day is marked not so much in celebration as in noting how people continue to be deprived of these rights or see these snatched away by repressive governments.

The Philippines, of course, knows this only too well in the last two and a half years since Rodrigo Duterte became president and launched his bloody war on drugs, in waging which he has also taken to openly insulting and attacking critics of the murderous campaign.

Among his targets have been media outfits and their news staff, relentlessly and baselessly accusing them of spreading disinformation, a charge his supporters have echoed and used to threaten and harass journalists, even exhorting others to do the same even as they themselves knowingly spread falsehoods.

Article 19 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

This right is also enshrined in Section 4, Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances.”

As we mark another year of violated human rights and repressed freedoms, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines reaffirms our commitment to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the country.

We call on all independent Filipino journalists to strengthen our bonds and solidify our ranks, and resist all efforts to silence or otherwise prevent us from fulfilling our task of serving the people’s sacred right to know.

And amid the continuing efforts to silence critical speech and thought, let us give these voices the space and airtime they deserve that they may be heard and contribute to the ever evolving work in progress that is our democracy. #

 

–THE NUJP NATIONAL DIRECTORATE

Free Satur and France; free the Lumad children

The Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) condemns the illegal detention of Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and other delegates of the National Solidarity Mission (NSM) in Davao del Norte since 9:30 pm last night November 28 by the combined elements of the 56th IB, Philippine National Police and Municipal Social Work and Development Officers.

CRC also denounces threats of Anti-Trafficking and violation of RA 7610 charges against the NSM delegation, after rescuing the Lumad people from further harassment of the army and ALAMARA in their community following the closure of the main school of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkakanon Learning Center Inc (STTILCI) in Dulyan, Davao del Norte yesterday November 28, 2018.

The escalation of military attacks on schools spread fear and paranoia among children in the schools of STTILCI and the Lumad communities in Mindanao.

CRC calls for the release of Rep. Satur Ocampo, Rep France Castro and the rest of the NSM. End Martial Law in Mindanao. Let the children study in their schools, pull out military troops from the Lumad communities. #

Charges against Satur and aid group has no basis–LODI

The Duterte regime has reached a new low with the filing of preposterous human trafficking and kidnapping charges against veteran journalist, activist and human rights advocate Satur Ocampo, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro as they were on a fact-finding to aid beleaguered indigenous people in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

The arts and media alliance, Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity demands the immediate release of Ocampo and Castro and their 17 companions.

The charges are baseless, meant to cover up the truth: That it is the paramilitary groups Alamara and Magahat Bagani, commanded by the Philippine Army, that lay waste to Lumad communities. They should be the ones facing charges as they have killed Lumad leaders, shut down schools, and driven off communities from ancestral lands that President Rodrigo Duterte has promised to business and foreign patrons.

Ocampo is a a columnist with The Philippine Star and chairperson of the Board of Directors of Bulatlat.com. He joined the 19-member National Humanitarian Mission that went to Talaingod Wednesday night to bring aid to the Lumad.

Ocampo and the rest of the mission accompanied the Lumad evacuees at the Talaingod police station to lodge complaints against the paramilitary group Alamara. To preempt the human rights case, cops concocted their lies.

The charge has no basis. The parents of 29 Lumad students provided written statements of recognition for the mission’s presence and purpose.

This afternoon, Ocampo and the others were taken to Kapalong District Hospital and eventually to the Tagum City Prosecutors Office for inquest proceedings.

We repeat: accusing Ocampo, who is all of 79 years old, of trumped-up charges of kidnapping and human trafficking is preposterous. We demand that the Talaingod PNP withdraw its charges against Satur Ocampo and he is set free immediately.

We warn the Duterte government that detaining an elderly journalist who is only acting on his convictions that are well within his rights would earn the greater condemnation of the journalistic community in the Philippines and the world. #

THE STATE OF PHILIPPINE MEDIA

Relentless Attacks And Threats

Online, On Ground, Across the Nation

23 November 2018

 

 By the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR),

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines,

Philippine Press Institute (PPI),

MindaNews, and

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)

ATTACKS AND THREATS against the Philippine media — acute and creeping, online and offline, deadly and debilitating — continue to rise under the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

In the 28 months of the Duterte presidency, or from July 1, 2016 to Oct. 31, 2018, we have documented at least 99 such cases of direct and indirect assaults against journalists and news media agencies.

Separately and together, these continue to put at risk and serious peril the practice of independent journalism in what had hitherto been hailed to be one of Asia’s freest and most rambunctious press.

This latest figure, 99 in all, is bigger than the 85 cases that we have documented until April 30, 2018, or in the first 22 months of Duterte. But in the succeeding six months, more of the more dreadful cases had occurred.

Three more journalists had been killed — for a total of 12 under the Duterte presidency’s 28-month rule. From July 1, 2016 to last May 1, nine journalists had been killed in the line of duty.

Just as worrisome, the count of other cases of attacks on media freedom had also marked increases. For instance:

* Online harassment cases had risen from 14 to 17;

* Slay attempts, from 6 to 7 cases;

* Verbal assault or threat (mostly from public officials), from one to five cases;

* Arrests, from zero to three cases; and

* One more case of intimidation (from 5 to 6) and one more case of physical assault (from 4 to 5), had also been recorded in the last six months.

An aggregate 11 cases of threat by SMS or text messaging, and five cases of verbal threat have also happened in the 28 months of Duterte.

One more cyber libel case had been filed, bringing the new total to four, from three last May.

However, the 16 libel cases recorded as of last May have thinned to 12 by end-October 2018, on account of the dismissal or resolution of four cases.

In sum, the 99 cases of attacks and threats in the 28 months of the Duterte presidency consist of:

  • Online harassment, 17 cases;
  • Killing, 12;
  • Libel, 12;
  • Threat by SMS, 11;
  • Slay attempt, 7;
  • Intimidation 6;
  • Verbal threat/assault, 5;
  • Physical assault, 5;
  • Website attack, 4;
  • Cyber libel, 4;
  • Arrest, 3;
  • Corporation-related case, 3;
  • Barred from coverage, 3;
  • Physical harassment, 3;
  • Article takedown, 2;
  • Strafing/shooting incident, 2;

By alleged perpetrator or suspect, it is most significant that nearly half or 44 of the cases involved state agents or public officials.

They include 13 local government officials; 11 officers of the Philippine National Police; 6 national government officials; three officers each of the Presidential Security Group and of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; two cases each involving, ironically, an official of the Presidential Special Task Force on Media Killings (PTFOMS) and of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and one case involving the director of the Philippine Information Agency.

Apart from the state agents/agencies, the other alleged perpetrators or suspects behind the attacks and threats follow:

  • Online partisan trolls, 16;
  • Still unidentified, 14;
  • Private citizen, 12;
  • Anonymous caller, 7;
  • Unknown attacker (website), 4;
  • No data, 1; and
  • Alleged NPA, 1.

 By gender, 59 cases targeted male journalists and 23 female journalists. Another 17 cases were directed at media organizations.

By platform, 33 cases involved journalists and agencies from radio; 30 online media; 23 print media; 11 television networks; 1 photojournalist; and 1 multimedia journalist.

By islands of the country, 66 cases were recorded in Luzon, 12 in the Visayas, and 21 in Mindanao.

By regions of the country, the spread of the cases follows:

  • NCR (Metro Manila), 41 cases;
  • Region III (Central Luzon), 8;
  • Region XIII (CARAGA), 7;
  • Region V (Bicol Region), 6;
  • Region VIII (Eastern Visayas), 5;
  • Region XI (Davao Region), 5;
  • Region IV-A (Calabarzon), 5;
  • Region IX (Western Mindanao), 5;
  • Region I (Ilocos Region), 4;
  • Region XII (SOCCKSARGEN), 4;
  • Region VI (Western Visayas), 4;
  • Region VII (Central Visayas), 3; and
  • CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region), 2.

 Imperatives: Unity, vigilance, action

All around the world, the decline of democracy may have muted the voices protesting attacks and threats against the press and journalists. Indeed in some countries governments have gained support for reining in and restraining the press, even regulating and controlling its practice.

The prospects for press freedom and citizen support for journalists are endangered in a period of rising authoritarianism. Citizens have been misled to support the ascent of autocratic leaders promising quick solutions to embedded ills. Citizens have been made to believe that the democratic experiment has failed; thus a new order must be created where the people’s interests come first, even at the sacrifice of inalienable freedoms.

Recent Philippine history shows that popular submission to a regime of control and acceptance of the suspension of basic civil and political rights, including the freedom of the press and expression, have led to serious repercussions, not least of which are a treasury beggared by crony capitalism, an educational system in shambles, and a press intimidated into silence that has kept the public ignorant of the true state of the nation.

In over two years of the Duterte administration, Filipinos have once again played along with the seductive pledge of quick fixes. But democratic development is a slow process, and can be exhausting.

Sadly, the press is confronted once again with multiple challenges:  a beleaguered state of affairs entails full discourse on issues of governance, the wayward conduct of certain public officials and state agencies that require close scrutiny, their failures investigated, and accountability and responsibility clearly defined.

The news media are central to the capability of a national community to think out these problems, with leaders in constant conversation not just amongst themselves; but openly analyzing and explaining what these issues involve and what can be done to move to fair and speedy action and solutions.

Journalists must commit to learning more about the background of the news in order to more faithfully report, or interpret the meaning of what is happening.

Yet still, the culture of impunity, the failed observance of human rights by state agents; the vulnerability of journalists to legal threats or worse, lies, to a great extent within the ambit of the courts; the application of rules and procedures that delay justice; the bias of these procedures for the rich accused of crimes on display by officers of the law; the richly paid legal eagles drawn into service of defending those with the means to afford their extravagant fees, linger in our midst.

Journalists, unlike government officials are not sworn into office, but the practice is based on a sacred trust — protected by no less than the Constitution — to provide the news and information that the people need to know about, with analysis and interpretation so citizens can make sense of what is going on and formulate sound judgments and decisions.

The restoration of democracy in the years that followed the fall of the Marcos dictatorship have gathered advocates around the task of protecting and defending press freedom and the safety and welfare of journalists.

But today under the Duterte administration, never has so much darkness hovered over the prospects of free and independent journalism since the democratic recovery of 1986.

How does the media react to this?

It goes timid or it joins the side where political power resides, receiving extra compensation for its efforts. We do not deny the corruption has been an effective silencer of the news that citizens need to know.

Sadly, the observation has been made that the news media has been intimidated into silence on so many issues. There remains, however, a great many journalists who continue to report on stories that may put their lives in danger.

Those who have joined in the collective resolve to stand up and insist on the freedom to report, on the free flow of information, not just for journalists but for all citizens;  those who speak on behalf of those who are attacked and threatened, besieged, and beleaguered, must learn to work together, gaining strength from one another!

Today, the ninth anniversary of the Ampatauan Massacre of Nov. 23, 2009, we call on Filipinos to support press freedom and to come to the defense of those in media who struggle working within the narrowing space and time, to counter false narratives and disinformation, and to check the abuse of power.

Even in small measures, the exercise of freedom strengthens and nurtures the human spirit, invigorate the energies that will empower citizens to speak truth to power. Hope springs from in the power of truth to make us all informed and free.

In a similarly distressing time, journalists need to reach out to one another and build alliances so they can altogether secure the channels and platforms for truth.

That struggle must acknowledge the perils of the exercise, but also the great power of solidarity and sustained defense of press freedom and the people’s right to know.

The victims of attacks and threats against media freedom may be fewer than the other victims of violence in Philippine society today. But these target and weaken the institution that provides and sustains for all citizens the conversation about issues that matter, and upholds the integrity of political communication, without which the press cannot check the abuse of power.

And so we must work to keep a record of lives lost, or rights denied or diminished, of access limited or eliminated, of attacks and threats that rob us of our peace, safety, and freedoms.

NUJP statement on the 9th anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre

Today, November 23, 2018, is the ninth year since a power-crazed madman and his armed minions, among them members of the police, halted a convoy on the national highway in Barangay Saqlman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao and herded the passengers, along with those of two vehicles that just happened to pass by, to a hilltop in Sitio Masalay and slaughtered them.

In the convoy were relatives and supporters of then Buluan town vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu who intended to file his candidacy for governor of Maguindanao against Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., scion of the powerful clan that ruled the province, and 32 journalists who were there to cover the proceedings.

All in all, 58 persons died, making the Ampatuan massacre both the worst case of electoral violence in recent Philippine history and the single deadliest attack on the press ever recorded.

One would expect that justice would be swift in coming for a crime that literally shocked the world, so horrendous was it in both cruelty and scale. But no, the Justice department of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo chose to file what legal experts then called as “case designed to fail,” charging more than 190 persons instead of concentrating first on the principal suspects, key members of the Ampatuan clan, thus ensuring that the prosecution would stretch on for years. The most optimistic opinion on when the earliest conviction could be expected was 10 years.

A year short of that prediction, it is but right for the victims’ families, tired of the extremely slow pace of the trial, to shout “Justice Now” and “Convict Ampatuan.”

In fact, signaling their impatience, this year’s observance had the families of both non-media and media victims coming together to remember and honor their loved ones and, together, demand the justice they have long been deprived of.

While we are heartened by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s statement that a conviction may, at last, be forthcoming, we also hope this does not signal any intervention by the executive branch that could lead to a miscarriage of justice.

And while a closure to this tragedy is most welcome, we stress that it should not in any way detract from the State’s continued accountability for its continued failure to bring an end to the threats and attacks against journalists and to give justice to the more than 100 other victims of media killings since 1986.

#JUSTICENOW

#CONVICTAMPATUAN

#ENDTHEKILLINGS

NUJP Statement: On showcasing PNP’s ‘good deeds’

8 October 2018

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is concerned about a directive to police units nationwide to implement a communications program that has seen law enforcers visiting media outfits to seek “partnerships” to “showcase the PNP’s good deeds.”

We have obtained a copy of a directive issued to the Cebu City police dated October 2 that “pertains to the optimal use of various media platforms to enhance the PNP’s operational capability” and is based on the “verbal instruction of CPNP,” meaning PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde.

While it does not explain how the police should use media to enhance their capability, the directive orders them to “coordinate with local media outlets within your AOR and embark on partnership programs/activities to showcase the PNP’s good deeds” and is “for strict compliance.”

The memo to the Cebu PNP also reminds police personnel to “always stay composed and steadfast in the performance of their sworn duty to serve and protect” and “to always observe proper decorum at all times and refrain from being swayed by emotions in spite of the countless pressures and stresses that they may encounter in the performance of their duty as police officers.”

Apparently as a result of Albayalde’s order, our Bacolod City chapter has confirmed that policemen visited the local office of the SunStar daily asking for positive coverage because most of the news about the PNP lately has supposedly been negative. Other news outlets in the city were also visited.

Colleagues in Cebu City also confirmed similar visits to the main office of the SunStar newspaper chain and at least one radio station.

More worrisome is that the visiting lawmen actually took photos of the staff at the SunStar Bacolod office without asking permission first and, reportedly, also at the Cebu radio station.

NUJP members in Batangas also reported that the PNP in the province now refuses them access to spot reports, citing a so-called directive from the national headquarters. They are only being given press releases that only cite their “accomplishments” in a clear effort to dictate how the local media report on police activities.

To be fair, there is nothing wrong about wanting good press.

However, it is one thing to cover the PNP’s accomplishments, and the media have never been remiss about giving credit where it is due. It is a totally different matter, though, to seek to recruit the media in a campaign meant to spruce up the service’s image.

The truth is, the best way – the only way, in fact – for the PNP to improve its standing and earn the public’s trust is simply to fulfil its sworn duty to serve and protect the citizenry. It fails to do so and no amount of image building can hope to succeed.

THE NUJP NATIONAL DIRECTORATE

On the Disinformation and Harassment Against ‘Tu Pug Imatuy’

By the Concerned Artists of the Philippines

We condemn the uploading of black propaganda against the film Tu Pug Imatuy (2017), directed by Arnel Barbarona who is a member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines.

Set in Mindanao, Tu Pug Imatuy (The Right to Kill) revolves around the story of Manobo couple caught amidst anti-insurgency operations by the Philippine military in a community targetted for mining operations, inspired by a lumad’s actual account of similar events in the region. A notable work of independent, regional, and progressive cinema, the acclaimed film recently completed a series of screenings since its premiere and successive wins at the Sinag Maynila 2017 Film Festival, the Gawad Urian, and the Famas awards.

On September 21, an anonymously-produced video was uploaded and shared via Facebook. It branded Tu Puy Imatuy as a “deceptive indie film” full of untruths and with ties to the CPP-NDF-NPA. The video used film clips, obviously without permission from the filmmaker. It was flagged but continues to be uploaded across other fake news sites. Barbarona also noted a recent incident that points to the possibility of him being surveilled.

The release of such black propaganda is an assault on freedom of expression and the freedom of the artist to critique, reflect or respond to social realities. This sends the message that artistic and creative works that contradict the narrative of the Duterte administration can and will be attacked with impunity.

These acts of vilification on social media happen at a time when alarmist spectres are peddled to discredit criticism of the current economic crisis and political repression in the Philippines. These are no different from the Palace’s and the military’s singling out of critics or advocates from other sectors as “terrorists” and targets for harassment or worse. The Presidential Communications Operations Office, through Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, promotes the spread of dangerous disinformation. For, for instance, it interviewed supposed lumad leaders who want the peace talks scrapped and condemn alleged CPP-NPA killings of “legitimate” leaders—claims that are strongly contested by people’s organizations on the ground.

These cases of red baiting and surveillance are a dangerous throwback to the repression and proliferation of lies, rife during the Marcos dictatorship. Let us not not wait for these to escalate into full-blown harassment of artists and cultural workers or for such black propaganda to become normalized. We call upon our colleagues in the film industry to speak up against the incident and the wider phenomenon of McCarthyist red-baiting of dissent.

Stop the attacks on artists and cultural workers.
Stop the attacks on lumad and indigenous peoples communities.
Stop the attacks on the Filipino people.

On conspiracy tales vs. the resumption of peace talks

Press Statement
September 25, 2018

A recent interview of AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galves and Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. revealed the sad truth that the Armed Forces of the Philippines remains in a quagmire of anti-democratic war-mongering, stale conspiracy peddling, and vicious red-tagging of known peace advocates in the GRP-NDFP peace process.

In dropping the names of Rey Casambre and former congressman Satur Ocampo as being in the center of an imagined, nay, invented conspiracy plot, the AFP has provided concrete evidence that they are indeed war-mongering peace-spoilers. Rey Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center and Satur Ocampo of Pilgrims for Peace are publicly known peace advocates. Their efforts in seeking to move the peace talks forward in addressing the roots of the armed conflict towards the aspiration of a just and enduring peace in the Philippines are well known to peace advocates throughout the country and internationally.

Naming Casambre and Ocampo as central figures in the AFP’s poorly concocted conspiracy theory makes abundantly clear that Duterte’s state forces are prone to fascist machinations and red-tagging which undermine democracy and impinge upon democratic freedoms.

Many peace advocates—both in the Philippines and around the world—will insist that part of peace building is allowing and even encouraging the participation of dissenting and marginalized voices in government and society. In contrast, the blatantly oppressive character of the military was revealed as they repeatedly warned of infiltration by communists in government. Peace advocates applaud the participation of progressive, pro-poor leaders in government, especially as they have been seen to deliver reforms and services that benefit the poor and toiling majority.

The AFP made evident that they wish to blame a faltering economy on the opposition. They even went as far as to accuse the opposition of manipulating the price of rice. This is ridiculous. Meanwhile, they also exposed the lie of their so-called “Whole of Nation” approach where the military seeks to control and manipulate access to basic and social services for their anti-insurgency campaign, while feigning that they are apolitical.

We want peace for the Philippines. The way to move in this direction is to resume GRP-NDFP peace talks intended to address the roots of the armed conflict. The negotiating parties had hammered out meaningful agreements, ready for signature, on much needed Socio-Economic Reforms. These very peace spoilers in the AFP and the security cluster are the ones standing in the way of democracy and peace building.

The public would be wise not to give an iota of credence to the AFP’s conspiracy tales. An open opposition exists. It would be much worse for democracy in the Philippines if it didn’t. And as Duterte’s military henchmen grasp at straws to attempt to tie together these perceived strands of opposition and falsely render them into a tidy conspiracy, they only lay bare their penchant for military rule.

On some level, President Duterte appears to have coalesced with their thinking. We must urge him that it is not too late to recalibrate toward peace talks and addressing historic injustices and root causes of armed conflict in our beloved homeland. People like Rey Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center and Satur Ocampo of Pilgrims for Peace would welcome such developments.

As President Duterte continues to follow the AFP’s war-mongering and martial law, opposition will continue to grow in response to increased oppression and militarization. Not only should we not believe this conspiracy they are peddling, we must encourage the Duterte administration that peace-building and resuming GRP-NDFP peace talks is the better option altogether. #

Reference: 
Bishop Rex RB Reyes, Jr., D.D.
Convenor, Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (Ecuvoice)

NUJP: Let ethics always be our guide

This week, media took a huge, self-inflicted hit at a time when the industry and individual journalists continue to be vilified and threatened by those who would seek to undermine the profession of truth to advance their nefarious agenda.
Recently, some radio stations were monitored to have posted on their social media assets lewd pictures obviously grabbed from other accounts, like one of a couple having sex on a tomb in a cemetery, and using these to engage with their followers.
And then, in General Santos City, the station manager and news director of the local station of the Bombo Radyo network were reported to have been arrested in an entrapment on Tuesday by the National Bureau of Investigation as they received a down-payment of the P10 million they had allegedly demanded to end critical commentary against a company that was, itself, being questioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
If the alleged extortion is proven true, this, along with the lewd images, would deal a major blow to the media even as we have continuously strived to raise professional and ethical standards.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is deeply saddened by these incidents and concerned about how they will affect media safety in a country that remains among the most dangerous places to practice our profession.
Never, since the Marcos regime, have media been so badly under siege as today, under President Rodrigo Duterte, who, on the eve of his assumption to office, justified media killings by declaring: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.”
Since then, media outfits and individual colleagues have been assailed and threatened by Duterte while colleagues continue to report intense harassment, including death threats, from his supporters.
One of the latest incidents happened just this week when former NUJP director, Julile Alipala of Zamboanga City, was tagged a “terrorist” by a dubious Facebook account over her reporting on the deaths of seven young men in Sulu who the military claimed were Abu Sayyaf fighters but whose relatives maintain were massacred civilians.
In the face of increasing risks, independent Filipino journalists continue to serve the people by delivering the vital information with which they can decide their individual and collective future, sustained by the knowledge our work is honorable and informed by the highest ethical and professional standards.
It may be argued that these recent incidents are isolated. Nevertheless, they undermine the entire profession and provide more ammunition for those who would seek to silence us.
The NUJP strongly urges the managements of broadcast networks to strengthen their ranks. We also call on our partners in the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas to ensure that the highest broadcast standards are observed at all times. Let us work together towards this.
We owe this to ourselves and to the people that we serve.
The National Directorate

Free Ben and Rita Alliance to launch in forum on political persecution

The Free Ben and Rita Alliance that calls for the release of development workers Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza will have a Southern Tagalog launching this September 13 at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) from 2 pm to 5 pm.

Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza were illegally arrested on October 19, 2017 in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental after conducting a series of consultations with members of the National Federation of Sugarworkers (NFSW) on appropriate development projects that the latter can undertake.

About ten members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) forcibly took them, handcuffed, blindfolded and brought them to the Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.

They were denied legal counsel and subjected to several interrogations.

None of those who interrogated them identified themselves.

They were brought to Camp Crame on October 21 without the knowledge of their lawyers.

On June 8, 2018 they were sneaked out of Camp Crame and brought to the Bayugan Police Station.

They were disallowed to bring with them their maintenance medicines and some personal belongings.

They are now detained at the Butuan City Jail in Agusan del Norte.

Quilloy and Espinoza are facing trumped-up charges.

Both are accused of illegal possession of firearms and illegal possession of explosives in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. Quilloy has a murder and two cases of multiple murder in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur while Espinoza has robbery, arson and kidnapping charges also in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur. She also has a murder case in Zamboanga del Norte.

Quilloy is a Convenor and Senior Consultant while Espinoza is Project Staff of the Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT), a non-government organization that promotes and defends economic, social and cultural rights.

They have worked with poor peasants and indigenous peoples since their student days.

Quilloy, 64, is only a few units away from completing his Sugar Technology degree at UPLB while Espinoza, 61 is a high school graduate.

The Southern Tagalog (ST) launching of the Free Ben and Rita Alliance at UPLB is also a symbolic homecoming for Quilloy who was among the first UPLB students to work for the establishment of the student council during the Marcos years.

He also became President of the UPLB Chemical Society who eventually helped in organizing peasants in Southern Tagalog provinces.

Dubbed “Blindfolded: The Case of Ben and Rita, Forum on Political Persecution under the Duterte Regime”, the ST forum will have as speakers former Congressman Rafael Mariano, Sr. Patricia Fox, Atty. Maria Sol Taule of KARAPATAN, Professor Edward Deveza, and Atty. Filemon Nolasco of the Movement Against Tyranny – Southern Tagalog (MAT-ST).

Meanwhile, Quilloy’s family has likewise called for the release of Quilloy and Espinoza.

Millet Quilloy-Magsino, his elder sister said in a statement, “We strongly condemn the illegal arrest of Benito C. Quilloy and Rita Espinoza. Benito has been a kind and caring son and brother. We know him to be a principled man who has worked for the poor and marginalized sectors since his student days at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB).”

“Our family has been worrying about him since his arrest as he is suffering from hypertension and has difficulty in moving around due to a total hip replacement operation. He experienced chest pains when he and Rita were surreptitiously transferred from Camp Crame to Bayugan Police Station. Some of our siblings cannot stop from crying every time we think about him because he is far from us. We cannot understand why he is being punished for crimes he did not commit,” Magsino added.

“We demand for his immediate release. Free our brother Benito C. Quilloy and his colleague Rita Espinoza,” Magsino ended. #