‘Respect rights of 2 surfaced youth activists,’ group urges gov’t

A human rights group urged the military to respect the rights of farmers rights advocate Patricia Cierva and environmental activist Cedrick Casaño despite being surfaced as “surrenderees” last Friday, June 2, in Cagayan province.

Eighteen days after they went missing, the two activists were among 21 so-called rebel returnees presented in a ceremony led by Cagayan governor Manuel Mamba and the 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army in the province’s sub-capitol compound in Lal-lo town.

“It has come to our attention that Cedrick Casaño and Patricia Cierva have been surfaced by the 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and the Cagayan Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC),” Karapatan’s Cagayan Valley chapter said in the statement.

The group pointed out however that the two were “kept in isolation and underwent tactical interrogation” in nearly three weeks before their public presentation as “former New People’s Army (NPA) members.”

“Our call remains that their basic human rights be respected, they be accorded due process, and for their immediate release to be with their friends and families,” Karapatan said.

‘Careful statements’

As the most prominent among the group of so-called surrenderees, the two young activists were given the chance to talk during the ceremony.

Casaño had no negative words against the NPA, citing personal reasons for participating in the surrender ceremony instead.

“When I faced my captors, I could have struggled. But, in the process, and with the loss of several comrades, I lost my will to fight. That is the reason why I am here,” he said in a mix of Ilocano, Filipino and English.

Casaño added that he and Cierva will continue to advocate for social reforms in other ways.

“We cannot measure the peace we aspire for by the absence of war. Peace is measured if the people have sufficient food to eat. Peace based on justice is what we want,” he said.

Cierva for her part said, “Who does not want peace or development? Perspective differs depending on what side you are on. Though it will no longer be like the same means, our aspirations will remain.”

The two activists thanked the military for treating them well since their capture and the human rights organizations, activist groups and the University of the Philippines in Manila for launching a campaign for their surfacing.

 Northern Luzon Command chief Lt.Gen. Fernyl Buca himself used Casano’s own words in acknowledging the two’s so-called surrender.

“We are honored that you have surrendered your will to fight, and you have welcomed into your heart the will to go back to the government (and) to your families,” he said.

Mamba said they will look after the 20 surrenderees, which will look into the possibility of being hired by the Cagayan provincial government in the future.

He added that good governance is the solution to the “insurgency” in the country. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)