“Ito ay bahagi ng nagpapatuloy na crackdown sa hanay ng mga kritiko ng rehimen. Nagluluksa kami ngayon. Ano pa ba ang gusto ninyo, pinatay na ninyo ang aming ama. Ano pa ba ang gusto ninyo gawin, yurak-yurakan pa? Hindi pa ba kayo kuntento. Bigyan ninyo kami ng panahon na magluksa. Bigyan ninyo kami ng panahon na alayan ng dignidad ang aming ama. Bigyan ninyo kami ng panahon na maningil at maniningil kami sa takdang panahon.” — Ariel Casilao, Former Representative, Anakpawis Party List
The rabid state forces are at it again: just this weekend, Bulacan police apprehended six volunteers of Tulong Anakpawis-Sagip Kanayunan, along with former Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, who were on the way to a relief drive in Norzagaray, Bulacan. The manner that the police presented the circumstances of the arrest to the public also had a not-so-subtle message: publishing and distributing materials that are critical of government could now land people in jail.
Based on social media posts made by official accounts of the military and the police, one of the bases for these charges were the copies of Pinoy Weekly, a founding member of Altermidya Network and a multi-awarded alternative newspaper, which were seized from the relief volunteers and misrepresented as “anti-government propaganda materials” as the newspaper bore stories about how the hashtag #OustDuterte trended on Twitter even before the onset of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
To bluntly portray this article in Pinoy Weekly as basis for filing sedition charges is tantamount to haphazard violation of the constitutionally-protected freedom of the press and expression. Altermidya Network unequivocally denounces this move as sheer abuse of power. We ask, why are government forces targeting volunteers undertaking COVID-19 relief efforts? And how problematic is it to use credible publications like Pinoy Weekly to substantiate trumped-up charges?
More press freedom violations have been recorded in past weeks. Northern Dispatch (Nordis) correspondents Paola Espiritu and Sherwin De Vera have been red-tagged by troll accounts, branding them as a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The same is the case with Pokus-Gitnang Luzon correspondent Pia Montalban. Other freedom of expression violations have been recorded, even against common citizens who merely posted critical messages on social media.
The recent spate of red-tagging and brazen use of authority against the alternative media and the people’s growing voice of dissent speak volumes of how the Duterte administration – and its emboldened security forces – are facing the COVID-19 pandemic not only with apparent incompetence, but also under a self-serving, and despotic brand of governance.
Many experts have pointed out how misguided the Duterte administration’s response is as regards the public health emergency. Instead of offering swift, clear-cut, responsive medical solutions, the state has invariably ramped up its militarist moves. Instead of flattening the curve of the pandemic, the administration’s state forces are bulldozing our fundamental rights.
But the public will not back down and quietly accept this situation. The alternative media is united with the Filipino people in keeping our guards high, ever vigilant on the creeping fascism that the Duterte administration is espousing to paint over its gross incompetence in facing this crisis.
We may be living in abnormal times. Yet we must continue unwaveringly asserting our rights and the shrinking space for public opinion. We cannot allow another creeping pandemic – the affliction of a mounting autocracy – to spread unabated.
“Ang simpleng sinasabi ng gubyerno, ‘Sila po ay mga NPA. Sila ay mga sympathizers, mga front ng NPA.’ Magsasaka, abogado, taong simbahan, guro, principal, at maging ang isang taong gulang ay front ng New People’s Army. ‘Yan po ang kaisipan ng gubyernong ito.”—Ariel Casilao, Anakpawis national vice president
Four Makabayan bloc representatives were targets of trumped up charges and other forms of harassments by the Rodrigo Duterte government, a regional group of parliamentarians reported.
The ASEAN (Association of SouthEast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said ACT Teachers Party Representatives France Castro and Antonio Tinio, Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao and Bayan Muna Representative suffered various forms of harassment under the Duterte government, along with Senators Leila de Lima, Antonio Trillanes and Risa Hontiveros and Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat.
“A key tactic of President Duterte’s administration to silence criticism has been the use of trumped-up criminal charges against lawmakers,” APHR said, adding the eight opposition lawmakers faced politically motivated criminal charges since June 2016.
Rep. Castro charged with ‘kidnapping’
APHR reported that Castro was detained last November 28 while participating in a National Solidarity Mission (NSM) to provide school supplies and food to indigenous Lumad communities in Mindanao.
Castro and 17 others, including former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo collectively known as the “Talaingod 18” were initially charged with “kidnapping and failure to return a minor” under the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
The charges were later downgraded to “other acts of child abuse” under Republic Act 7610 and all 18 people were released on bail on 1 December, but the investigation into the case is ongoing.
“The case appears politically motivated, as the delegation escorted the minors from the village at the request of their parents, in order to protect them from potential abuse by paramilitaries,” the APHR said.
“Given the paramilitaries’ history of abuse towards indigenous communities in the region, which has often included attacks on schools, it was reasonable to assume that their safety was at risk,” the group added
Reps. Tinio and Casilao charged with ‘child abuse’
ACT’s Tinio and Anakpawis’ Casilao also suffered harassments, APHR said, after attending a rally in Davao City last October 23 to protest the imposition of martial rule in Mindanao.
APHR said the peaceful rally was attended by children and youth belonging to Lumad communities.
“On the day of the rally, Sara Duterte, the President’s daughter and current mayor of Davao City, posted pictures on social media of Antonio Tinio and Ariel Casilao attending the demonstration.
“You take [minors] out of school to put them in the streets to conduct your rallies. Again, you do not deserve to be in Congress. When will the House of Representatives ever kick you out,” the younger Duterte wrote.
On 4 December, Davao City police charged Antonio Tinio and Ariel Casilao with “other acts of child abuse” under Republic Act 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
The APHR however said the charges appear entirely baseless.
“There is no evidence of the participants ‘influencing’ the youth to be ‘angry and resent the present government’ as claimed in the subpoena filed by the Davao City Prosecutor’s Office,” the APHR said.
The group added that even if Tinio and Casilao indeed influenced the young rally-goers, the alleged act would hardly constitute “other acts of neglect, abuse, cruelty or exploitation”, as defined by RA 7610.
“The charges further violate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, which is guaranteed in the Philippine Constitution to all citizens regardless of age,” the APHR said.
The parliamentarians reminded that this right is also protected by international treaties to which the Philippines is a state party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
“[The treatises] explicitly enshrines the right of children to take part in peaceful assemblies. The case appears to be part of a wider effort to harass the Makabayan bloc and their affiliated social organisations, the APHR said.
Rep. Zarate charged with organizing rally ‘without permit’
Zarate was slapped with charges of violations to the Marcosian Public Assembly Act of 1985 on January 30, 2018 stemming from a rally he attended on November 13, 2017 against the visit of US President Donald Trump to Manila during the 31st ASEAN Summit.
Zarate and others were charged with conducting the rally “without permit.”
The rally was violently dispersed by the police with water cannons and sonic alarms, injuring several protesters. The police claimed some of its personnel were also injured when the protesters tried to push through the barricade.
The charges were dismissed by the Manila Prosecutors’ Office on 8 May 2018.
“The charges appear to have been baseless and part of the wider effort to judicially harass members of the Makabayan bloc,” the APHR said.
“The charges under Articles 148 and 158 of the Revised Penal Code were based on contradictory testimony of the police officers, while Carlos Zarate denied involvement in any form of violence during the demonstration,” the group added.
The APHR pointed out that, under international standards, freedom to assemble peacefully should generally not require seeking permission from authorities because this could be misused to suppress legitimate protests.
The four Makabayan parliamentarians are APHR members.
A common pattern
The APHR said that while the charges against the four Makabayan parliamentarians as well as against de Lima, Trillanes, Hontiveros and Baguilat have been filed under different laws – including charges for “drug trafficking”, “kidnapping”, “child abuse” and “inciting to sedition” – the cases all fit a common pattern.
“These lawmakers appear to have been targeted for opposing the President’s policies, and in particular the widespread extrajudicial killings under the guise of the ‘war on drugs,’” it said.
“They have also often been singled out because of their defence of human rights and their attempts to protect their constituents from human rights violations, whether in the context of the anti-drug campaign or other administration efforts, such as the push to reinstate the death penalty,’ the APHR said.
The APHR is a group of South East Asian lawmakers committed to promoting human rights, democracy and justice in the region. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)