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‘Matigas ang ulo niyo!’

By Renato Reyes Jr.

It appears the Duterte regime may extend the lockdown for another two weeks, and then blame the people for it. The developing storyline is that Filipinos are hard-headed and will cause the failure of the quarantine measures. An extension is thus necessary. Martial Law-style implementation is also necessary.

While we recognize there may be difficulties in the proper implementation of the quarantine protocols by some elements, it would be unjust and highly insensitive to blame this solely on the people, especially the poor.

Before accepting hook, line and sinker the Palace excuse, let us all pause for a moment and examine why we find ourselves where we are now in the first place.

It was Malacañang’s slow response to and downplaying of the global health crisis which led to the imposition of severe quarantine measures throughout Luzon and other parts of the Philippines. There was no travel ban at the onset, local transmission happened, and the health system was ill-prepared to handle a crisis.

Let us remind policymakers that when the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was imposed, there were no plans for public transportation, social protection, relief for affected families and uniformity in the execution of quarantine measures. Local government units (LGUs) were asked to fend for themselves while the regime was busy setting up checkpoints and militarizing the entire ECQ, turning it into a harsh lockdown for the people.

Let us remind policymakers that at the onset, the regime resisted the call for mass testing as well as the positive initiatives of some LGUs to implement health measures. Only after the clamor became so loud that the DOH finally acknowledged the need for mass testing for COVID 19.

Let us remind the people of how the powerful would flaunt quarantine protocols because they felt that they were somehow exempted, thus potentially infecting other people.

Let us remind the regime how it treated the people of San Roque when they sought food and economic aid. They were arrested, charged with so many ridiculous cases and made to pay P15,000 each for bail – when the most reasonable response would have been to just give them food.

Let us continue to point out the fact that the emergency powers did little to speed up the social amelioration program of the government. Up to now, despite the money already allotted, millions still have not received the promised economic support. The list of beneficiaries approved by the DSWD is often less than the list submitted by the LGUs, thus creating problems among administrators and those who are in need.

“Matigas ang ulo niyo!” does not reflect the complex and difficult situation faced by our people. It glosses over government culpability for the crisis and unfairly shifts the blame to the people.

While the ECQ has slowed down the spread of the disease, we have always maintained that it is not enough nor is the lockdown the decisive measure in fighting COVID19. We need mass testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment of patients. We need to ramp up our health services to accommodate more patients. We need economic support for the people because we cannot expect them to simply stay at home when they are faced with hunger.

We have called on the government to show the people its roadmap and the key indicators for the lifting or modification of the lockdown. How will we move from a state of ECQ to the easing of restrictions as our health system copes with the rising number of COVID19 cases. We supported the recommendations of the University of the Philippines Pandemic Response Team for a modified community quarantine that allows the resumption of economic activity and restores the livelihood of the people.

We cannot simply accept an open-ended or indefinite lockdown that does not address the health and economic needs of the people. We cannot accept laying the blame on people to cover up government inaction, incompetence or gross negligence. We cannot accept heightened military response as the ONLY way to enforce quarantine measures. Whatever happened to “mulat na disiplina” where people follow protocols because they understand what these mean and not because they fear the government? A heightened militarist response invites more abuses in a time when the country is faced with a serious health crisis.

Blaming the people for quarantine woes and difficulties absolves the government of its primary responsibility of effectively fighting COVID19 while protecting the rights and welfare of the people. “Matigas ang ulo niyo!” doesn’t explain away the problems the regime itself should be accountable for. #

The author is the secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

Bayan asks government, ‘Where is your health and economic roadmap to end lockdown?’

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) urged the Rodrigo Duterte government to outline its plan on how to end the lockdown through proper health measures that will combat the spread of the corona virus disease (Covid-19).

“The Duterte government should tell us how we will move from a state of enhanced community quarantine to a state where economic activity can resume for the people under conditions of a pandemic,” Bayan said in a statement Sunday, April 12.

On the 30th day of the lockdown, Bayan asked about the government’s transition plan to the “new normal” as experts still have no categorical answer as to when the pandemic would end.

“We are not downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic, but neither should we simply aspire for an open-ended and prolonged lockdown with no clear end goal,” the group said.

As it extended the Luzon-wide quarantine, Bayan said the government should present its plans on the following:

1. How will it increase the capacity of the entire health care system to deal with the rising cases of Covid-19 infections and the targets it needs to achieve to do such.

2. How will mass testing, contact tracing and isolation lead to the easing of restrictions in some areas that do not have or have very low incidence of Covid-19 so that economic activity can resume for the people.

3. A timeline for the gradual or calibrated lifting of the enhanced community quarantine, duly considering the number of new cases and the increased capacity of the health care system.

4. How state support for economically displaced people will continue even after the lockdown along with efforts to revive the economy and provide livelihood for the people.

Bayan said suport and reforms in other services like housing, education and mass transportation should be considered to prevent a resurgence in the number of Covid-19 cases.

“The people want to know the comprehensive plans that are being taken to effectively fight Covid-19 en route to lifting the lockdown. Absent a set of goals on lifting or easing the lockdown, it would appear that what the government is preparing for is another lockdown extension,” Bayan warned.

The country’s biggest alliance of progressive organizations added that the thrust of the government should be the immediate implementation of necessary health measures to address the crisis and enable the lifting of the lockdown at the soonest possible time. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Beyond late night pep talks

By Renato Reyes, Jr.

The government tries hard to convince us that we are doing fine compared to the rest of the world despite the widespread complaints and sufferings of the people who are under lockdown due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19).

The Philippines has had to resort to extreme quarantine measures precisely because of the failure of the Duterte regime to impose travel restrictions, do proper contact tracing, and recognize in a timely manner the local transmission that had been ongoing in the country. Don’t tell us we are better off. We are in this difficult situation because government downplayed many of the red flags early on. Remember that time when a patient from Greenhills with no travel history was infected with the virus, and health secretary Francisco Duque said that’s not local transmission because it’s just one person?

The people want the spread of the disease to stop through the necessary health measures such as community quarantine, mass testing, isolation and treatment of patients. The expanded quarantine has become necessary to slow down the spread of the disease given that our health system cannot cope with the rise of new cases. Slowing down the spread of the disease entails stopping the movement of people, especially when we do not yet have a clear picture of the extent of the infections. A University of the Philippines study projects that as many as 140,000 to 550,000 can be infected especially in densely populated urban poor communities.

Lifting the quarantine will be done based on two factors according to the DOH: lower number of new cases and the increased capacity of the health system to treat patients (enough hospital beds, respirators, doctors). The lifting may not be done abruptly because of the dangers of the virus infecting more people. This may require calibrated or gradual lifting of quarantine measures or lockdown. Some areas may take more time because they have a high incidence of infections.

What will prolong the lockdown is the failure of the government to implement the necessary health measures to confront the pandemic. What will prolong the lockdown is the failure of government to implement the needed economic support for the people. A hungry populace will not stay put and will break quarantine protocols, and will be more vulnerable to sickness. Kaya talagang mahigpit na magka-ugnay yung health at economics.

And if the lockdown is lifted, we have to fix major issues in the workplace, housing, sanitation, mass transportation, education and so on. We cannot just return to the way things were — with gross inequality and government neglect of social services laying the basis for more infections. The first thing we will be demanding after the lockdown is lifted is CHANGE. We do not want to go back to the way things were.

Those telling us we are doing fine are the ones that got us into this dire situation in the first place. They best heed the growing demands of the people and undertake the needed health and economic measures, else we will be looking at a longer lockdown period and more suffering and unrest among the population. Kaya na lang ganoon kadiin ang protesta at pagpapahayag sa gobyerno. Ayaw nating dumami ang tatamaan ng sakit, at ayaw nating humaba pa ang pagdurusa ng mamamayan. #

#TulongHindiKulong
#MassTestingNowPH
#IbigayAngAyuda

(The author is the secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.)

Bayan urges gov’t to prioritize the poor during lockdown extension

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said it is not surprised that the government extended by another two weeks the Luzon-wide lockdown to contain the corona virus disease (Covid-19) but raised concerns on how the Rodrigo Duterte administration would be able to deliver assistance to poor families.

Reacting to the government’s announcement of the lockdown extension, Bayan urged the government to prioritize the most vulnerable families, communities and sectors as these would suffer the greatest pressures of the extended community quarantine period.

“The longer the lockdown, the greater the number of people needing assistance. Even the middle class is feeling the increasing burden,” the country’s biggest alliance of progressive groups said in a statement.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced in a “virtual presser” last Tuesday, April 7, that the government has decided to extend the island-wide lockdown until April 30 after confirming the decision with Duterte.

Bayan said that for the extended lockdown to be successful in fighting COVID19, government should ensure the following:

1. Adequate economic aid for the poor and even the middle class,

2. Increase in capacity of our public health system, from testing kits and labs, quarantine facilities, to PPE’s for frontliners, and

3. Respect human rights.

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said the three items were the issues need to be addressed during the extension.

“These are the same issues that government failed to address during the first phase of the lockdown,” Reyes said of the four-week old lockdown.

Bayan quoted a study by the University of the Philippines pointing out to a potentially greater number of infections in the future, from 140,000 to 550,000, especially among poor and densely populated urban communities even during the implementation of the lockdown.

The group said that a lockdown without adequate social protection only burdens the poor and vulnerable sectors and does not stop the spread of disease.

“A lockdown with no comprehensive health program will only lead to another extension.  No doubt, the people want to move forward and beat Covid-19. This cannot be done if the poor and vulnerable sectors are left to fend for themselves and their voices silenced,” Reyes said.

Reyes’ group asked the government to find ways to allow limited economic activities for some sectors in order to provide people with livelihood. 

Bayan also urged that human rights should be respected at all times and freedom of speech guaranteed.

“The people should be heard not silenced,” Reyes said in reference to government threats to file cyber-libel charges against those who post critical opinions on social media accounts.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has also admitted issuing directives against employees who criticize the government, saying they should “not bite the hand that feeds them.”

Bayan also said that the country’s massive budget for debt servicing, P450.9 billiom or 11% of the P 4.1 trillion 2020 national budget, should be re-channelled to fund social protection programs at the time of the pandemic.

“A moratorium on debt payments should be considered now. Other items such as intelligence funds, counter-insurgency funds and porkbarrel funds should be scrapped to free up resources for the fight against Covid-19,” Bayan urged.

The group added that local government units should also be given financial assistance by the national government to provide for the needs of the people. 

“People first. This should be the overriding consideration in facing the pandemic and dealing with the continued community quarantine,” Reyes said, warning that continued failures of the government can no longer be tolerated in the face of a dangerous pandemic. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

BAYAN demands freedom of all political prisoners

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) joined UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call for the freedom of all political prisoners in the time of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic to save them from possibly contracting the virus in the often crowded and inhumane conditions of jails worldwide, especially in the Philippines. The action was also in response to the online campaign of human rights group Karapatan this 7-8 pm ofTuesday, March 31.

Amid the intensifying dangers presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Karapatan and other human rights groups as well as religious leaders called on the Rodrigo Duterte the government to free the more than 500 political prisoners in the Philippines. They also called for the release of other prisoners, especially the elderly, pregnant, women and nursing mothers and those who are due for parole or pardon. # (Jek Alcaraz)

A new hope: The issues and struggles of 2019

By Renato Reyes Jr.

The year 2019 has got to be one of the most difficult 12 months for the Filipino people. We witnessed an unprecedented escalation of political repression on various fronts. The attacks were vicious and relentless and tested our collective resolve to fight back. The backward economy experienced new challenges with the continuing neo-liberal policies this regime chose to uphold. Under attack this year were human rights, national sovereignty, democracy and the rule of law. Through it all, the struggling Filipino people stood their ground, made significant advances, pushed back against tyranny and scored victories for the people.

Push-back against fascist attacks

The year 2019 saw the worst attacks on human rights including the killings and mass arrests in Negros, the militarization of Eastern Visayas, continuing Martial Law in Mindanao, trumped-up charges and arrests in Manila, extrajudicial killings in the drug war, red-tagging and attacks on academic freedom, the right to organize and freedom of expression. The National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict repeatedly reared its ugly head and led the crackdown on dissent in the name of “counter-insurgency”. The “whole of nation approach”, which called for the militarization and weaponization of the civilian bureaucracy in the service of counter-insurgency.

The call “Defend Negros” reverberated as human rights defenders showed solidarity with the people of Negros facing extrajudicial killings, mass arrests, harassment and militarization. The courageous people of Negros are standing up to tyranny thanks in part to the nationwide and international solidarity that came after the series of violent attacks in the island. There remain many detained on trumped-up charges and justice remains elusive for those killed like the Sagay 9, Atty, Ben Ramos, Toto Patigas and Atty. Anthony Trinidad, among many others.

The October 31 raid on legal offices of activist groups in Negros and the arrest of as many as 51 individuals including minors, was one of the worst incidents of wholesale political repression against activists in the country in recent history. Majority of those arrested were eventually released for lack of probable cause or after posting bail. There are many however who remain incarcerated because of trumped-up charges and planted evidence. At around the same time in Manila, five activists were arrested based on warrants issued by the same QC judge that issued the Negros search warrants.

In the face of these escalating attacks, the people pushed back, waged mass actions, called nationwide attention to the abuses, built alliances, and amplified the call to defend human rights. The lies of state forces were eventually exposed, including the manufacture of spurious search warrants used to raid offices of legal activists. A solidarity mission was held and the groups arrived in time for the release of many of the arrested individuals.

The September 21 commemoration of Marcos’ Martial Law and the December 10 International Human Rights Day mobilizations bannered the calls against tyranny and dictatorship. Thousands participated nationwide in protest of the worsening human rights situation under the fascist Duterte regime.

The struggle for justice for all human rights victims continues in 2020.

Bato, bato who?

In August, neophyte Senator Bato dela Rosa attempted to conduct his own McCarthyist witch-hunt of youth activists in several universities, citing the alleged “missing of minors” who were recruited to the NPA. Such claims however were belied as there were no “missing minors”. The purpose of the hearing was to actually attack academic freedom and activism in schools by delegitimizing dissent. The efforts of Bato were soon exposed and the students fought back by holding protests and walk-outs across the country.

One week after his tirades on student activists, Bato would find himself at the crosshairs of a senate probe on the early releases of high-profile inmates convicted of heinous crimes. Bato used to be Bucor director and under his watch, anomalous GCTA releases took place.

Atin ang Pinas!

Another banner issue for 2019 was the West Philippine Sea. The campaign to defend our sovereign rights in our Exclusive Economic Zone and protest the puppetry of the regime united a broad range of patriotic forces. The protests against China’s violation of our sovereign rights was sustained: April 9, June 12, the days after the sinking of the MV Gem-Ver, July 12 anniversary of the Hague ruling, and the biggest anti-China protest on the occasion of Duterte’s State of the Nation Address. The pressure from the public forced Duterte to address the issue of the China and the West Philippine Sea during his SONA.

Labor unrest

This year saw several workers’ strikes take place, with almost all being brutally attacked by private goons and state forces. Notable workers’s struggles include the workers of SUMIFRU, Super 8, PEPMACO, NutriAsia in Cabuyao, Laguna, Nissin-Monde and Regent Foods. Most common issues are contractualization, the right to unionize, collective bargaining, and poor working conditions.

Trade union repression has worsened this year with the frequent use of police forces to break up picket lines and arrest striking workers. Some of the worst violations happened with the NutriaAsia workers whose strike was violently attacked and leaders arrested and detained for several months. The same violence was imposed on the striking workers of Regent Foods in Pasig, with union leaders and supporters also arrested. The timely intervention of Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto helped secure the release of the detained workers.

The attacks on striking workers spurred a boycott of products of the companies suppressing workers’ rights. The boycott of PEPMACO, NutriAsia and Regent Food products remain in force to this day.

Electoral struggle

It was a difficult year for the electoral struggle as progressive partylist groups and candidates faced fascist attacks from the entire state machinery. The regime also used considerable resources at is disposal to ensure the election of their candidates. Pera, pananakot at panlilinlang ang ginamit para mailuklok ang mga kandidato ng administrasyon at sagkaan ang oposisyon. Despite the tremendous odds, partylist group Bayan Muna achieved three seats in Congress and placed second in the partylist race. ACT, Gabriela Women’s Parety and Kabataan got one seat each. Anakpawis will definitely do better in the next elections even as attacks continue against the peasant sector.

On May 17, more than a thousand marched to the PICC to protest election fraud under the Duterte regime.

Rice crisis

This year was bleak for millions of Filipino rice farmers reeling from the effects of the rice liberalization and the massive importation of rice. The Philippines gained the distinction as the biggest rice importer in the world as palay prices dipped to P9 per kilo in some parts of the country. More than 50,000 farmers signed a petition for the repeal of the Rice Tariffication Law and public outrage over the state of agriculture was clearly felt. This forced Duterte to order government to purchase more palay from local producers. However, the regime stopped short of actually halting rice importation and repealing the law.

Mass transport crisis

Commuters continued to suffer in 2109 with what Bayan has described as a “mass transport crisis”. Trains continued to break down, a jeepney phaseout was being pushed, and the quality of life of Metro Manila workers and students continued to deteriorate due to the long commute. Not even the commute stunt of Presidential Spokesman Sal Panelo could cover up the reality that mass transport in the country is utterly lacking and problematic. The regime of privatization has failed to address the transportation needs of the public and the problems are expected to continue in 2020.

GCTA and ninja cops

The PNP faced its worst crisis yet with the issue of the “ninja cops”, an offshoot of the probe into the Good Conduct Time Allowance. The supposed release of heinous crime convicts such as Mayor Antonio Sanchez led to the conduct of a senate probe into anomalies in the GCTA. Even Sen. Bato, a former Bucor chief, found himself in the hot seat for the releases under his watch, Like many things in the corrupt bureaucracy, the system could be bought. In the course of the investigation, the issue of “ninja cops”was raised by former CIDG chief and now Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong. This led to a new round of investigations that centered on no less than PNP chief Oscar Albayalde. The PNP Chief was implicated in protecting his personnel who were involved in the recycling of illegal drugs. Albayalde was allowed to resign, though disgraced and without fanfare. Until now, Duterte has not appointed a PNP chief. He has ordered DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano to “handle” the PNP until 2022.

The entire drug war has been exposed as a sham. So many families cry out for justice for the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings brought about by the brutal drug war.

Water crisis and the crisis of privatization

March 7 marked the start of the water crisis in Metro Manila as Manila Water customers suddenly found themselves without water. Long lines were formed in Mandaluyong, Pasig and San Juan as people waited for water supply in the streets. Maynilad will also follow suit with its service interruptions. Water services, which had been privatized since 1997, again failed the the consumers. The private water concessionaires incurred widespread public anger because of their failure to prepare for the El Nino and provide new water sources to keep up with their expansion. Their proposed water rate hike was widely opposed. Eventually, their contracts were scrutinized and exposed as having been onerous and grossly disadvantageous to the public. The statements from Malacanang and the DOJ were a vindication of the Left’s position on water privatization and the onerous contracts entered into by the Ramos regime and extended by the Arroyo regime. Even Duterte grudgingly acknowledged this on December 3, when he discussed the concession agreements: “Itong Left inunahan tayo. Kana si [Sal?] narinig mo si ano? Inunahan — nakaamoy ang mga ulol and they think that they are the savior of the…”

The water service interruptions continue, and are expected to be the “new normal” possibly beyond summer 2020. The public awaits the outcome of the contract reviews. It is time for government to take back water services, not give it to another crony of the regime. This should be on our campaign agenda next year.

The end of Martial Law in Mindanao

After more than two years, Martial Law in Mindanao will end midnight of December 31. The period covered by Martial Law saw many human rights violations and abuses by state security forces. This includes extrajudicial killings of peasants and indigenous peoples, the militarization of communities, closure of Lumad schools, mass arrests and the filing of trumped up charges. Mindanao has borne the brunt of the counter-insurgency operations of the regime. Their heroic resistance continues.

A recent survey indicated that 65% of those polled wanted Martial Law to end this year.

Peace talks ituloy!

A most welcome development at the end of 2019 was the revival of peace efforts between the GRP and the NDFP. Backchannel talks were held, a 15-day reciprocal ceasefire was put in place and confidence-building measures were sought. The peace talks stand to benefit the Filipino people through the forging of substantive agreements that address the root causes of the armed conflict. It also has the effect of countering the fascist attacks of the regime against the people. The news of the revival of the peace talks was welcomed by many, especially peace advocates. Some 130 lawmakers have signed a resolution supporting the peace talks. Despite efforts of peace spoilers and war hawks intent on sabotaging the peace talks, there appears to be positive advances with the reconstitution of the GRP peace panel and the inclusion of Executive Secretary Bingbong Medialdea in the panel.

We need to press for the release of all political prisoners, including NDF peace consultants who will participate in the peace talks.

The peace spoilers are bent on sowing intrigues to sabotage the talks. They also want to banner their so-called achievements in “localized peace talks”. Unfortunately for them, their latest fakery in the supposed “mass surrender” of NPA’s in Masbate was quickly exposed as a sham. The resumption of the peace talks is proof of the failure of the localized talks and the “whole of nation approach”.

A new hope

In the immortal words of Rogue One’s Jyn Erso we subscribe: “Rebellions are built on hope”. The resistance to tyranny and oppression is fueled by the hope that a better world, a more just and human society, is indeed possible. Our hope is likewise fueled by the resilience and tirelessness of the oppressed masses. Time and again, they who are most oppressed and downtrodden have taught us the meaning of courage.

We welcome the new year with a new hope and a firm resolve to fight for our people and for a better future. #

The author is the secretary general of the New Patriotic Alliance/Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

Gate-crashing general booed out of forum by his red-baiting victims

A gate-crashing general was booed and shooed away from a forum organized and attended by the very victims of the government’s red-baiting tactics that he spearheads.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Deputy Chief-of-Staff for Civil-Military Operations Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. was escorted out of the Quezon City Sports Club room where members of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) were attending the forum entitled “Weaponizing the Law, Criminalizing Dissent.”

The forum, co-organized by the National Union of People’s Lawyers, was aimed at highlighting “the abuses committed against critics of the [Duterte] administration.”

During the open forum, Perlade asked to speak and walked to the front but Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo did not allow him.

“This is a forum organized by MAT…Gen. Parlade has every platform that he can get, including mass media to spill his twisted lies. He is not welcome here…If he can be so kind and act like a gentleman and step out of this hall,” Araullo said.

NUPL video of Gen Parlade being asked to leave the event he gate-crashed.

As applause greeted Araullo’s statement, an organizer motioned for Parlade to step out of the room.

The general still tried to speak but was roundly heckled.

Eventually, Araullo and several others, including a visibly incensed elderly nun, escorted Parlade out.

Out in the hallway, Parlade tried to argue but was flatly told he was not welcome.

Parlade has led the red-baiting of activists nationwide and abroad in so-called peace caravans.

Activists said Parlade’s repeated accusations endanger their lives and violate their human rights. 

Last November 9, Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region chapter linked the enforced disappearance of its former secretary-general Honey Mae Suazo to Parlade’s accusations she is associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army (NPA).

Parlade singled Suazo out after she assisted the family of NPA leader Zaldy Cañete to visit the latter who was hospitalized after suffering near-fatal injuries after an encounter in Bukidnon Province.

The group said Suazo, missing since November 2 after visiting the graves of her departed relatives, was subjected to numerous threats, the most recent of which came from Parlade himself.

In a statement, Bayan said the organizers did not want Parlade to use the forum as his platform.

“He has no place among human rights defenders he has constantly attacked and endangered,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Activists vow legal pushback vs state forces

By Visayas Today

BACOLOD CITY–Those responsible for the October 31 mass arrest in Bacolod City, from state security personnel to the judge who issued the search warrants, should expect a wave of countercharges to hold them accountable, activist groups have vowed.

“We will make sure there will be countercharges,” Bacolodnon Neri Colmenares, who chairs the Bayan Muna party-list and used to represent it in Congress, told a press conference Thursday, November 7.

In all, the joint police and Army units under the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict that carried out the raids on three offices and a private residence in Bacolod City arrested and detained 57 persons, among them a dozen minors.

They claimed to have recovered more than 30 firearms and some explosives from the offices of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, women’s organization Gabriela – both in Barangay Bata – and the National Federation of Sugar Workers in front of the Libertad market, and the home of Romulo and Mermalyn Bito-on in Barangay Taculing.

The security forces said the offices, particularly the compound that houses the office of Bayan and other groups, were being used to train “recruits,” including minors, of the New People’s Army.

However, on November 6, 32 of those arrested – 21 laid off workers of Vallacar Transit who were consulting the Kilusang Mayo Uno and 11 members of cultural group Teatro Obrero, all arrested at the Bayan office – were released after the city prosecutor dropped the charges against them.

Only 11 persons remain in detention, seven of them facing non-bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Colmenares said the release of the 32 “proves the falsity of the charges” that those arrested were rebels and that the offices were training facilities.

He said those they intend to charge, both before trial courts and the Office of the Ombudsman, include the “generals, colonels,” and enlisted personnel of police and Army units that carried out the raids, prosecutors, judges who issue “fake” warrants, and the “false witnesses” on whose testimonies the warrants were based.’

The search warrants covering the Bacolod raids were all issued by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert. She also issued the warrants that led to the arrests of two other activists in Escalante City and at least five others in Manila around the same time as the Bacolod raids.

While there is a special rule issued by the Supreme Court allowing the RTC executive judges of Manila and Quezon City to issue warrants for areas outside their jurisdiction, activists accuse Villavert of abusing this privilege and issuing “wholesale” warrants that abet human rights violations.

Colmenares said among the charges the security forces can expect are those related to their alleged “planting” of evidence and violations of the anti-torture law. #

Karapatan warns of more raids of activists’ offices

By Len Olea/Bulatlat

MANILA — Human rights alliance Karapatan warned of more raids and arrests of activists in the coming hours or days.

In a Facebook post, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that at least ten search warrants were issued by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 89 Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert on October 30. Four of these warrants have been served so far.

Tondo, Manila – Search Warrant No. 5944
Paco, Manila – Search Warrant No. 5947
Escalante City, Negros Occidental – Search Warrant No. 5949
Bacolod City – Search Warrant No. 5953

“If all the search warrants issued by Judge Burgos-Villavert from No. 5944 to No. 5953 are offices and homes of members of people’s and human rights organizations, then we are looking at more raids in the coming hours or days,” Palabay noted.

Earlier today, policemen raided the office of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Manila in Tondo, Manila. Three activists were arrested and brought to the Manila Police District.

In a report, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Acting Director Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas said the Philippine National Police has been monitoring leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in Metro Manila. Sinas even units from the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters are monitoring these personalities in coordination with the military’s Joint Task Force-NCR.

Copy-paste warrants

Villavert has been criticized for issuing what Karapatan called as “copy-paste” search warrants that have led to the arrest of 57 activists in Negros island and five activists in Metro Manila.

Karapatan noted that Villavert was also the judge who issued warrants for the arrest of National Democratic Front peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Rey Casambre, Estrelita Suaybaguio, Alexander and Winona Birondo, and Villamor couple.

In a statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) also questioned Villavert’s actions.

Section 12 authorizes Executive Judges of Regional Trial Courts of Manila and Quezon City – as an exception to the general rule that it must be the court within whose territorial jurisdiction a crime was committed – to act upon applications filed by the police for search warrants involving, among others, illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions.

The same circular requires that such applications shall be personally endorsed by the heads of such agencies. The Executive Judges are also required to keep a special docket book listing the details of the applications and the results of the searches and seizures made pursuant to the warrants issued.

In this light, NUPL raised the following questions:

– Who, in the PNP, if any, endorsed the application for search warrant?

– Did the OIC PNP Chief personally endorse the application for search warrant?

– What was the basis, if any, of the application for search warrant to establish probable cause, considering serious and consistent assertions that the firearms and explosives were casually planted during the search?

– What was the basis of the honorable judge to grant the application and issue the search warrant?

– Did the honorable judge hear any witness, ask and document searching questions to personally determine the existence of probable cause as mandated by the Constitution and the Rules of Criminal Procedure?

– What was the reason behind and what really transpired during the meeting between the honorable judge and the police chief the day before the issuance of the warrant?

– Will the honorable judge make available at the proper forum and time the “special docket book,” which contains the details of the application for purposes of transparency and scrutiny?

– Why was there a need to apply for a search warrant in a faraway court when the same can be procured in a closer regional court without compromising secrecy and service of the warrant?

– Why is there seemingly a pattern to issue search warrants against political dissenters and critical groups from one and the exactly the same judge even if legally allowable?

“As the perceived bastion of fairness and justice, the Judiciary must relentlessly maintain its independence against actual or perceived interference and pressure exerted by other government branches. The bench and its members must not let themselves be used, or appear to be used, wittingly or unwittingly, as tools or minions of political persecution,” the NUPL said.

Progressive groups have called on the public to resist Duterte’s crackdown against critics. #

Pag-aresto sa maraming aktibista, kinondena

Mariing kinundena ng Bagong Alyansang Makabayan at iba pang aktibistang organisasyon ang pag-aresto sa mga kapwa nilang aktibista sa Lungsod ng Bacolod at Maynila kamakailan.

Nagprotesta sa harapan ng Camp Crame ang mga aktibista upang ipanawagan ang agarang pagpapalaya sa 57 indibidwal na anila’y iligal na inaresto. (Bidyo ni Jek Alcaraz/Kodao)