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Groups hold noise barrage calling for mass virus testing

by Sanafe Marcelo

Various organizations held noise barrages in several communities around Metro Manila Thursday, March 26, demanding free mass testing for health workers and patients with corona virus disease (COVID-19) symptoms.

Ilang residente ng Brgy. Holy Spirit, Quezon City

In Barangay Holy Spirit in Quezon City, Gabriela Women’s Party member Tess Arboleda said their noise barrage inside their homes and through social media are in support of calls for mass testing of so-called frontliners in the fight against the pandemic.

The activity also demanded food and financial assistance to poor families and workers who could no longer work because of the government-imposed lockdown.

Arboleda added that the poor are already worried because their resources and savings are fast running out two weeks into the island-wide lockdown.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers Philippines also participated in the noise barrage and in the “Tiktok” online dance challenge to call for more government support.

The teachers also called for “emergency assistance, not emergency power.”

Congress has passed bills granting President Rodrigo Duterte so-called emergency powers to realign funds to address the pandemic, among other special powers.

Members of Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), Bayan Muna, and Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) also participated in the noise barrage. #

NUJP submits list of petitioners for ABS-CBN franchise renewal to Congress

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) submitted to the House of Representatives (HOR) about 200 thousand signatures urging Congress to act on the 11 bills for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise last Wednesday, 19 February.

In a press conference at the HOR’s media center, the media group submitted to Bayan Muna Representative Karlos Ysagani Zarate about eight thousand signatures as well as a flash drive containing nearly 200 thousand signatures it gathered since it launched the petition signing campaign in January when plans by the Office of the Solicitor General to file a quo warranto petition were reported last January.

“The NUJP is undertaking this petition signing to show support to the authors of the 11 franchise bills and urge the [HOR} Committee on Legislative Franchises to schedule their discussion,” the group said.

Prior to the press conference, NUJP officers submitted the same lists to Committee of Legislative Franchises chairperson Rep. Franz Alvarez, as well as Representatives Edcel Lagman, Vilma Santos-Recto and the committee secretariat.

“We need not remind Congress that the network’s franchise expires on March 30 and that the First Regular Session [of the 18th Congress] only has a little more than a dozen session days [to act on the bills],” the NUJP said.

In urging Congress to pass ABS-CBN’s franchise, the media group said it has the welfare of 11 thousand network workers who are fear for their jobs.

NUJP urged Congress to be independent on the issue and give the embattled network due process.

NUJP officers submit list of petitioners to Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman who authored one of the bills for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise.

NUJP said the petition signing aims to gather one million signatures and are still ongoing.

It revealed that the signatures are being gathered during their regular Friday night activities near ABS-CBN as well as in schools and communities.

They are assisted by other media groups such as Altermidya, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, Photojournalists Center of the Philippines, Defend Jobs Philippines, ABS-CBN Rank and File Employees Union, among other groups.

The group is set to submit the same lists to Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of both the Senate committees on public information and public services, on Thursday, February 20.

Zarate thanked NUJP “for the show of support” urging Alvarez and Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano to listen to the petitioners.

Zarate and fellow Makabayan bloc members are among the authors of the bills. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

(Disclosure: The author, currently NUJP deputy secretary general, was among the media group officers who turned over the list of petitioners.)

Groups launch network to defend activists from trumped-up charges

By Joseph Cuevas

Quezon City—Human rights group Karapatan and other progressive organizations formed a network to defend activists and and rights defenders in Mindanao against trumped-up charges and harassments by state forces under the Rodrigo Duterte government Wednesday, February 12.

Defend Mindanao, a campaign network in defense of Mindanao human rights defenders and development workers, also called on the Commission on Human Rights  to investigate and facilitate remedies for the embattled activists.

According to Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, co-convenor of Defend Mindanao and herself a Manobo tribal leader, Mindanao has been a factory mill of trumped-up criminal charges against activists.

Last March 2019, the Provincial Prosecutors Office of Bayugan City filed charges of kidnapping, arson, robbery and serious illegal detention against 468 individuals, including 78 known activists in Caraga and Northern Mindanao.

Cullamat added that although martial law in Mindanao has been lifted last December 2019, the arrest of Nestor Amora, a businessman and former barangay captain in Surigao City, and Karapatan national council member Engr. Jennifer Aguhob in Oroquietta City, prove that martial law still exists in the island through Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70.

She added that EO 70 allows the implementation of a de facto martial law in Mindanao and all over the country.

Other forms of human rights violations

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) denounced the inclusion of teacher Ophelia Tabacon, ACT Region 10 chairperson, among the 467 persons charged with kidnapping, serious illegal detention and destructive allegedly commited against police personnel from December 2018 to February 2019.

ACT said Tabacon also recieved death threats through her social media accounts and subjected to various form of surveillance and harassments by suspected State security forces.

Aside from the teachers’ group, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) also reported villifications and red-tagging by State forces.

KMU said leaftlets linking its allied National Federations of Labor Union have been distributed in Caraga region they said are the handiwork of the military.

Sr. Emma Cupin, current regional coordinator of RMP in Northern Mindanao, is also included in a warrant of arrest.

(Photo by Joseph Cuevas)

Hitlist

Defend Mindanao said the arrest warrants for the 468 respondents is a hitlist of the Duterte government that often leads to extra-judicial killings of activists.

The group said the red-baiting tactics of the government lump together civilian activists with the armed combatants of the New People’s Army in a bid to make them targets of military combat operations and legal offensives.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said that such tactics is an illegal practice and weaponization of law against critics and disenters.

The lawyers’ group cited issued warrants from courts they said are without complete examination of complainants and witnesses as well as submission of evidences. 

The NUPL challenged the Department of Justice to investigate public prosecutors who handle what they say are trumped-up cases against the activists. #

Kwento ng ina ng inarestong menor de edad sa Bacolod

Ibinahagi ni Jingjing (hindi tunay na pangalan) ng kanyang karanasan matapos hulihin ang kanyang 15 anyos na anak habang nag-eensayo para sa isang pagtatanghal. Kasama ang kanyang anak sa 57 na dinakip sa ginawang raid ng mga pulis at sundalo noong Oktubre 31 sa Bacolod City na ayon sa mga progresibong grupo ay malaking crackdown ng gubyerno laban sa mga aktibista.

Nagbigay-payo din sa mga kabataan at magulang si Jingjing na lubos ang pagsuporta sa ginagawa ng anak sa na kasapi ng isang pang-kulturang grupo. (Background music: Lovers by David Fesliyan Salin ni: Reylan Vergara/ Karapatan Bidyo ni: Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

Ulat sa isinagawang national solidarity at fact-finding mission sa Negros

Nagsagawa ng National Solidarity and Fact Finding Mission ang mga progresibong grupo sa naganap na pagsalakay sa mga opisina ng mga organisasyon at pag-aresto sa 57 na aktibista sa Negros noong Oktubre 31.

Pinuntahan nila ang mga opisina ng Bayan Muna, National Federation of Sugar Workers, Gabriela, Anakpawis at Kilusang Mayo Uno sa Bacolod City. Binisita din nila ang bahay ni Makabayan Negros coordinator Romulo Bito-on Jr. na isa rin sa inaresto ng mga pulis at militar.

Nalaman nila na maraming iregularidad sa mga ginawang raid gayundin ang ilegal na pagtanim ng mg baril at granada para makulong ang mga nasabing aktibista. Nakalaya ang 21 na manggagawa ng Ceres Bus Line at 11 miyembro ng Teatro Obrero matapos i-utos ng Prosecutors Office na walang basehan ang kaso para sa kanila.

Sa ngayon ay 13 pa ang nakakulong kung saan 9 ang kinasuhan ng illegal possession of firearms and explosives. (Background Music For Videos TV and Radio – by AShamaluevMusic Bidyo ni: Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

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. #

21 sacked Ceres workers among Bacolod raid detainees – Bayan

By Visayas Today

Twenty-one laid off workers of the Ceres Bus line who were consulting a labor leader were among the 55 persons (not 62 as earlier reported by authorities) arrested and detained in simultaneous raids last week on four locations in Bacolod City that state forces claimed harbored communist rebels in training.

This was bared by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, which held a press conference in Metro Manila on Sunday, November 3, to denounce what it called the “tanim baril, tanim ebidensya” (planting of guns and evidence) tactics alleged used by the Army and police to justify the raids and boost their claims that those arrested are members of the rebel movement.

Also nabbed and detained were 25 youth, among them 13 minors, of the grassroots cultural group Teatro Obrero who were rehearsing for a presentation of their play “Papa Isio,” on the legendary Negros hero of the revolution against Spain and the war against America.

The youth and Ceres workers were among those arrested at a compound in a residential area of Barangay Bata that serves as the office of leftist party-list Bayan Muna and other organizations. The Army and police claim the place, where 30 firearms and explosives were supposedly recovered, served as a “training area” for rebel recruits, including potential “child warriors.”

Also netted in the raids were several officers of progressive groups like the National Federation of Sugar Workers, Kilusang Mayo Uno and Karapatan, all of which the government and state forces openly tag as “legal fronts” of the rebels, and Anne Krueger of the alternative media outfit Paghimutad, all of whom were accused of being part of the rebels’ regional leadership in Negros.

Aside from those arrested in the October 31 Bacolod raids, two succeeding raids in Escalante City on November 1 also led to the apprehension of NFSW staff Imelda Sultan and Ma. Lindy Perucho. As with the Bacolod operations, the Escalante raiders also claimed to have recovered weapons and explosives from the two women.

Also on October 31, Cora Agovida, the Metro Manila chairperson of Gabriela, and her husband Michael Tan Bartolome of the urban poor group Kadamay, were arrested and weapons and explosive also supposedly seized.

Incidentally, all the search warrants used as the basis for the raids were issued on October 30 by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 89.

Bayan, in a statement, said the raids signified “how low the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines have sunk in their effort to comply with Duterte’s orders to crack down on activists and political dissenters.”

It also noted the similarities in the operations:

1. Police gets a search warrant from a friendly, uninformed or intimidated judge, in this case from Quezon City which is outside the area of jurisdiction where the operation is made;
2. Occupants of the raided office or home are forced to go outside while police operatives, some in plain clothes, come in to search the area;
3. Occupants are then allowed back in only to discover illegal guns and explosives that police allege were found in their possession;
4. All persons are then arrested, detained and interrogated for prolonged periods while being denied their right to their lawyer or to be visited by relatives and friends. In the worst case like the Kanlaon, Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina incidents last March 30, 14 farmers were killed by police serving such search warrants;
5. To justify and muddle their illegal conduct, police and military officials go the rounds of the media vilifying the victims and claiming that these are members or supporters of the New People’s Army.

Bayan called the raids “a portent of worse things to come” and predicted “an escalation of the Duterte regime’s fascist crackdown on groups and individuals critical of the government, whose crime is to merely exercise their constitutional right to organize, express and seek redress for their grievances.” #

‘I’ll sue you,’ Colmenares warns people behind trafficking raps over ‘missing’ youth

By Visayas Today

Former Bayan Muna congressman Neri Colmenares said he would sue those responsible for filing kidnapping and child abuse charges against him and several others over allegedly “missing” youth activists after the Department of Justice issued subpoenas for the respondents.

While acknowledging he had yet to read the complaint, filed by the Major Crimes Investigation Unit of the police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Colmenares said it was a “foregone conclusion” that “I’ll file a criminal case” against those responsible for filing the complaint and “witnesses who commit perjury.”

“We will not take this sitting down,” he said.

The complaint alleges violations of: 
• Republic Act No. 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 
• RA 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act
• RA 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and other Crimes against Humanity

Aside from Colmenares, the named respondents are Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago, Anakbayan president Vencer Crisostomo and secretary general Einstein Recedes; Anakbayan members Charie del Rosario, Bianca Gacos, Jayroven Villafuente Balais, and Alex Danday; and, ironically, former Akbayan congressman Tom Villarin, who belongs to a party list group that is known to have been at odds with the organizations his co-accused belong to.

The complaint also seeks to include “all other officers” of Kabataan and “all other members” of Anakbayan in the complaint as “John and Jane Does.”

The case stems from the complaints of parents who claimed their children left home and went missing after being recruited into activist groups.

Among the complainants in the case is Relissa Lucena, whose daughter, 18-year old senior high school student and Anakbayan member Alicia, belied the claim that she was missing or had been kidnapped.

Alicia, who stressed it was her choice to join the youth group, said she left home in July after her parents refused to let her out and instead took her to Camp Aguinaldo, military headquarters, in hopes of making her “normal.”

Colmenares, who learned of the subpoena on Tuesday, August 20, while visiting Bacolod, dismissed the complaint.

“It is clear I have committed no crime, much less trafficking. This is a trumped up harassment charge,” he said.

(Images provided by the NUPL show pages from the CIDG complaint)

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, which Colmenares chairs, also condemned the “false charge.”

“How in heaven’s name could someone like Neri be even remotely involved, connected or liable for such inane and contrived shotgun charges that have been debunked? Totally absurd,” NUPL president Edre Olalia said in a statement.

Olalia saw a more sinister pattern, linking the complaint to a perceived government crackdown on critics.

“Make no mistake about it: they are lining and rounding up the most voluble and visible people who stand in the way and who fight back against repression and injustice,” he said. #

Court denies gov’t move to jail Satur anew

A Manila Court denied a motion by government prosecutors to jail journalist and former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo anew, saying Ocampo’s bail bond remains in effect until proceedings on a murder charge against him has been terminated.

In an order dated Monday, August 19, Presiding Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina of the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 32 said she finds no reason to issue a recommitment order against Ocampo.

“Plainly, the grant of bail to accused-movant Ocampo is not subject to any other condition, except that its effectivity is until the termination of the proceedings of this case,” Bunyi-Medina’s order reads.

The Court is hearing the murder charge against Ocampo for allegedly ordering the mass murder of at least 15 individuals alleged by the military as victims of a supposed purge by the Communist Party of the Philippines in the mid-1980s.

Ocampo has repeatedly said that the charge was laughable, explaining that he was still in jail in 1984 when government witnesses alleged that he gave the order in an underground meeting in Leyte.

In a motion to the court last June 12, government prosecutors argued Ocampo abused his provisional liberty when he was involved in the alleged kidnapping of Lumad children who fled their homes in Talaingod, Davao del Norte last November.

Ocampo, along with Act Teachers’ Party Representative France Castro, were charged with violations of Republic Act No. 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 before Branch 2 of the Tagum City RTC.

“This renders him unworthy of the temporary liberty granted to him,” the prosecutors said.

Ocampo (center) reads the order junking the government’s appeal to jail him anew. Jailed National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants Vicente Ladlad (left) and Adelberto Silva (right) look on. (Photo by Atty Kristina Conti/PILC)

Ocampo and Castro, however, said they did not go to Talaingod to kidnap the children but to show their support to the Lumad who fled Sitio Nasilaban, Barangay Palma Gil in Talaingod after elements of the 56th Infantry Battallion of the Philippine Army and the Alamara paramilitary band forcibly closed down their community school.

Through his Public Interest Law Center (PILC) lawyers, Ocampo said they were allowed to post bail after their arrest and the case is in a pre-trial stage at the Tagum City Regional Trial Court.

“The prosecution maliciously insinuates that accused Ocampo is already guilty of kidnapping and child abuse, while he is entitled to a presumption of innocence,” the PILC said in their oppostion to the government prosecutors’ move.

Judge Bunyi-Medina agreed with Ocampo’s lawyers, saying “[A]s admitted by the prosecution, said case is still pending before Branch 2 of the [RTC] of Tagum City, Davao del Norte, nor was it shown that a warrant of arrest was issued against him.”

The PILC said the motion by the government prosecutors is “politically motivated and legally baseless.”

“Ka Satur has weathered through some 12 cases – none of which he has been convicted in, all false and trumped-up,” the PILC said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Group reports continuing surveillance on wounded journalist

Brandon Lee, the journalist and human rights activist shot and seriously injured by unidentified assailants in front of his home in Lagawe, Ifugao Tuesday night is being surveiled at the Baguio General Hospital, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) said.

“Security guards at the hospital alerted us that a certain George Malidow of the [AFP], introducing himself as from Camp Henry Allen in Baguio, was asking for details about Brandon’s case,” the CHRA said in its alert.

“This was brought to our attention as this is not regular protocol for the AFP to be monitoring and investigating such case,” the group added.

Camp Allen is a military camp in the heart of the Cordilleran capital that once served as the site of the Philippine Military Academy.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are designated neutral zones by human rights statutes and local and international humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent.

Lee was brought to Baguio last night from Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya after being initially brought to a local hospital in Lagawe after the attack.

The CHRA said Lee is conscious and able to talk but is in need of type O+ blood donations.

He suffered four gunshot wounds on his torso, reports said.

Lee is a United States citizen, married to a Filipino and a permanent resident of the Philippines. They have a seven-year old daughter.

CHRA photo

Red-tagging victim

Lee, a red-tagging victim of the AFP since 2015, is the Ifugao provincial correspondent of the Baguio-based media outfit Northern Dispatch.

He is also a paralegal of the CHRA, the Ifugao Peasant Movement and the Justice and Peace Advocates of Ifugao, all of which have reported threats and harassments by members of the 54th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army for weeks prior to the attack.

The soldiers gathered data by interrogating and intimidating the organizations’ members and staff, the CHRA reported after Lee’s shooting.

The Philippine Army team was headed by a certain 1Lt Karol Jay R. Mendoza while its Civil-Military Operations head is a certain Lt.Col. Narciso B. Nabulneg, Jr. who both invoked President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 70 in their interrogations, the group added.

Duterte’s EO 70 issued last December created a task force to combat insurgency that human rights organizations blame for the killing of activists across the country.

Condemnations

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Reps. Eufemia Cullamat and Carlos Isagani Zarate today strongly condemned the attack against Lee, who they describe as “one of the noted volunteers of the Ifugao Peasant Movement and well-loved by the peasant and indigenous peoples in the Cordillera.”

“It seems like that the dark army and mad dogs of the government that are responsible for the killings of thousands in the anti-drug campaign are now after activists, people’s lawyers, community organizers, and other human rights workers,” Zarate said in a statement.

 “Brandon Lee’s assasination attempt is revealing of the type of government that we have when it threatens death to people like him, who serves the poor peasant and indigenous peoples so selflessly. We should not allow this to continue. This madness must stop and should be investigated promptly, and the perpetrators be brought to justice,” the House Deputy Minority Leader said.

The Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) for its part said it holds State security forces that the Duterte administration has let loose in the Cordillera region – the 54th IBPA, the 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and the Northern Luzon Command—acountable for the attack.

‘We urgently call on the people to voice out your concern and call for justice for Brandon and other human rights violations victims. The attacks on human rights defenders must end,” the CPA said.

The group announced it will hold a social media rally on Twitter and Facebook for Lee at five to eight o’clock Wednesday evening using the hashtags #Justice4BrandonLee and #StoptheAttacks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)