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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. #

32 nabbed in Bacolod raids freed

By Visayas Today

In what human rights advocates said was a clear victory and an indictment of government’s ham-fisted efforts to stifle dissent, 32 of 57 persons arrested and detained following simultaneous raids on what authorities claimed were communist rebel safehouses in Bacolod City on October 31 were released on Wednesday, November 6, after prosecutors cleared them.

Those who walked out of detention at the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office were 21 laid-off workers of Vallacar Transit Inc., which operates the Cere Bus line, and 11 members of the cultural group Teatro Obrero.

All of them were arrested at the office of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Barangay Bata where authorities claimed to have recovered 32 guns.

A number of minors who were also rehearsing with Teatro Obrero at the Bayan office had been released earlier.

Wednesday’s releases left only 11 persons in detention and facing criminal prosecution.

Seven of them are charged for non-bailable offenses:
1. Cheryl Catalogo
2. Karina Mae Dela Cerna
3. Albert Dela Cerna
4. Noly Rosales
5. Proceso Quiatzon
6. Romulo Bito-on
7. Mermalyn Bito-on

The Bito-on couple, who were nabbed during a raid on their home, are accused of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The others, who were arrested in the raid on the Bayan office, were charged with illegal possession of multiple firearms.

Those charged with illegal possession of firearms, a bailable offense, are:
1. Anne Krueger
2. John Milton Lozande
3. Danilo Tabora
4. Roberto Lachica

Krueger, a community journalist from alternative media outfit Paghimutad, was arrested at the Bacolod office of women’s organization Gabriela, from where authorities claimed to have recovered two .38 caliber revolver and ammunition.

Lozande, secretary general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, was also nabbed at the Bayan office, while Tabora and Lachica were at the NFSW office when it was raided.

Aside from the firearms and explosives charges, Lozande, Rosales, the Dela Cernas, who are father and daughter, Catalogo and Quiatzon are also set to be charged for human trafficking.

Immediately after the raids, a joint military and police operation under the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the Army proclaimed a major victory and predicted the imminent destruction of the communist rebel movement on Negros.

The military had also claimed the offices of the organizations that were raided, particularly the Bayan office which occupies a large compound, were training facilities where the rebels were supposedly molding “child warriors.”

However, the organizations, all tagged as rebel “fronts,” denied the accusation and insisted the guns and explosives supposedly seized had been planted.

It turned out the laid-off Ceres workers were consulting Rosales, who heads the Kilusang Mayo Uno labor union, about their dismissal from work.

Members of the cultural group Teatro Obrero march out of the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office where they had been detained since October 31, when they were arrested during simultaneous raids on the offices of activist organizations in Bacolod City. (Visayas Today photo)

The Teatro Obrero members, on the other hand, were rehearsing for a play, “Papa Isio,” about the legendary hero of the revolution against Spain and the war against the American colonizers, which they were supposed to have presented on November 5, which commemorates the liberation of Negros from the Spaniards.

Former Bayan Muna representative and Bacolod native Neri Colmenares, who visited the detainees with Representatives Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna and Arelen Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party, said he expected the release of the 32 detainees to substantially weaken the cases against the remaining 11.

“The release of the majority of the people arrested during the raids essentially means that the charges against them are not true,” he explained.

Incidentally, it took them more than two hours, or close to the end of visiting hours at 5 p.m., to gain access to the detainees and escort those to be released out of Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. after police guards refused them entry, saying they were under orders from Col. Romeo Baleros, the provincial director.

Lawyer Joemax Ortiz, counsel of the laid off transport workers, slammed authorities for arresting and forcing them to “go through the inconvenience of proving their innocence” when “they should have been released then and there because they were clearly innocent.”

Progressive groups said the Bacolod raids and the arrest of other activists in Manila signaled the start of a widespread crackdown on legal dissenters and critics of government. #

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.” #