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NDFP peace consultant Suaybaguio walks free

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Esterlita Suaybaguio walked to freedom at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) offices at past 5 pm Friday afternoon, cleared of charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

With no available Quezon City barangay available to witness her release by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the CHR agreed to be the venue of the process yesterday.

BJMP and CHR personnel complete the process to release NDFP peace consultant Esterlita Suaybagio last September 17. (Photy by Defend Jobs Philippines)

Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 219 judge Janet Abegos-Samar acquitted the women’s rights advocate of charges stemming from a search warrant issued by controversial QC executive judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert in 2019.

Suaybagio, alleged by the military as a high-ranking officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was arrested in an apartment building in Cubao, Quezon City early morning of August 26, 2019.

Suaybaguio told the court police officers pushed and pinned her to the sink after storming in, preventing her from viewing the commotion inside her apartment.

The activist said she was shocked to learn later that a police officer had allegedly found a 9MM firearm and a hand grenade inside her bag.

Suaybaguio’s acquittal was a triumph over government’s policy of trumped-up charges against activists, particularly NDFP peace consultants, her lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said.

“Her acquittal adds to the victory in a string of cases against activists which have been recently dismissed…We hope the dismissal of other fabricated charges (against other political prisoners) will follow,” the PILC said.

The law center noted similar warrants issued by Burgos-Villavert against journalist Lady Ann Salem and NDFP Negotiating Panel staff members Alexander and Winona Marie Birondo have been dismissed earlier.

Burgos-Villavert has been accused by rights defenders as a “warrant factory” after meeting with former police general Debold Sinas and subsequently issuing warrants used by the police to arrest activists.

The most controversial warrant issued by the judge was used to arrest women’s rights activist Reina Mae Nasino in 2020, who was then 7 months pregnant. Nasino gave birth while in detention to her child River who died weeks later. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Kill-kill-kill mindset’ caused police officer to kill grandmother, rights groups say

Human rights groups expressed alarm at the spate of killings of civilians by police officers, with Karapatan calling for a system change within State security forces.

Following the killing of a 52-year old grandmother by a police sergeant in Fairview, Quezon City Monday night, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said a dangerous mindset ails many among security forces in the country.

“How many more should die, before it is acknowledged that the system that drives State security forces to kill civilians needs to be changed?” Palabay asked.

Palabay added there are more than enough recent cases to indicate that the public killings by police officers are not isolated incidents.

Kaparatan listed the following cases involving police officers, military men and even community security personnel in the last three months:

-On May 31, 2021, a drunk Police Master Sergeant Hensie Zinampan shot 59-year old Lilibeth Valdez in Brgy. Greater Fairview in Quezon City.

-On May 29, 2021, National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant Reynaldo Bocala, 75, and his 60-year old companion Wilfredo Epago were killed during a police and military raid in Pavia, Iloilo.

-On May 23, 2021, police shot Edwin Arnigo, an 18-year old with autism, during a raid of an illegal cockfighting game in Valenzuela City. Arnigo happened to just pass by the area when executed by a police officer.

-On May 11, 2021, peasant leader Joseph Canlas died after contracting COVID-19 inside a prison in Pampanga. Canlas was arbitrarily arrested during a questionable police and military raid on March 30, 2021.

-On April 19, 2021, 35-year old Retchie Nepomuceno was killed along a road in Cebu City, after accusing a police staff sergeant of raping her while in police custody.

-On April 9, 2021, Ernanie Jimenez died after being beaten by barangay tanod for allegedly violating curfew rules in Calamba City, Laguna.

-On April 2, 2021, 21-year old Darren Manaog Penaredondo died, after being forced to do 300 rounds of pumping exercise in General Trias, Cavite for allegedly violating community quarantine policies.

-On March 7, 2021, nine activists in Southern Tagalog – a fisherfolk couple, a trade union leader, four indigenous farmers, an urban poor activist and a youth leader – were killed in simultaneous police and military raids in three provinces.

Karapatan said police claims that the incidents are “isolated incidents” are simply not true.

“What is clear and apparent is that these violations are brazenly conducted, at many times in full view of an audience. What is clear and apparent is that a governance driven by a kill-kill-kill policy is fostering a environment of insecurity,” she said.

Palabay added that the dangerous mindset of normalizing such killings is deeply ingrained among State forces.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it shall be conducting a motu propio investigation into the shooting of Valdez.

PMSgt,Henzie Zinampan in front of a church building. (Facebook photo)

In a video circulating online, an allegedly drunk PMSgt. Zinampan can be seen grabbing the victim’s hair and eventually shooting her through the neck.

Ironically, in a standard declaration among police officers, Zinampan has condemned fellow PMSgt. Jonel Nuezca who was also caught on video shooting and killing mother and son Sonia and Frank Gregorio during an altercation in Paniqui, Tarlac Province last December 21.

“This incident is gravely concerning as we expect our police to ‘serve and protect,’ and not be at the frontlines of violating rights, let alone arbitrarily curtailing one’s right to life,” CHR executive director and spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

De Guia also said the CHR urged the PNP to translate commitments of internal cleansing into actual reduction of cases of human rights violations on the ground after a string of recent deaths and killings attributed to police officers.

“One death is one too many. We urge the government to address these violations with the larger view that the protection of human rights is primarily a State obligation,” de Guia said.

Newly-installed Philippine National Police chief Guillermo Eleazar has ordered the Quezon City Police District to file murder and administrative cases against Zinampan. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CHR: Democracy needs a free press

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) underscored the role of a free press in a democracy, even as it noted the Philippines’ steady decline in the World Press Freedom Index in the last four years.

In her keynote message for a journalists and human rights defenders’ project Friday, May 28, CHR executive director Jacqueline Ann de Guia said democracy needs a free press to thrive and survive.

“It is the power of a free and independent media—to be a watchdog, to promote transparency and accountability, and to amplify the voices of the weak, disadvantaged, and marginalized—that put pressure on government to be responsive to the needs of the people,” de Guia said.

De Guia however expressed alarm at the state of press freedom in the country, adding that international group Reporters Without Borders has noted continuing attacks against mass media, journalists and other human rights defenders in the past four years.

“The state of press freedom in the country is a cause for concern for CHR. In the past four years, data from the World Press Freedom Index shows a continuous decline of the Philippines from 133rd out of 180 countries in 2018; to 134th in 2019; 136th in 2020; and 138th in 2021,” de Guia said.

De Guia spoke at the project launch of Safeguarding Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines by various media groups led by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication and the International Media Service.

Other attendees included members of the Journalists Safety Advisory Group (JSAG) that crafted the Philippine Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists (PPASJ) last November 2019 on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre.

The JSAG included the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Center for Community Journalism and Development, and the Philippine Press Institute.

Commission on Human Rights executive director and spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia. (AIJC photo)

In her address, de Guia said the press must maintain its ability to expose corruption, demand redress of grievances, and call out lies and propaganda in favor of truth.

She added that the press must equally allow the people to decide better and demand more from the government that bears the obligation to uphold and protect the human rights of all.

The last four years have seen journalists, media workers, and media organisations being repeatedly confronted by a dangerous and hostile climate marked by episodes of harassment, silencing, and even death.

“And with the closure of ABS-CBN, we have greatly felt the gap in delivering critical information in hard-to-reach communities to help them cope and survive disasters, calamities, and this current Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

De Guia said that the CHR’s Task Force on Media-Related EJKs (extrajudicial killings), with regional desks in its Bicol, Cotabato and Cebu regional offices, is ready to investigate attacks against the press.

“Thus far, 21 media killings have been docketed for investigation in different CHR regional offices covering July 2016 to May 2021. We are also investigating 7 cases involving 20 victims of other alleged human rights violations, including unlawful/arbitrary arrest/detention, frustrated killings, and red-tagging,” she said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lawyer, CHR score Duterte’s order vs non-mask wearers

President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to have those who do not wear masks or wear them improperly arrested undermines the rule of law and may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse by government authorities, a lawyers’ group and the Commission on Human Rights said.

Reacting to Duterte’s verbal order issued Wednesday night, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said the arrest directive is another authoritarian edict by the President.

“[T]he legal justification is not only inapplicable but erroneous because there appears to be no clearly defined crime or offense covered by any specific law or lawful ordinance for a valid instance of warrantless arrest to operate,” Olalia said.

The human rights lawyers said the order is a “cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment disproportionate to the evil sought to be supposedly addressed.”

He said its implementation may again be discriminatory as shown by the arrest, detention and death of mostly poor people arising from various coronavirus lockdown orders implemented by the government since the pandemic hit the Philippines in March 2020.

“This is what we get when we have knee-jerk draconian ideas rather than commonsensical solutions… Imagine the time, effort, resources – even brain neurons – to be spent legislating, enforcing, arresting, detaining, prosecuting and convicting for such a petty misdemeanor,” Olalia said.

He added that Duterte’s “serial mailed fist cures” would just worsen the coronavirus problem and lock the people up in the “slippery slope of inane coercive measures.”

The lawyer suggested providing facemasks for free to those who cannot afford them and launching massive popular information drives to prevent further congestion of the government’s jail facilities.

‘Detain them!’

In a meeting with pandemic task force officials Wednesday night, Duterte admitted he is at a loss on how to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country.

“My orders to the police are, those who are not wearing their mask properly, in order to protect the public… to arrest them,” the President said.

“Detain them, investigate them why they’re doing it,” he said.

The chief executive said the police may detain those arrested to up to nine hours.

“If I don’t do this strictly, nothing will happen,” he said in Filipino.

‘Abusive’

The Commission on Human Rights however agreed with Olalia and said in a statement Thursday it is concerned that in the absence of clear guidelines, Duterte’s directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse.

“[W]ith the noted rise of human rights violations arising from violations of health protocols, we have stressed the need for reasonable and humane disciplinary measures for violators,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

De Guia noted that several local government units have passed ordinances penalizing those not wearing masks in public but said the measures only often reprimand, fine or order violators to perform community service.

She agreed with Olalia that the country’s overcrowded jails may not be a sound strategy to prevent the further spread of the virus in the communities.

“In the end, it is through intensive education and information campaigns, not fear, that would best result in better compliance with healthy and safety protocols during the pandemic. ..We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown,” de Guia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Start inoculating prisoners, rights group presses gov’t

A support group for political detainees pressed the government to start inoculating prisoners, citing the higher possibility of coronavirus outbreaks inside the country’s overcrowded and poorly-ventilated jail facilities.

“Kapatid presses the national government to release a clear schedule for the vaccination of all prisoners, including the 704 political prisoners, in the national deployment plan for COVID-19 vaccines because the congested prison system places them at significant higher risk for the disease,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

The group Kapatid made the call after justice secretary Menardo Guevarra said that ordinary prisoners are not yet part of the priority list for the government’s vaccination activities against the increasingly contagious and deadly COVID-19.

Guevarra said that only elderly prisoners are eligible for early vaccination.

“[W]hile waiting for their turn to get vaccinated like the rest of the population, these [non-elderly] PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) will just have to follow minimum health protocols to reduce the risk of viral transmission,” Guevarra, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Against COVID-19 member, said.

‘Mixed messaging’

Lim said Guevarra’s statement however contradicts an earlier assurance by the Department of Health (DOH) that “all persons deprived of liberty as determined by Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) are included under the Priority Eligible Group B-9.”

Kapatid asked DOH secretary and IATF Against COVID-19 chairperson Francisco Duque last March 2 to included all prisoners among the first to be vaccinated as part of the most “at-risk populations.”

DOH undersecretary and National Vaccine Operations Center chairperson Dr. Myrna Cabotaje told the rights group that prisoners are already identified for inclusion in the priority eligible population on the basis of stratifying the risks for contracting COVID-19 infection.

“So we quote to Secretary Guevarra the very words of the DOH in their reply to us: ‘Health is an absolute human right. No Filipino will be denied their right to get vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine. The national government assures you that every consenting Filipino will receive the appropriate COVID-19 vaccine, to protect the life and health of every citizen, including all Political Prisoners,’” she added

“Shouldn’t the DOJ and the whole national government be saying the same thing to everyone?” Lim asked.

Lim said it is ironic that the DOJ whose mandate includes the supervision of the BuCor should contradict the DOH statement and ignore the plight of over 215,000 prisoners compelled to live in subhuman conditions.

“This apparently may be yet another case of mismanagement from the top that results in mixed messaging,” Lim said.

 ‘Death traps’

Kapatid said extreme congestion inside the country’s prisons makes them “death traps” during the pandemic.

In November 2019, the BJMP reported that its 467 jails nationwide were at 534 percent of capacity as of March of that year while the BuCor said that the congestion rate in its 125 prisons was at 310 percent as of January 2019.

In October 2018, the Commission on Human Rights said “deplorable jail conditions” in the country are aggravated by the failure of the government, including police officers, to faithfully comply with even the minimum human rights standards and laws, such as the Anti-Torture Act (RA 9745). # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CHR: Duterte’s kill order emboldens impunity

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said President Rodrigo Duterte’s order “to shoot and kill right away” may have encouraged the massacre and mass arrest of activists in Southern Tagalog on Sunday, March 7.

CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia said the national human rights institution expresses concern on Duterte’s statement on Friday, 5 March, to not only kill communists but to “ignore human rights.”

De Guia said: “Words matter and such words can embolden some to act with abuse and impunity.”

The mass killing and arrests of prominent activists and unionists in Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Batangas in an operation called Conduct of Simultaneous Implementation of Search Warrants was launched two days after Duterte ordered the police and military at a meeting in Cagayan de Oro City of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“If there’s an encounter and you see them armed, kill! Kill them! Don’t mind human rights! I will be the one to go to prison, I don’t have qualms,” the President said.

‘Brutal deaths’

Reacting to the brutal deaths of nine activists across three provinces, however, de Guia said, “CHR finds the number of deaths most concerning in light of the pattern of prevalent red-tagging and escalating attacks against activists,” de Guia said.

De Guia said the government is primarily obligated to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of everyone.

“Where the right to life is concerned, the government has the utmost obligation to fulfil its obligation—no matter which side of the political spectrum one belongs,” the lawyer added.

The CHR called on the government to urgently investigate, “given the brutal nature of the deaths and allegations of irregularities in the said law enforcement operations. “

De Guia also reminded the government to honor its domestic and international commitment to uphold, respect and protect human rights.

“We have yet to see concrete response to our repeated plea for tangible reduction of violence on the ground,” she said.

De Guia added that its Region IV-A (CALABARZON) office CHR is pursuing independent probes into the bloody operations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CHR slams PNP’s arrest and humiliation of minor

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it will investigate the arrest and humiliation of a 13-year old by the Philippine National Police in Malabon City last Saturday, September 26.

The CHR reported that the minor was arrested for not wearing a mask when he crossed the street to their house from a neighbor’s place.

The agency said that after taking the boy’s mugshot at the police station, officers allegedly told the minor that “he now has a profile picture for his Facebook account.”

The CHR said the remark caused distress to the boy.

 “It is concerning that this happened despite the prohibition on the arrests of minors,” CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement Monday, September 28.

While noting that Joint Task Force Covid-19 Shield Commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar reminded police forces and barangay law enforcers to not penalize minors for quarantine violations, the CHR said proper sanction and disciplinary actions must still be pursued to prevent a similar incident.

The CHR said the barangay chairperson also apologized for the incident.

De Guia reminded the police of the joint memorandum circular “Reiteration of Protocols on Reaching out to Children, including those in Street Situations, in need of Special Protection, Children at Risk, and Children in Conflict with the Law During the Enhanced Community Quarantine” issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Council on the Welfare of Children (CWC) in dealing with such cases.

“Minors who are guilty of violating quarantine rules must be turned over to their parents, guardians, and/or a social worker so that proper interventions, guidance, and/or advice are given to them,” de Guia said.

“We remind that law enforcers and barangay leaders are duty-bound to protect the rights of children. Any form of punishment that humiliates and degrades the dignity of minors is violative of this sworn obligation,” she added.

The CHR said children should be protected more so during the coronavirus pandemic,  “as they bear the brunt of the secondary effects and the measures taken to combat Covid-19.”

“Government officials and its officers should be the first ones to protect the welfare of children, not violate them,” de Guia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Kabataan, ipagpapatuloy ang laban na nasimulan noong martial law

Sa pagkilos ng mga kabataan sa harap ng Commission on Human Rights sa ika-48 anibersaryo ng martial law noong nakaraang Lunes, Setyembre 21, nagpahayag si Regina Tolentino, deputy secretary general ng College Editors Guild of the Philippines o CEGP, na nais ipagpatuloy ng mga kabataan ang pakikibaka noong panahon ng batas militar.

Ito aniya ay dahil walang pinag-kaiba ang kasalukuyang rehimen ni Pangulong Duterte sa panahon ni Marcos sa isyu ng karapatang pantao at usaping panlipunan.

KARAPATAN unfurls giant “Stop the Killings” banner as 45th UNHRC opens

Human rights group Karapatan unfurled a giant “Stop the Killings” banner at the Commission on Human Rights’ Liwasang Diokno in Quezon City as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) opens its 45th session today, September 14, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The group reiterates its call for an end to the Duterte government’s extrajudicial killings and for the UNHRC to investigate rampant human rights violations in the Philippines.

Progressive groups hold protest on Rodrigo Duterte 4th year anniversary as president

Human rights advocates and activists held a protest activity on the 4th anniversary of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency last June 30 at the Commission on Human Rights compound in Quezon City.