NDFP consultant, 3 others arrested in ‘another wave of arbitrary arrests’

6 others ordered arrested; Gov’t designates community doctor a ‘terrorist’

A retired National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel peace consultant was arrested in what a human rights group said is another wave of arbitrary arrests and trumped up charges that involve 10 other activists.

Ruben Saluta, a participant in several formal rounds of peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in 2016 and 2017, was reported arrested in General Santos City last Sunday night.

He was arrested with his wife Presentacion and their companion Yvonee Losaria at Phase 5, Doña Soledad, Barangay Labangal in the said city.

A Manila Bulletin news report said the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police (CIDG-PNP) arrested the three on the strength of a warrant of arrest for rebellion.

Earlier arrested in March 2015 on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, Saluta was released from prison by the Rodrigo Duterte government in October 2016 to enable his participation in the peace negotiations.

In June 2018, Saluta was cleared by the court after finding “serious doubt in the prosecution evidence and in their chain of custody” of the seized firearms.

Saluta has since retired from his post after the GRP walked away from the negotiations in November 2017.

In a separate statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines confirmed that Saluta has long retired from active duty in the revolutionary underground because of his hypertension and chronic pulmonary disease.

“The Party denounces the gross inhumane treatment of the elderly revolutionaries who have lived lives in service of the oppressed and exploited masses,” the CPP added.

Human rights group Karapatan said the guns alleged to have been found with Saluta were planted, adding the elderly former peace negotiator and his wife are suffering from various illnesses.

“Previous charges against Saluta couple have been long dismissed, and it is highly possible that the evidence taken during their arrest were planted, just like in the past case against them,” Karapatan said.

‘No due process’

On Monday, Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) staff Jennifer Awingan was arrested on charges of rebellion despite not having received any subpoena.

Also reportedly included in the arrest order are CPA Chairperson Windell Bolinget, Regional Council member and abduction-torture survivor Steve Tauli, Northern Dispatch journalist Niño Oconer, farmer leader Lourdes Jimenez, and development workers Sarah Abelton and Florence Kang.

WHAT WENT BEFORE: Cordillera activist mauled and abducted

“[The respondents] were unable to be afforded their right to due process during the inquest proceedings,” Karapatan said.

“Karapatan denounces these recent arrests and trumped up charges as part of the renewed attacks against activists and political dissenters through criminalization of their work. We demand the immediate release of Awingan, the Saluta couple and Losaria, as we call for the junking of the charges against them,” the group added.

No respite for community doctor

Meanwhile, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) on Monday designated community doctor and University of the Philippines alumna Natividad Castro as a terrorist, a move both Karapatan and the group Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR) said was arbitrary.

The ATC alleged that Castro remains active in financing revolutionary communist groups and has conducted medical trainings for New People’s Army guerillas.

In a statement, the HAHR questioned the lack of a hearing or even a prior to the designation.

“Dr. Naty had no chance to rebut or even learn of the basis of the designation prior to its publication. She has been condemned as a terrorist by the ATC even before her side was heard. How can she even contest the designation when she has not even informed of the basis of such designation?” the group said.

Castro was arrested at their home in San Juan City last February 18 in a commando-style raid also by the CIDG-PNP. Branch 7 of the Bayugan City RTC in a March 25 resolution ordered her release from the Agusan del Sur provincial jail after finding no probable cause against her.

WHAT WENT BEFORE: Rights group hails Doc Naty’s release

An acknowledged champion of community-based health programs, Castro’s designation as an alleged terrorist puts at risk the lives of thousands of other community health workers and health professionals all over the country, the HAHR said.

“The ATA (Anti-Terrorism Act) and ATC (have) no place in a democratic society. The latest designation by the ATC is nothing more than a with-hunt to silence government critics,” the group 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.


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)

Benguet groups condemn harassment of youth leader

BAGUIO CITY— Activist organizations condemn the surveillance and harassment of a Cordillera youth leader by two men suspected to be state security agents.

Benguet indigenous youth leader Rima Mangili-Libongen had been subjected to surveillance, harassment and vilification by suspected state security agents since May this year, the Kabenguetan Agkaykaysa nga Ilaban ken Aywanan ti Biag, Daga, ken Kinabaknang, or Benguet Unite to Defend and Nurture Life, Land, and Resources (Kaiabang) and the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA)-Benguet Chapter said.

Kaiabang said the two suspects could only aim to intimidate Mangili-Libongen into stopping her leadership and organizing work, which colleagues fear may go beyond stalking and harassment.

Mangili-Libongen is a member of the famed music group Salidummay and Secretary General of Bileg ken Urnos dagiti Agtutubo nga Ybenguet (Buday, Strength and Unity of the Benguet Youth).

A 35-year old mother of three and residing in Ucab, Itogon, Benguet, Mangili-Libongen had been organizing youth and children for the theater arts and the Cordillera people’s movement since her college days at the Benguet State University in the early 2000s.

Mangili-Libongen has been tailed in Itogon where she lives and in this city, with one of the suspects monitoring the proceedings of the youth assembly she facilitated at the Itogon town training center in Bua, Tuding last May 30, the group said.

The harassment reportedly continued until the early morning of June 3 while Mangili-Libongen was at Shopper’s Lane in Baguio City with one of the suspects grabbing her forearm.

The man only released Mangili-Libongen’s arm when shopkeepers and passersby took notice.

The two men immediately left, Kaiabang said.

After the incident, Rima received a text from an unknown number saying, “Marami ka palang pinupuntahang lugar” (So you go to many places).

Alarmed that she may be harassed again, Mangili-Libongen changed her phone number but received another text message on June 8 that said “Tukoy ka na.” (You’ve been pinpointed.)

Impunity under Duterte

The CPA for its part said it could only be state agents who are behind the incidents.

“Comfortable in the impunity afforded them by the present dispensation, the military and police are capable of anything these days – as they were at the time of Marcos’s Martial Law and Macapagal-Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya,” the CPA said.

In April, rights group Karapatan submitted to the United National Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights a list of 47 cases of political extrajudicial killings under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“These killings are all in the context of the counter-insurgency programs implemented from one regime to another that supposedly seek to end the armed rebellion of revolutionary movements in the Philippines,” Karapatan in its letter said.

“The victims of killings are peasants, indigenous peoples and workers. Many faced harassment and villification by the military because of their advocacy and actions to defend people’s rights and are thus considered as human rights defenders,” the group added. # (Olga Lauzon/Northern Dispatch for Kodao Productions. Featured image from the CPA.)

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence: Indigenous Women Rise for Justice

Bai Indigenous Women Network (BAI)

Gastambide to Mendiola, Manila
November 27, 2014

“On this day, indigenous women rise for justice. We face the militarization of our communities and suffer from human rights abuses. We are impoverished and made landless because of the plunder of our ancestral lands. These are biggest forms of violence against indigenous women that should be put to an end,” Kakay Tolentino, a member of the Dumagat tribe and the National Coordinator of BAI said.