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Hopes for justice of drug war victims’ mothers buoyed after passing letters to Pope

By Visayas Today

Two Filipinas who lost young sons to the bloody war on drugs being waged by President Rodrigo Duterte believe their hopes for justice received a major boost after letters they wrote seeking the help of Pope Francis were received by the pontiff’s aides in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, October 9.

Marissa Lazaro, who lost her 20-year old son Chris in 2017, and Katherine Bautista, who found her 21-year old stepson John Jezreel in a Manila morgue days after he went missing in January 2017, were in Rome as part of the post-performance talk of the play “Tao Po” (Is Anybody There?), a four-part monologue by cultural activist Mae Paner, who portrays characters from the murderous campaign that human rights groups say may have claimed upwards of 30,000 lives since mid-2016, when Rodrigo Duterte became president.

The play is making the rounds of six European cities, including Rome, which hosts thousands of migrant Filipino workers and where supporters of Duterte have mounted a campaign to boycott the performance.

The two mothers are involved with Rise Up for Life and Rights, a faith-based support group for families of victims of extrajudicial killings that has filed a complaint against Duterte before the International Criminal Court.

This week, Rise Up, supported by the National Union of People’s Lawyers filed a petition asking the ICC to admit more evidence against Duterte.

In response to the ICC’s opening of a preliminary examination into the allegations, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the Court, which maintains it retains jurisdiction over complaints filed while the country was still a member.

Marissa Lazaro’s handwritten note to Pope Francis. (Photo courtesy of Rise Up for Life and for Rights.)

Bautista and Lazaro had to maneuver through the crush of thousands of people who filled St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s general audience.

In a message to reporters on social media, Lazaro said: “Nag-abot ang paningin namin ni Pope. Saya-saya ko kasi nung abutin nung mama yung sulat, ko pakiramdam ko nakarating sa kanya ang mensahe para sa hustisya sa anak ko.”

(The Pope and I locked gazes. I was so happy when an aide accepted my letter, I felt certain my message asking justice for my son had reached him.)

Bautista, on the other hand, said she wept: “Naiyak ako. Iba pakiramdam ng saya na sa Roma ko pa nakita ang Papa. Paulit-ulit akong nagsabi ng, ‘Please get this’! Kaya nung kinuha ang sulat ko nakaramdam ako ng pag-asa hindi lang para sa stepson kundi para sa lahat ng biktima ng walang habas na pagpaslang sa Pilipinas.”

(I cried. It’s a different joy you feel seeing the Pope in Rome. I repeatedly said, ‘Please get this!’ Which is why when my letter was received I felt hope not only for my stepson but for all the victims of the indiscriminate killings in the Philippines.)

Pope Francis waves to well-wishers at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (Photo courtesy of Rise Up for Life and for Rights.)

Even before the Tao Po team arrived, Duterte supporters have been hounding Philippine human rights advocates who have brought the campaign against the war on drugs to Europe, including the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In Iceland, which Duterte vilified for spearheading a resolution seeking an investigation into the war on drugs and its massive death toll, Lazaro was hounded by supporters of the president who interrupted her account at a forum of her son’s death and accused her of “dramatizing” her story. #

Drug ‘bagman’ and ‘whistleblower’ Ricky Serenio shot dead in Bacolod ambush

by Visayas Today

Ricky Serenio, the self-confessed drug syndicate bagman who blew the whistle on persons, including policemen and politicians, he claimed were on the take from the illegal trade, was ambushed and killed in Bacolod City Saturday afternoon, August 31.

Two wounded suspects were arrested soon after following a brief chase by police.

Serenio, who was on his way home to Pulupandan town south of Bacolod, had just turned onto the highway after picking up a friend in a subdivision when he was attacked by the motorcycle-riding killers.

He was rushed to the nearby Bacolod South Hospital but was declared dead on arrival from at least five gunshot wounds.

A passing police patrol chased the gunmen, resulting in a multi-vehicular accident. The suspects then tried to flee on foot.

They were identified as Joemar Dumip-ig, 30, of Barangay 14 in Bacolod, and Allan Bustamante, also 30, of Barangay Mabuhay 2 in Toboso town. Both had gunshot wounds in the leg and were taken to the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital for treatment.

Serenio gained notoriety when, shortly after his arrest in Talisay City in January 2017, he admitted being the “bagman” of the Berya drug syndicate, which operates in Western Visayas, and then started naming law enforcers, judges, politicians and even media practitioners he claimed received protection money from his gang.

Soon after, in April of the same year, Serenio’s brother Wilmar was gunned down. The next month, his father Wilfredo was also shot dead outside their home in Barangay Singcang-Airport.

Before Serenio was killed, a younger brother said he visited their home and had lunch there. #

Migrante asks UN to conduct investigations on killings in PH

Filipino migrants asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCRC) to look into extrajudicial killings in the country, accusing the Rodrigo Duterte government of committing “gross human rights violations committed against Filipino migrants.”

Migrante International submitted its Global Petition of Filipino Migrants UNHCRC Tuesday in support to the call of 11 UN Special Rapporteurs for an independent investigation into the increasing rights violations in the Philippines.

Migrante cited government neglect of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and the rampant extrajudicial killings in the country in its petition, also posted on the online petition platform change.org since last week.

Filipino migrants and families are not spared from extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations perpetrated by government forces, the group said.

Migrante recalled the killing of 17-year old Kian delos Santos in August 2017 by police operatives who collared the youngster, dragged him across a dark alley and summarily killed. The victim was the son of a Saudi-based domestic worker.

In August 2018, Manila police officers mugged OFW Allan Rafael and detained him until he died under police custody.

Rafael, a cancer patient, was arrested by the police on suspicion of being a drug addict based on his pale appearance, his family alleges. He was undergoing chemotherapy when accosted by the police.

Migrante’s petition likewise accused the government of sending cheap Filipino labor abroad instead of creating enough domestic jobs to end forced migration.

“Through the Duterte regime’s labor export program, the government has been imposing unjust state exactions as its way of subjecting OFWs to legalized robbery. A Filipino migrant worker already wallows in debt even before she is deployed overseas and whenever they get mistreated abroad, they are often left neglected or coerced by government agencies to keep silent and relinquish their demands for justice,” Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion said.

In its petition, Migrante also cited the case of 81 Filipino migrants currently on death rows as well as the numerous cases of unsolved deaths and detention of migrant Filipinos abroad.

International pressure

The Philippine government is facing mounting international pressure on widespread reports of continuing extrajudicial killings related to Duterte’s so-called anti-drug war.

Last Thursday, Iceland issued a draft resolution signed by 28 UN-member states asking the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to impose concrete actions on the killings.

Members of the Philippines’ official delegation to the 41st UNHRC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland reportedly walked out of the meeting in protest to suggestions that an official and impartial investigation be conducted in the Philippines.

Varied estimates from 6,000 to 30,000 victims killed have been reported by local and international groups.

“My only sin are the extrajudicial killings,” Duterte confessed at a gathering in the Presidential palace in September 2018.

In a speech in Malacañan last Monday, Duterte also said he prefers to be tried on his human rights record than being accused of corruption.  

“Well, extrajudicial killing is ok but not corruption,” Duterte said during the oath-taking of government officials at the Palace.

Human rights groups said that Duterte’s admissions add weight to the preliminary investigations conducted by the International Criminal Court last year. 

“We demand an end to the violation of our collective human rights and hold the Duterte government accountable. We urgently plead with the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into the human rights violations committed by the Philippine Duterte government,” Migrante’s petition said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Media groups warn against publication of Duterte’s narco-list without verification

Media groups cautioned journalists and editors against publishing Malacañan’s list of public officials allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade.

In a joint statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; Philippine Press Institute; Center for Community Journalism and Development; Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility; Mindanews and the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network said that both the government and the media can not play fast and loose with due process and rule of law.

The groups said that, without verification, the publication of the so-called narco-politicians list including 82 candidates in the May elections is a denial of due process and presumption of innocence for those on the list.

The groups added that the hasty publication of the list is a violation of the journalistic values of fairness, accuracy, and independence.

“Instead of rushing to print or air, we now urge all our colleagues to exercise utter prudence and fastidious judgment in evaluating this ‘story,’” the groups said.

The media organizations said publication of the government’s list redounds to mere trial by publicity of political rivals, and a publicity stunt for the public and the news media’s transient amusement without convincing proof or cases filed in the courts.

“Such naming and shaming calls attention to the possible invasion of privacy, as well as denial of due process and presumption of innocence, for those on the list,” the groups explained.

“Once published or broadcast, the travesty will be magnified as a collective disregard for the rule of law, and a clear breach of the time-honored traditions of fair, accurate, and independent journalism, by the news media,” they explained.

’82 candidates’

Duterte’s list, based on still to be verified intelligence reports and wiretapped information received from foreign governments, reportedly includes 82 candidates.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Aaron Aquino, however, said he is against the release of the list, adding that his agency has yet to re-validate it.

“As of now, there is an instruction for PDEA to disclose list. [But] I can’t do it right now because we have not finished the re-validation of the narco-politicians,” Aquino said.

Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez also said the government must “convict first” before those on the list could be disqualified as candidates.

The media groups urged the National Bureau of Investigation to validate the list’s contents before the authorities could build cases and file the appropriate charges against the alleged narco-politicians.

“Rather than seek publicity for its unverified ‘narco list’ story, the Duterte Administration should waste no time to build cases, file charges, prosecute, and send to jail the guilty, if indeed it had proof and evidence on hand,” the media groups said.

‘Verify, verify, verify’ 

The media groups said publishing Duterte’s list may open news outfits to libel suits should those named choose to file charges as Panelo suggested.

They said that taking Malacañan’s word at face value, reporting its claims uncritically, and rushing to print or broadcast just a list that tags people without proof are not without serious consequences.

“All these could put the life and liberty of persons in serious peril; all these could put the ethics and credibility of the journalism profession in serious doubt,” they said.

“Verify, verify, verify. And do so independently. That is the first thing that the news media can and should do, before running a list that tags and links people to hateful crimes, on the mere say-so of the President and his political lieutenants,” they added.

“We, journalists and media organizations can, at the very least, refuse to play along when the government and those who are supposed to lead the nation play fast and loose with due process and the rule of law,” the groups said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP launches campaign against reporters’ involvement in drug war

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, along with other media organizations, launched the ‘Sign Against the Sign’ campaign on Friday, urging Congress to repeal the law that includes journalists among the possible witnesses in anti-drug operations.

Journalists and industry leaders signed a manifesto calling for an end to the practice of making journalists witnesses to drug-bust operations, which has put a number of them in danger.

NUJP Chairperson Nonoy Espina explained that media groups have consistenly opposed this practice when it was made a requirement under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

While the law has since been amended by Republic Act No. 10640, enacted in 2014, Espina said media colleagues especially those from the provinces have reported that law enforcement units continue to require them to become witnesses, often as a condition for being allowed to cover operations.

Espina noted that as a result of this, some joirnalist have found themselves at risk of retaliation from crime syndicates.

“One of our colleages from Zamboanga del Norte has been receiving death threats from an accused drug dealer because she testified as witness in the operation. She didnt’ even want her name to be revealed because of fear. This has to stop,” Espina said.

He added that another journalist from the Visayas who regularly signed on as witness to drug inventories found himself included in a drug watchlist.

Aside from the issue of physical safety, the practice also exposes journalists to prosecution for perjury and other offenses in the event of irregularities in the conduct of anti-drug operations.

Espina said that while journalists can decline to serve as witnesses, they risk being isolated from their police sources or even normal channels of information.

“To ensure that this practice is ended once and for all, we urge Congress to craft legislation or amend the existing law,” Espina said.

The group plans to dialogue with Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and lawmakers to discuss the proposed legislation.

 

Acting as drug war witnesses endangers journalists—NUJP

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) launched an online petition asking that journalists be spared from acting as witnesses in the government’s so-called anti-drug war.

In its petition on change.org, the NUJP called on law enforcement units to immediately end the practice of requiring journalists to sign as witnesses to the inventory of contraband and other items seized during anti-drug operations.

“Our opposition to this practice stems from the fact that it unnecessarily places journalists at risk of retaliation from crime syndicates, on the one hand, and also exposes them to prosecution for perjury and other offenses in the event of irregularities in the conduct of anti-drug operations,” the NUJP said.

Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, requires witnesses to these anti-drug operations from a representative of the Department of Justice, the media, and an elected public official.

The law was subsequently amended by Republic Act No. 10640, enacted in 2014, which made witnessing optional between a representative of the National Prosecution Service and the media.

NUJP however reported that law enforcement units continue requiring media workers to sign on as witnesses, often as a condition for being allowed to cover operations.

“Worse, there are reports that they are made to sign even if they did not actually witness the operation or the inventory of seized items. Those who decline can find their sources or the normal channels of information no longer accessible,” NUJP said.

The group urged Congress to further amend the law to completely free journalists from the practice.

NUJP said it is willing to dialogue with the Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and Congress to discuss guidelines, ground rules and other procedural issues concerning coverage of their operations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Ang inyong matatamis na ngiti

Ni Ibarra Banaag

 

Sana’y di nagkamali sa treno’ng inyong sinakyan.
Nakakaaliw man at nakakabingi ang hagikgikan.
Ang sumakay ay di libre bagkus ay babayaran.
Ng buwis at inutang sa kawatang dayuhan.

Sana ay may preno ito sa pag-arangkada.
At ng di rumagasa sa mga barong- barong.
Malimas, madambong, pilak, gas at ginto.
Habang pinapatag matatayog na bundok.

Hiling ko sa pasahero ng Train 1 at 2.
Dumungaw naman kayo sa bintana ng bagon.
Masdan ninyo ang pumipila sa palabigasan.
Habulin niyo ng tingin ang mga Inang luhaan.

Sana’y maalimpungatan sa liliw ng bangungot.
Hindi dilaw ang buhay at dugo na nangalalagas.
Hindi pula ang naghahangad ng pagkawasak
Kundi ang uring sumasaklot sa katarungan.

Sa tuloy tuloy na pagragasa ng inyong tren.
Hindi lang puno ang nabubuwal kundi buhay.
Hindi lang ilog ang natutuyo kundi lalamunan
Hind lang burol ang napapatag kundi komunidad.

Hindi kalaban sa politika ang nakukulong.
Ang nasa piitan ay demokrasya at kamangmangan.
Hindi katungali sa eleksyon ang nasa bilibid.
Kundi ang kalayaan sa isang makatarungan lipunan.

Ako sa inyo ay may isang panalangin.
Na ‘wag maunsyami ang inyong pagbubunyi.
Kung kayo na ang biktima ng panggigipit.
Tumimbwang at sabihin kayo’y nanlaban.

                  –Setyembre 26, 2018

Activists condemn persecution in rally

Days after trumped-up charges against four leading activists were dismissed by the Regional Trial Court of Palayan City, activists marched to Mendiola, Manila to condemn the Rodrigo Duterte government for its political persecution of dissenters.

Saying the government has revived Gloria Arroyo-era mechanisms to quell dissent on top of its own bloody record on human rights, the protesters recalled that their rally Thursday, August 16, also coincided with the first anniversary of the killing of 17-year old high school student Kian de los Santos in Caloocan City that who was widely believed to be killed extrajudicially by the Philippine National Police. (Video by Joseph Cuevas)

Gunmen kill Cebu human rights worker in broad daylight

A Cebu City human rights worker who was organizing families of victims of the government’s so-called war on drugs was himself killed in a brazen daytime attack on board a jeepney Wednesday, August 8.

Human rights defender and Rise Up-Cebu volunteer Butch Rosales, 45, was shot in broad daylight was on his way to Mandaue, Punta Engaño, Lapu-Lapu City.

He boarded a multicab jeepney and sat at the front passenger seat while the assailant sat at the back.

The gunman shot Rosales at the head several times and took off on a waiting getaway motorcycle driven by another man. The unidentified perpetrators did not bother to wear masks.

A veteran activist, Rosales worked as an urban poor and labor organizer before he became a volunteer of Rise Up for Life and for Rights.

Rise Up is a network of volunteers and rights defenders committed to work in the defense of life and protection of human rights against drug-related extrajudicial killings and violations under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights condemned Rosales’ killing, blaming the culture of impunity under the Duterte government for the widespread killing of suspected drug users as well as human rights defenders.

“With the rising number of killings conducted with impunity in Cebu, Rosales was killed in the same manner that suspected drug users have been killed in the conduct of the Duterte regime’s drug war, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.

“This case reveals the brazenness of perpetrators – a result of the assurances given by the regime to these killers and the prevailing impunity that lingers after the killings,” Palabay noted.

Fellow activist Dyan Gumanao of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Cebu said Rosales was “cool and kind” who always asked how his colleagues and friends were doing.

“He was like an elder brother to me. He makes it a point to share with us his experiences in organizing urban poor communities,” Gumano said.

Rosales’ former colleague Yoyong Suarez said his long-time friend was always in the frontline defending urban poor communities against demolition and development aggression in Cebu.

“In the Philippines, individuals who assert their right to live will [themselves] be deprived of their right to life,” Suarez said.

“The Duterte regime’s witch-hunt against government critics and the continuing culture of impunity are blatant rights violation against the people. Justice for Butch Rosales and all victims of Duterte’s war against the poor!,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Progressives hold Black Friday Protest on Duterte’s 2nd year in office

Progressive groups held a Black Friday Protest at along EDSA, Quezon City last June 29, 2018 on the eve of the second anniversary of President Rodrigo Duterte ascension to office.

Aside from narrating Duterte’s failed promises, the protesters complained of the many human rights violations committed under his administration.