The mass arrest of 62 civilians, including three minors, and the raid on three offices in Bacolod City last Thursday, October 31 are the handiwork of controversial police officer Jovie Espenido, a farmers’ group reported.
“A real-life horror story is unfolding in Bacolod City and it is orchestrated by evil incarnate Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido – the newly-installed newly assigned deputy city director for operations of Bacolod City Police Office (BCPO). These vile acts attacking civil liberties deliberately intend to sow terror and fear across Bacolod City and Negros island anew,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chairperson Danilo Ramos said.
KMP’s reaction came after combined police and military operatives simultaneously raided the office of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), Bayan Muna and Gabriela starting at five o’clock Thursday afternoon and arrested the activists.
Those hauled to the city police station included six minors the authorities allege are undergoing “training and “indoctrination”.
The police said several firearms and grenades were reportedly recovered during the raids on the offices as well as in the home of Bayan Muna’s Romulo Bito-on and his wife Mermalyn, who were both arrested.
All three organizations have long been openly red-baited by the police and the military of being “legal fronts” of the communist movement.
The KMP however said the raids are “real-life horrors” that only add up to “the long list of state-sponsored atrocities under Memorandum Order No. 32.”
President Rodrigo Duterte issued MO 32 in November 2018 ordering more military and police troops in three regions including Negros.
Recently, the controversial Espenido, alleged to have ordered the bloody July 2017 raid in Ozamiz City that killed Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and his wife and 13 other persons, was assigned to Bacolod City.
A few days ago, Espenido said “it would be God’s will if blood would flow in Bacolod City” in the course of his anti-drugs and anti-criminality campaign.
“The conduct of these mass raids was clearly illegal and unjust that the raiding teams had to come up with preposterous accusations that the civilians were allegedly conducting firearms and explosives training in the offices. Napakasinungaling ng mga pulis at militar,” Ramos said. (The police and the military are such liars.)
“These attacks happened with the knowledge and authorization of President Rodrigo Duterte. This is de facto martial law creeping in Negros Island and the rest of the country,” Ramos added.
Other human rights groups and some of those apprehended denied the accusations they were rebels and said the weapons had been “planted.”
A video taken of the search at the nearby office of Gabriela showed a police officer inspecting a revolver and ammunition taken from a backpack at a corner of the yard.
Among those arrested were known activist leaders John Milton Lozande and Danny Tabura of the NFSW, Proceso Quiatchon of the human rights group Karapatan, Nilo Rosales and Aldrin de Cerna of the Kilusang Mayo Uno.
Lozande said the raiders held them for around an hour and then he was called to a house in the compound and showed “an obviously planted” gun supposedly found in his bag.
Nine other persons were arrested at the Gabriela office and two more from the NFSW.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said among those arrested at the Gabriela office was Anne Krueger of the newly established alternative media outfit Paghimutad, which has been covering social issues, including extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses.
They were all taken to the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office.
Interestingly, the raids were covered by search warrants issued by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Branch 89 of the Regional Trial Court in Quezon City.
Karapatan, in a statement, called this suspicious and said this was reminiscent of the Oplan Sauron 2 operations in Negros Oriental in March, which were covered by search warrants issued in Cebu City.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate also condemned the “dastardly Gestapo-like raid … simultaneously conducted by state forces against the offices of Bayan Muna, Gabriela and NFSW in Bacolod, Negros Occidental.”
He noted that the raids were conducted “at night before a long weekend so as to ensure that the courts are closed tomorrow so that the planted pieces evidence and subsequent trumped-up charges filed cannot immediately be challenged.”
Karapatan called the raids part of a “full-blown crackdown on activists and red-tagged legal organizations,” noting that earlier in the day, police arrested Cora Agovida, the Metro Manila chairperson of Gabriela, and her husband Mickael Tan Bartolome of the urban poor group Kadamay, and claimed a .45 caliber pistol and two grenades were seized from their home.
However, Pancito told media the raids, which he described as “part of cutting the source of manpower to Red areas,” or territory were the rebels operate, would prove to be a “big blow to the Red fighters of the New People’s Army” and would “trigger the downfall” of the insurgency on Negros. # (Raymund B. Villanueva, with reports by Visayas Today)