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Church groups condemn priest’s killing

Church-based groups in the Philippines condemned the killing of an activist priest in Nueva Ecija Tuesday and called for justice for the “kind and loving servant.”

The Diocese of San Jose (Nueva Ecija) in a statement called on the Rodrigo Duterte government to investigate and give justice to its elderly priest Marcelito “Fr Tito” Paez who was gunned down in Jaen town and expired two hours later at a hospital in nearby San Leonardo.

“We, the priests of the Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, as well as our beloved Bishop (Most Rev. Roberto Mallari) firmly condemn the unjust and violent killing of Fr Tito Paez,” the pastoral district said.

Paez, 72 years old, headed the diocese’s Justice and Peace office of its Social Action Commission while serving as parish priest in various towns in northern Nueva Ecija.

Before his killing, Paez helped a peasant political prisoner post bail in a Cabanatuan trial court.

Paez served as Guimba town’s parish priest before he retired in 2015.

The group Stop the Killings Network said Paez’s killing could only ignite and deepen the commitment of church people to fully serve the poor.

In a statement, the group also strongly denounced the killing of Paez who they said served the basic masses his entire life.

“He stood for life, justice, and peace. He worked for the consolidation of organized responses through the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and other ecumenical fellowships of different denominations and Churches,” the group said.

“The narrative Fr. Tito’s life and death opens the eyes of the Church people. His life was a manifestation that faith has a great role in the social movement,” it added.

In response to the priest’s killing, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it has created a special team to probe into Paez’s killing.

The Special Investigation Task Group will be headed by Nueva Ecija police provincial director Senior Superintendent Eliseo Tanding, PNP spokesperson Chief Superintendent Dionardo Carlos announced Wednesday.

The Stop the Killings Network, however, called on President Rodrigo Duterte to terminate its counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan “that justifies the killings of innocent civilians, human rights defenders, activists, and Church workers.”

“We urge the Duterte administration to pursue the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines; retract his pronouncements of threats against legal and progressive organizations; and stop all killings,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

The media and the Duterte presidency

Statement by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on the occasion of the eighth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre that killed 58 individuals, including 32 journalists. The incident is regarded as the worst attack against journalists in history.

The press in the Philippines has been described to be among the freest in Asia if not in the world, robust, almost rambunctious in its practice. But in the first 16 months of the Duterte administration, its status and practice have been diminished, shaken down by supporters and trolls of the President who would not tolerate critical coverage.

No less than the President has struck at the heart of the institution with threats of action against major news organizations. He has cursed journalists in public for raising testy questions about his health, catcalled a female reporter, and averred without serving proof that journalists are killed because they are corrupt.

This toxic mix — over-reaching executive power, the threat of violence and public censure, and divided and fettered newsrooms — has left the flow of information unfree, convoluted, and constrained under the Duterte presidency.

Today, as the nation marks the 8th anniversary of the massacre of 32 journalists among the 58 victims in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, in 2009, the press would do well to understand the severity of the challenges it faces. While we remain a free community in law and theory, and blessed with a Constitution that enshrines protection, a tectonic shift has moved the ground and the foundation of the practice of journalism under President Rodrigo Duterte.

PCIJ graphic

To be sure, the administration has taken steps early in its rule to address the attacks and threats, and a string of unsolved murders of Filipino journalists from earlier years. Duterte signed Administrative Order No. 1, Creating The Presidential Task Force On Violations Of The Right To Life, Liberty And Security Of The Members Of The Media (PTFoMS), on Oct. 11, 2016. But the agency that is also called PTFoMS lacks resources and personnel to have genuine impact.

In Duterte’s first nine months, the Task Force said that only one journalist had been murdered because of his work — Catanduanes News Now publisher Larry Que — even as it also reported other cases of attacks on the press, including eight shooting Incidents, eight threats, one detention, one request for continued Witness Protection Program coverage, and two cases of physical attack.

On May 2, 2017, a complaint was filed before the Department of Justice against Que’s supposed assailant, PO1 Vincent Tacorda. Tacorda was allegedly instructed by Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua.

Apart from Que, two more journalists had in fact been felled by unknown guns during the period: radio blocktimer Marlon Muyco of M’lang, Cotabato’s dxND Radyo Bida, who was killed on Feb. 17, 2017; and Remate tabloid columnist Joaquin Briones of Milagros, Masbate, who was killed on March 13, 2017. PTFoMS investigated the cases of Muyco and Briones but did not consider their murders to have been work-related.

The Task Force co-chaired by the secretaries of Justice and the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), noted in a report dated May 3, 2017 that there has been “a marked improvement in media security and press freedom in the country after the creation of AO1 and implementation FOI among agencies in the Executive Branch of the government.” Former reporter and PCOO Undersecretary Joel Jose Sy Egco is the Task Force’s executive director.

But It is a story that has turned bad in succeeding months. From May to October this year, the number of casualties among members of the press began to rise again. In the first 16 months of the Duterte presidency:

•    Six journalists have been killed, including the three that had been listed by the Task Force;

•    Eight have survived slay attempts and received death threats;

•    Three libel cases have been filed, even as a libel case filed in 2015 has led to the arrest of the accused. Other libel cases filed in previous years ended in an acquittal and two convictions; and

•    Six major cases of verbal and online threats from local officials or pro-Duterte bloggers have been reported.

In its second and latest report dated Oct. 11, 2017, PTFoMS counted only the case of Sapol News Bulletin columnist Leo Diaz of Sultan Kudarat (who was slain on Aug. 7, 2017 ) as a work-related murder, and not those of four other journalists who were killed during the first 10 months of the Duterte presidency. PTFoMS also tallied three cases of frustrated murder, one attempted homicide, and two cases of threats and physical injuries against a total of six journalists.

A mirror of the society in which it operates, the Philippine press is far from perfect; it replicates the same weaknesses of those it criticizes. History is witness though to its courage in the face of crises of all kinds. In every such instance, there are enough journalists who make the necessary difference, reporting without fear, shining light on wrongdoing in high places, dauntless in the face of conflict, repression, and disaster. Speaking truth to power, Filipino journalists have galvanized the political will of the citizens to unite and stand up to despots or crooks or bullies in power.

Stunned by the challenges that confront the institution today, the media community, in solidarity, now takes stock of what it has lost in terms of press freedom under the Duterte administration.

For one, the flow of official information has been mired in apparent propaganda. Although a Freedom of Information policy has directed all offices in the executive branch to respond to requests for information, far too many exceptions and denied requests have rendered the supposed policy of opennesss a farce.

Official press briefings during milestone events, such as the most recent ASEAN Summit or during the war in Marawi, have been remarkable for their scarcity of substance, and those that are given seem designed to give short shrift to the real need of journalists for relevant information. The President’s communication team is cavalier in throwing around facts out of context, and dishing out partial truths, and even fabricated stories and photographs.

The President’s hostility toward critical reports has not helped. The pens behind them have met with vicious online harassment from bloggers visibly favored by government.

Given the President’s high scores in public-opinion polls, the media have been slow and reluctant to challenge the false claims and flawed political narratives that the President has foisted to justify his over-reach of power. His attacks on political opponents, such as the legal proceedings that landed Senator Leila de Lima in jail, set the bar for how far this government will go to rid itself of critics.

Journalists know also how it is to be afraid, not just for oneself but also for one’s families and friends. Rabid cyber-bashing from Duterte followers have cowed many in the media. Painting critics as invariably partisan and “yellow” has significantly restrained media investigation and inquiry. The President’s expressed animosity toward some journalists has served to put the media on notice.

Unfortunately, many newsrooms have yet to respond with appropriate, timely, and relevant measures to assure the safety and wellbeing of journalists and coverage teams assigned to cover danger-fraught assignments such as the war on drugs or the siege of Marawi, or even to deal directly with the attacks on their ranks.

The weaknesses in journalism practice exacerbate the situation. Overall, media seemed only too willing to go along with what the President and other public officials say, recording their statements without questioning the veracity or credibility of their claims. In the last 16 months, for instance, reportage on the drug war, Marawi, corruption, and many other public-policy issues has been driven largely by the government’s lead on these stories.

Media reports have typically simply quoted or aired everything that the President and his officials have said about the necessity of the use of violence in the war on drugs. Repeated claims that there are supposedly four million alleged drug addicts have passed without vigorous challenge. The manipulation of the numbers in police records and the failure of the police to report their findings on the so-called DUIs or death (later called murder, and later still, homicide) cases under investigation have come and gone with little scrutiny by the press.

PCIJ graphic

By the monitoring reports of the Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR), the secretariat of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), the acute assaults on media freedom and journalists have continued under Duterte’s watch. These include:

KILLINGS:

Aside from Que, Muyco, Briones, and Diaz, two more journalists had been killed:

•    Volunteer broadcaster Rudy Alicaway of Zamboanga del Sur’s dxPB 106.9 FM radio, who was killed on Aug. 6, 2017; and

•    Radio broadcaster Christopher Iban Lozada of Surigao del Sur’s dxBF Prime Broadcasting Network, who was shot dead on Oct. 24, 2017.

Of the six cases, CMFR considers the cases of Que, Briones, Diaz, and Lozada as work-related.

PTFoMS, for its part, has classified the cases of Que and Diaz, and more recently Lozada as work-related.

Only in the case of Que has the alleged assailant been identified while the other cases remain under investigation.

SLAY ATTEMPTS, ASSAULTS:

•    Slay attempt on radio reporter Saturnino “Jan” Estanio of Surigao City’s DxRS-Radio Mindanao Network on June 30, 2016, by two men on a motorcycle. Estanio and his 12-year-old son were wounded in the incident.

•    Slay attempt on blocktimer Apolinario Suan Jr. of Bislig City, Surigao del Sur’s Real FM radio, on July 14, 2016, by unidentified men who fired at his vehicle;

•    Slay attempt on Virgilio Maganes, 58, radio broadcaster of dwPR in Dagupan City who was attacked by assailants while he was on his way to his radio program, morning of November 8, 2016.

•    Assault on correspondents Reuben James Rosalado and Jovito Alcoran of ABS-CBN Zamboanga TV on Sept. 22, 2016;

•    Slay attempt on radio commentator Julito “Paka-paka” Orillaneda of Marihatag town, Surigao del Sur’s DxJB FM on July 26, 2017;

•    Slay attempt on columnist Crisenciano “Cris” Ibon of Batangas City’s Police Files Tonite on Aug. 9, 2017; and

•    Slay attempt on broadcaster Carlos Sasis of Legazpi City, Albay’s Zagitsit News FM radio on Aug. 24, 2017.

DEATH THREATS:

•    Death threats via sms received by radio reporter Norman Mendoza of Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, on Sept. 7, 2016;

•    SMS threats received by Lourdes Escaros of the dzXL RMN on November 6 and 16, 2016.

•    Death threat received by reporter Jaime Aquino of The Manila Times newspaper on Nov. 23, 2016. Aquino is also facing libel charges;

HARASSMENT, ONLINE ATTACKS:

Apart from these journalists enduring direct assaults or facing death threats, there were also cases of journalists receiving verbal threats, harassed during coverage events, or assaulted online under the Duterte administration. These include:

•    On July 29, 2016, the website of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism was hacked;

•    On Sept. 20, 2016, Gretchen Malalad and Jamela Alindogan-Caudron of ABS-CBN were targeted by criticisms, insults, and threats by pro-Duterte bloggers. NUJP, in a statement of support for Malalad and Caudron, urged journalists to report and document any attacks and threats and call the attention of appropriate law enforcement bodies;

•    On Nov. 24, 2016,    President Rodrigo Duterte “cussed out” Jonathan Miller, Asia correspondent of Channel 4 of the United Kingdom when the latter asked him about killings related to the war on drugs;

•    On Dec. 8, 2016, the Facebook page of journalist Manny Mogato of Reuters Online was hacked. His cover photo was changed into the cover photo used by pro-Duterte Facebook page “Duterte is my President”;

•    On Jan. 9, 2017, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) suffered a denial of service attack on its website, www.nujp.org. Prior to the attack, NUJP had released a statement against President Duterte’s declaration that he was ‘playing’ with the media. Duterte said in a CNN Philippines interview on 29 December 2016, “Nilalaro ko kayo. Mahilig talaga ako (sa) gan’un. Alam ng team ninyo mahilig ako magbitaw ng kalokohan.” The NUJP statement was flooded with hate comments from Duterte supporters.

•    On Feb. 7, 2017, reporters Aya Yupangco (dwIZ), Dennis Datu (dzMM), and Michael Goyagoy (dzXL) were harassed by the Presidential Security detail during a coverage event in Manila;

•    On April 7, 2017, then Environment and Natural Resources secretary Gina Lopez told reporter Janina Lim of BusinessWorld that “you are just a fucking employee.” She also accused reporters of being “bought,” in response to questions Lim had raised. Lopez later released a public apology for the incident.

•    On April 22, 2017, verbal threats on reporter Jayson Drew of Pilipino Mirror were made by a Las Pinas City councilor;

•    On Sept. 21, 2017, pro-Duterte bloggers launched an online attack on reporter Jam Sisante of GMA7; and

•    On Nov. 3, 2017, RJ Nieto, known as blogger Thinking Pinoy, allegedly incited violence against Rappler reporter Pia Ranada during his radio program. Nieto urged his guest Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque to throw a hollow block at Ranada, after the latter commented that in response to journalists hurling criticisms against the government, he would throw hollow blocks at journalists. Ranada has filed a complaint against Nieto with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas. Later, Roque in a tweet said, “”To my DDS friends: we will not throw anything at legit journos. Let’s give them hot pan de sal instead. Pls leave Pia Ranada alone! Thx.”

LIBEL SUITS:

Cases of libel — which remains a criminal offense in the Philippines — have been dismissed or filed against journalists in the last 20 months under Duterte. These include:

•    On Aug. 22, 2016, a Makati City court ruled in favor of a libel suit filed against the Philippine Daily Inquirer by former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile;

•    In June 2016, a regional trial court in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental acquitted dyMD Energy FM anchor Cornelio Pepino, known as Rex Cornelio, of two counts of libel filed by Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo.
•    In August 2016, Quezon Province Governor David “Jayjay” Suarez filed libel charges against three journalists critical of his administration — Senior News Correspondent of the Journal Group of Publications Gemi Formaran, Ang Diaryo Natin publisher Johnny Glorioso, and dzEL Radyo Agila anchor Rico Catampungan. On August 15, a Lucena City regional trial court served all three a total of 3,000-page subpoena for libel.

OTHER CASES:

These acute and direct attempts to harass and muzzle journalists and media freedom have unfolded alongside more benign but equally grave threats to the practice of journalism and the free flow of information in the Philippines today. For instance:

Access to information remains problematic for journalists and media agencies covering the war on drugs. Getting information, especially on sensitive and controversial cases, remains constrained.

•    Officials and units of the Philippine National Police Police have repeatedly denied requests for spot reports, supposedly on account of the difficulty to copy or reproduce volumes of reports.

•    PNP chiefs or officers-in-charge have mostly refused to grant interviews about the relevant details of operations conducted against illegal drugs, especially if these details contradict the accounts of the family members of alleged suspects.

NUJP graphic

A freelance journalist requested copies of spot reports on the cases of those killed during police operations in an entire month. The request was repeatedly denied even as senior police officials had acknowledged that police spot reports are public documents.

Supt. Rolando Gonzales, Pandacan Police Station chief, has repeatedly denied requests for interviews about police operations his unit has conducted, even when sought for comments at the crime scene. He does not respond to questions even in face-to-face encounters with reporters.

On Sept. 13, 2017, the PNP, through its spokesperson Supt. Dionardo Carlos, said that spot reports will not be released to reporters unless the “head of office, his duly [designated] representative, his PIO (public information officer) or his spokesperson” determine that such release will not affect an investigation. He said that the directive restricting journalists from obtaining spot reports was issued as early as Feb. 18, 2014.

Instead of the police being the sole official source of reports on the drug war, a highly unusual and irregular situation has happened. Employees of some funeral parlors have also become the tipsters of journalists on where and when a “Tokhang” operation would occur. In one instance, a reporter got a call from a funeral parlor employee, who said that something was going to happen at around 2 a.m. the next day under the Jones Bridge in Manila. At the appointed hour the next day, reporters discovered the body of a supposed Tokhang victim at the exact same place.

Against their will, media personnel are sometimes compelled by police officers to sign on as witnesses in police anti-drug operations, supposedly as mandated by the law. Media team members are asked to sign on to the police’s inventory reports on the items that had been seized during police operations, in the form and manner that the police had prepared these. This practice exposes media personnel to serious legal implications and real conflict of interest.

In one case, Janelyn and Carmelo Rima, publishers of the community newspaper Island Sandigan, were charged with libel after publishing a story on a drug raid, which they covered and for which officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) had asked them earlier to sign on as witnesses.

Newsroom protection for the safety of journalists covering the war on drugs remains lacking. Most newsroom managers seem to consider the coverage of the war on drugs as just a typical police beat assignment. Only a few newsrooms have provided appropriate protective gear or offered hostile-environment training for their reporters and coverage teams.

Yet the risks to which journalists covering the drug war are far too real and can come from a variety of fronts. For instance, the safety of a group of journalists covering an anti-illegal drugs operation in Manila was compromised after a family member of the ‘Tokhang’ victim turned hysterical after finding out that his brother was killed after allegedly fighting back. The knife-wielding family member went distraught while the media teams tarried inside the compound without realizing that police had already left the area.

Psychological trauma overwhelms media coverage teams assigned to the war on drugs on account of their repeated first-hand exposure to revolting images of the dead, the maimed, the enraged, as well as the tremendous grief of the family members of the victims. A number of reporters and photojournalists have reported experiencing intrusive nightmares. Still a few others have reported feeling paranoid about seeing motorcycle men riding in tandem. Too, there are those who have reported feeling desensitized to or unmoved by images of blood and gore. — CMFR, NUJP, PCIJ, 23 November 2017

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Kodao Productions is a chapter of the NUJP.

 

Ampatuan massacre trial may reach resolution in 2018—NUJP

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) announced the trial on the Ampatuan Massacre may be resolved in 2018.

In a statement on the eight anniversary of the incident that killed 58 persons, including 32 media workers, the NUJP said they have been informed there are only three more principal accused still to present their witnesses.

“It would be reasonable to hope for a resolution by next year,” the NUJP said.

“We do hope and pray it will be a triumph for justice,” it added, even as it cited the “numbers that do not offer too much reason for optimism.”

Of the 198 suspects in the massacre, only 115 have been arrested and 112 have been arraigned.

Four of those arrested have died in the course of the proceedings, including primary suspect Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., the NUJP revealed.

Out of the 112, 70 were allowed by the court to post bail, including Ampatuan Sr.’s youngest son, Sajid Islam Uy Ampatuan, who was freed in 2015 after posting P11.6-million bail.

Among those allowed to post bail were 17 police officers because of weak evidence.

As of July 11, 2017, 102 of the accused remained in detention, including main suspects former Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr.; former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan; and Chief Insp. Sukarno Dicay, police chief of the 15th Regional Mobile Group that was conducting the checkpoint when the incident happened, the NUJP added.

The country observes November 23 as the International Day to End Impunity in the Philippines because of massacre.

The Ampatuan Massacre is both recognized as the worst election-related crime in Philippine history as well as the worst media killing incident in the world.

Another hearing is scheduled at Camp Bagong Diwa today where some victims’ families are expected to attend, along with representatives from the NUJP, the Southeast Asia Press Alliance and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

The NUJP said journalists continue to be murdered with impunity in the Philippines.

“The total to date—and much as we hope for the opposite, all indications are the toll will keep on mounting—is 178 since 1986, the last five killed in the year and a half since President Rodrigo Duterte took office,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Court acquits Army officer on Jonas Burgos case

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) acquitted an army officer of arbitrarily detaining disappeared activist Jonas Burgos Thursday, October 12, saying the prosecution failed to prove he participated in the actual abduction.

Philippine Army Major Harry Ballaga Jr. was cleared of the charge after QC RTC Branch Judge Alfonso Ruiz II found the testimonies of at least three Commission on Human Rights (CHR) witnesses lacking in probative value.

“The first duty of the prosecution is to identify the accused as malefactor of the alleged crime…The prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identify of Harry Ballaga Jr. as the person who abducted and arbitrarily detained Jonas Burgos,” part of the Court’s promulgation said.

“This kind (CHR’s) of testimony is hearsay in nature and, the Court is constrained to say, has little to no probative value enough to sustain the accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” it added.

Burgos, a farmers’ rights and welfare activist and son of Philippine press freedom and democracy icons Jose and Editha, was abducted on April 28, 2007 while having lunch at a restaurant inside the Ever Gotesco Mall along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Both Ballaga and Burgos’ mother Editha calmly listened to the 15-minute promulgation.

Ballaga approached Mrs. Burgos after the reading of the judgement and offered his hand.  Mrs. Burgos graciously took it and nodded in acknowledgement of Ballaga’s gesture.

“We respect the decision of the Court. But this is just a delay. We continue the search; we continue the fight. And maybe this is God’s way of walking the crooked lines so that we can find him [Jonas],” Mrs. Burgos said.

“Even as we disagree with the Judge, we also know the institutions are imperfect because they are made up of imperfect people. And the Lord said, ‘Revenge is mine. I will repay.’ So they will have a bigger thing to contend with,” she added.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers, private prosecutors to the case, said their difficulty was the disappearance of eyewitnesses that could have made their case stronger.

“We ask the eyewitnesses to come forward. Because after the Court of Appeals hearings, they could not be found for reasons we could not divine, except they were probably harassed, threatened or for any other reason that did not work for [the quest for] justice for Jonas,” NUPL’s Atty Edre Olalia said.

“It’s not the end. There are still people out there who should be made accountable, including General [Armed Forces Chief of Staff Eduardo] Año, General [National Security Adviser Hermogenes] Esperon and a lot of other military officers,” Olalia said.

“I still believe that I will find Jonas,” Mrs. Burgos added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

Witnesses under Church protection, hounded by state agents


Witnesses to the recent killings of minors have sought refuge with church and human rights groups while being hounded by state agents.

Human rights group Rise Up for Life and for Rights (Rise Up) announced Saturday it is providing protective custody to Thomas Bagcal after he asked them for sanctuary.

Bagcal was identified by the Philippine National Police as the taxi driver who was allegedly held up by 17-year old Carl Angelo Arnaiz who ended up dead in Navotas City last August 19.

Bagcal is a potential witness in the death of Arnaiz, Rise Up said.

Arnaiz’s reported companion, 14-year old Reynaldo de Guzman, was found dead with 30 stab wounds in Gapan City, Nueva Ecija last September 5, nearly three weeks after the two boys went missing.

Rise Up said they affirmatively responded to the Bagcal family’s request and has been keeping him since September 4 amid the public’s queries for his whereabouts.

“[We have] provided sanctuary during the period of Mr Bagcal’s serious discernment, soul-searching, and firm decision-making,” the group said.

“We are moved by the family’s trust and confidence in Rise Up in assisting them in these very trying and challenging times,” it added in a statement.

A source told Kodao that Bagcal would soon make a public statement on the issue.

Rise Up is a network of church people and human rights advocates dedicated to working with poor families affected by drug-related extra-judicial killings under the Duterte administration.

The group said they ensure individuals and families of protection from harm and threat as it provides burial assistance, psychosocial therapy and spiritual formation, rehabilitation, documentation and legal assistance as they seek justice.

 ‘Thieves striking in the night’

Meanwhile, the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) slammed the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) for its late night attempt to take custody of a child witness to the killing of 17-year old Kian delos Santos.

The child and his father sought sanctuary with Caloocan Roman Catholic Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.

The Saturday night standoff at Caloocan’s San Roque Cathedral ended with the father staying with his child at the church, MAT said.

“Attempts by the PAO and CIDG to pressure the father and then badmouthing him on media are signs of their bad faith,” MAT in a statement Sunday said.

“These acts put to doubt the CIDG and PAO’s capacity to conduct an impartial and just investigation of Kian’s case. Neither does it foster trust that they can provide respect and protection for witnesses,” the statement added.

The PAO through its chief Persida Acosta had been actively involved in public wrangling for the custody of witnesses to the killing of Delos Santos in Caloocan City last August 16.

“We thank Bishop David for providing sanctuary to the witness and his family at this challenging time,” MAT said.

“We ask the public to be vigilant. The PAO and CIDG tried doing this at the middle of the night and on a weekend –like thieves striking in the dark,” it added.

MAT has called for a big rally against extrajudicial killings on Sept 21, 40th anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law, at Rizal Park to demand an end to the killings. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Witnesses under Church protection, hounded by state agents


Witnesses to the recent killings of minors have sought refuge with church and human rights groups while being hounded by state agents.

Human rights group Rise Up for Life and for Rights (Rise Up) announced Saturday it is providing protective custody to Thomas Bagcal after he asked them for sanctuary.

Bagcal was identified by the Philippine National Police as the taxi driver who was allegedly held up by 17-year old Carl Angelo Arnaiz who ended up dead in Navotas City last August 19.

Bagcal is a potential witness in the death of Arnaiz, Rise Up said.

Arnaiz’s reported companion, 14-year old Reynaldo de Guzman, was found dead with 30 stab wounds in Gapan City, Nueva Ecija last September 5, nearly three weeks after the two boys went missing.

Rise Up said they affirmatively responded to the Bagcal family’s request and has been keeping him since September 4 amid the public’s queries for his whereabouts.

“[We have] provided sanctuary during the period of Mr Bagcal’s serious discernment, soul-searching, and firm decision-making,” the group said.

“We are moved by the family’s trust and confidence in Rise Up in assisting them in these very trying and challenging times,” it added in a statement.

A source told Kodao that Bagcal would soon make a public statement on the issue.

Rise Up is a network of church people and human rights advocates dedicated to working with poor families affected by drug-related extra-judicial killings under the Duterte administration.

The group said they ensure individuals and families of protection from harm and threat as it provides burial assistance, psychosocial therapy and spiritual formation, rehabilitation, documentation and legal assistance as they seek justice.

 ‘Thieves striking in the night’

Meanwhile, the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) slammed the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) for its late night attempt to take custody of a child witness to the killing of 17-year old Kian delos Santos.

The child and his father sought sanctuary with Caloocan Roman Catholic Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.

The Saturday night standoff at Caloocan’s San Roque Cathedral ended with the father staying with his child at the church, MAT said.

“Attempts by the PAO and CIDG to pressure the father and then badmouthing him on media are signs of their bad faith,” MAT in a statement Sunday said.

“These acts put to doubt the CIDG and PAO’s capacity to conduct an impartial and just investigation of Kian’s case. Neither does it foster trust that they can provide respect and protection for witnesses,” the statement added.

The PAO through its chief Persida Acosta had been actively involved in public wrangling for the custody of witnesses to the killing of Delos Santos in Caloocan City last August 16.

“We thank Bishop David for providing sanctuary to the witness and his family at this challenging time,” MAT said.

“We ask the public to be vigilant. The PAO and CIDG tried doing this at the middle of the night and on a weekend –like thieves striking in the dark,” it added.

MAT has called for a big rally against extrajudicial killings on Sept 21, 40th anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law, at Rizal Park to demand an end to the killings. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

IFI apologizes to sexual minorities, rejoices in the presence of LGBTIQ+ among members and clergy

Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) urged its members to embrace lesbians, gays and people of all other sexual orientations in an edict issued by its Supreme Council of Bishops (SCB) earlier this year and currently being circulated on social media.

Hoping to end “hurtful hate and suspicion,” the Church said it is challenged to stand with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning and those who identify with the other sexual minorities (LGBTIQ+) as it did when it “affirmed the gift of women priesthood” in the 1990s.

“We believe that the Church must openly embrace God’s people of all sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions (SSOGIE) as we embark on a journey toward a just and peaceful world,” the SCB statement “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity” said.

Founded in 1902 as a revolutionary national church, IFI continues its reform-oriented doctrine and practice, including tolerance of freemasonry, optional celibacy for its clergy, women priesthood, and special missions for oppressed sectors such as the Lumad of Mindanao.

The Bishops apologized to the sexual minorities for the failures in the past.

“We humbly ask for forgiveness for the many times we have shown indifference, and have made the LGBTIQ+ people feel less human, discriminated against and stigmatized. We apologize for instances they felt that, through our thoughts, words and deeds, God’s love is selective,” the statement said.

IFI said the presence of the sexual minority among its members and clergy must be recognized and rejoiced.

“We applaud their persistent belief in God’s embracing love. The judgment, intolerance and non-acceptance have not stopped many from serving the Church, even through the priestly order. They have enriched the life, work and witness of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente,” it said.

The SCB also said it hopes its move can effect change among other Churches and church people.

“Through this declaration, we implore agenda-setters to discuss laws and initiatives challenging LGBTIQ+ discrimination. Only through this can we truly protect our brothers and sisters in the community, against issues such as abuse and the rise in HIV and AIDS cases in the sector; against avoidable fear, suffering and caution,” it said.

Need to propagate

IFI priest and human rights advocate Dionito Cabillas said their Church must strive to propagate the statement as it is an official declaration from its supreme council.

Cabillas said not all IFI members are ready to accept the edict, but its clergy must explain and teach it in their respective congregations.

“To be true to our revolutionary tradition, we must be a Church that truly loves God, serves the people and struggles to eliminate all forms of discrimination,” Cabillas said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva/Featured image from IFI-Negros Occidental FB page)

Groups launch Movement Against Tyranny

Various groups and personalities launched the Movement Against Tyranny in Quezon City today “to unite all freedom-loving Filippines against tyranny and build a broad front to counter the increasing fascism and militarist rule of the (Rodrigo) Duterte government.”

The group approved the manifesto “Stop the Killings, Stand Against Tyranny” that accuses Duterte of unleashing police and police-backed death squads blamed for the the “brutal and murderous war on drugs” that has victimized thousands of mostly poor, small-time drug users and pushers.

Warning the Duterte government is fast unfolding into another despotic regime, the group calls on the public “to take a stand, speak out and act” against the extrajudicial killings and other “blatant acts of tyranny.”

MAT is the broadest alliance of groups yet that opposes Duterte’s war on drug, which include religious and political leaders, human rights organizations, activists, academics, lawyers, journalists and many others.

STREETWISE by Carol P Araullo: Justice for Kian, justice for all

The cold-blooded murder of 17-year-old senior high school student, Kian Loyd delos Santos, by Caloocan police, in what President Rodrigo Roa Duterte loudly proclaims as his administration’s unrelenting “war on drugs,” has unleashed a firestorm of protest.

No, Justice Secretary Aguirre, people are not buying your line that Kian’s killing is an “isolated case” that has been “overblown” by the mass media. Coming on the heels of a spate of killings (74 in just 3 days) in “one time, big time” police operations in the slum areas of Bulacan and Manila, Kian’s death is only unique in that CCTV footage and eyewitnesses point unerringly to his merciless beating and execution by policemen in plainclothes.

Neither are they buying the incredible story dished out by the police, without an iota of evidence except their say so, that Kian was a drug courier for his father and uncle. After the fact of his killing in the hands of the police, an alleged drug pusher who claims to have had dealings with Kian is trotted out together with allegations of nonspecific incriminating evidence police investigators discovered, again incredibly, in social media.

Authorities cannot even claim Kian to be the unfortunate but inevitable “collateral damage” of their determined efforts to stamp out the illicit drug trade. Unlike scores of other minors mowed down in Oplan Tokhang and its reinvigorated version, Oplan Double Barrel, who supposedly died in the cross fire, Kian was fatally shot twice in the head, at close range, while prostrate or kneeling, according to official forensic findings.

Yes, oh yes, President Duterte, this one is on you. You egged your police (actually, even your military, but they are too busy with counter-terrorism cum counter-insurgency operations) to “kill, kill, kill” as your administration kept missing your self-imposed deadline for eradicating the drug problem in three months, then six months, and now you admit, maybe not even till the end of your six-year term of office. (Was it just another foot-in-mouth gaffe or were you dead serious when you lauded the Bulacan police for killing 32 drug suspects in 24 hours and called for such a “fine” example to be emulated by the rest of your police forces.)

The more the police killed those who they claim to be in some “drug watch list,” Duterte could unabashedly claim progress, if not success, in his brutal “war on drugs.”

But in light of international criticism of the mounting body count, the police have whittled the official number of police kills down to around 2500, with a similar number being “deaths under investigation” (police speak for killings attributed to vigilantes and/or drug gang rivalry). Nonetheless, mass media and other independent tallies have the running total anywhere between 7000 to more than 10,000.

A system of quotas and rewards for eliminating small-time drug addicts and pushers apparently is in place thus the propensity for periodic raids on urban poor communities to flush them out or to out rightly kill suspects without affording them any kind of due process.

Duterte provided the perfect alibi: the police have the right to employ lethal force in self-defense should a suspect resist arrest or is armed and dangerous. The police picked up the cue from their Commander-in-Chief and so invariably, suspects are reportedly killed in a gun battle with the police, the former initiating the encounter by firing a gun. The police in turn are such sharpshooters no matter the lighting or spatial conditions that suspects always get fatally shot. Or if they are brought into custody alive, they invariably try to grab a police escort’s gun and end up getting killed.

Duterte then promised that with this role play of the police “merely doing their job,” he would protect them from legal prosecution and if convicted, he would pardon them. Such presidential cloak of impunity was proven in the case of Superintendent Marvin Marcos, head of the raiding team that killed alleged drug lord Mayor Rolando Espinosa while in jail. Marcos was reinstated upon Duterte’s direct order to PNP Chief Dela Rosa.

This impunity apparently is also operative in the case of the slaughter by police of the notorious Mayor Parojinog and 14 others, in a shadowy operation to serve a search warrant on a “narcopolitician.” There has been no serious investigation on this case and Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido who led the assault team will likely get a promotion in short order. (He already enjoyed being lionized in the media as someone who got some big fish in the anti-drug war.)

Duterte has been encouraged by the seeming general public approval, if not praise, for his actions. He hit on a nerve — society’s fear of heinous crimes being committed by shabu-crazed addicts or even just neighborhood addicts cum toughies lording it over their unpoliced communities. He had promised to end it swiftly, if brutally.

But only the bad guys were supposed to bear the full brunt of the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs” and maybe an acceptable number of “collateral damage.” And even if disturbing evidence of the extrajudicial killings were splashed on television screens, the front page of newspapers and the internet, the public was lulled into thinking that the victims were society’s dregs and were thus dispensable.

Until the killing of Kian Loyd delos Santos.

A teenager who had dreams of being a policeman someday. The eldest child of an OFW mother slaving away in Saudi Arabia to support her children and a father tending a small sari-sari store to make ends meet. A grade 11 student who begged the plainclothes policemen who were beating him up to please stop as he had an examination the following day. An ordinary fellow with no record and no reputation in the neighborhood of being involved with illegal drugs in any way. A right-handed person who supposedly shot at the police with his left hand. Whose ordeal was caught on CCTV and seen by several witnesses.

Thus he became Everyman — any poor but struggling parents’ son — minding his own business yet finding himself in the crosshairs of the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs.” This is exemplified in the social media post #IAmKian.

All of a sudden there is widespread outrage and dismay. Kian’s murder has unlocked the Pandora’s box of official deception about the effectiveness of the “war on drugs” and of the official cover-up of the horrible crimes being committed in its name.

The public outcry is simple and straightforward: Stop the killings! Justice for Kian, justice for all! To achieve these demands there is the urgent need to expose the mastermind and make him ultimately accountable. #

(Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two. This article was first published as an opinion piece by BusinessWorld: http://bworldonline.com/justice-kian-justice/)

[Photo by Danny de Guzman / Kodao Productions]

 

Ifugao court frees two political prisoners

By Aldwin Quitasol

BAGUIO CITY — The Regional Trial Court of Lagawe, Ifugao province today acquitted two Cagayan Valley activists, apologizing for their unjust imprisonment for nearly five years.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Cagayan Valley organizer Rene Boy Abiva and Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytors Nationwide (Piston) Party Cagayan Valley regional coordinator Virgilio Corpuz were deemed innocent of charges of multiple murder, according to National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randy Felix Malayao.

Abiva and Corpuz were charged with 12 counts of murder at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Lagawe, Ifugao by the 86th Infantry Battalion and 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.

The two were detained at the Bureau of Jail and Management Penology (BJMP) facility in Tiger Hills, Kiangan, Ifugao.

Abiva was an employee of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region 2 and an ACT organizer of the in the region when nabbed on December 28, 2012 by the military.

He was tagged as one of the New People’s Army fighters who staged an ambush against the Philippine Army troopers in Tinoc , Ifugao in April 2012 that killed 10 soldiers.

Abiva’s DSWD daily time record (DTR), however, revealed during trial he reported for work on the day the Tinoc, Ifugao ambush happened.

Corpuz for his part was nabbed in his residence in Santiago City, Isabela by elements of the Philippine National Police Regional Regional Mobile Group on January 2013.

Corpuz, also a development worker of the Katinnulong Daguiti Umili ti Amianan at the time of his arrest, was accused by the Philippine Army to be a certain “Harold Castillo” who participated in another ambush.

“The State must be made accountable for the trumped-up charges and for the more than four years Abiva and Corpuz were made to suffer,” Malayao said.

Various progressive organizations also rejoiced at the acquittal of the two political prisoners.

“The Ifugao Peasant Movement, Cordillera Human Rights Alliance-Karapatan and Cagayan Valley Karapatan join the family and friends of Rene Boy Abiva and Virgilio Corpuz in their long-delayed release from BJMP Ifugao after nearly five years of detention,” the organizations said.

“The court apologized for detaining the two who have been falsely accused and jailed wrongly. The judge said if there were only a law to justly compensate the two, they would be compensated,” they added.

“Their freedom is the people’s victory. Their commitment to serve the people remains and their families are with them,” Cita Managuelod, Virgilio Corpuz’ wife, for her part, said. (With reports from Raymund B. Villanueva in Manila)