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Abandoned Mount Samat Military Camp Yields Bones, Evidence; Quest for Justice Continues

This article is republished in light of the conviction of retired Philippine Army Major General Jovito S. Palparan by the Branch 15 of the Malolos Regional Trial Court yesterday for the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of missing University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno. The testimony of prosecution witness Raymond Manalo contained in this article was given due consideration and weight by the court that finally convicted Palparan, long-known as “The Butcher” by his victims and the human rights community.

This report was originally published by Bulatlat.com on October 18, 2008.

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By Raymund B. Villanueva

On March 22, 2007, Shara Hizarsa was waiting for her father Abner to bring lunch to school she would later share with him. He had cooked and brought food for her without fail since he left the underground revolutionary movement due to frail health.

But no one arrived for the girl’s lunch that day.

It had been 19 months since. There is still no father to cook and bring food for Shara.

Last October 13, Shara commemorated her 12th birthday. Even her mother Cris cannot be with her on her special day because she had to join dozens of relatives of the forcibly disappeared under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime in a fact-finding mission in Barangay Bliss, Limay, Bataan.

Horror camp

In an abandoned military camp near the World War II monument in Mount Samat, about 50 human rights workers under Karapatan and Desaperacidos, the victims’ relatives, officials and staff of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and University of the Philippines (UP) anthropologists led by Dr. Francisco Datar dug holes on the ground, hoping to find remains of summary execution victims. They were led to the site by Raymond Manalo, one of two brothers who escaped from the custody of the 24th Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.

Manalo said that he and his brother Reynaldo were taken to the camp on November 21 or 22, 2006. A week later, he saw missing UP student Karen Empeño and farmer Manuel Merino. They were later joined by Sherlyn Cadapan, another abducted UP student.

Inside the camp, Raymond was ordered to help build the barracks, cook and clean house for the soldiers, led by a certain Maj. Donald “Allan” Caigas. He witnessed how the two students were hung upside down on one foot with sticks repeatedly rammed into their private parts. After each torture session on the women, Raymond was ordered to clean the room of the victims’ blood and faeces and even wash their underwear. He recalled of many nights he went to sleep with blood-curdling screams ringing in his ears.

Raymond also recounted in his affidavit that he, his brother Reynaldo and Merino were taken to “cattle-rustling and harassment missions” by the soldiers led by Caigas. He witnessed the execution and abduction of farmers in outlying villages.

One night in June 2007, soldiers took Merino from their holding room, saying then Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan wanted to talk to him. Several minutes later, he saw Merino being marched to a grassy field 50 meters away from the camp’s barbed-wire perimeter. Standing by a window, Manalo heard screams and moans, like someone who was startled (“Parang nagulat.”), followed by two gunshots. “Siguro hindi nadale sa saksak, kaya binaril,” he said. (“They probably failed to kill him by stabbing so they shot him.”) Then he saw what looked like a bonfire that lasted late into the night. The next morning, he was told not to look for Merino as he has already “joined” Cadapan and Empeño. “Pinatay si ‘Tay Manuel dahil sabi ng militar matanda na siya,” Raymond added. (“Manuel was killed because the military said he was already old.”)

A diorama exhibited at the House of Representatives based on Raymond Manalo’s description of the military camp. (Diorama by Ron Magbuhos Papag)

In July 2007, the Manalo brothers were taken to Caigas’ farm in Bolinao, Pangasinan to work as laborers where they escaped on the night of August 12, 2007.

Clear and convincing’ testimony

The government and army’s top officials took turns belying Raymond’s testimony by denying the existence of the camp. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon said that Manalo’s testimony was “baseless.” Lt. Gen. Isagani Cachuela, PA Northern Luzon commanding general, said that he would not know about the existence of the camp in Barangay Bliss. Maj. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, 7th ID commander, which has jurisdiction over the 24th IB, echoed Cachuela’s statement saying he “still has to find out.”

Last September 20, PA spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner also issued a statement saying Cadapan, Empeno and Merino were nowhere to be found in any army camp where their relatives and supporters claimed they were detained.

But residents of Barangay Bliss are one in saying that there indeed was a military camp in their village. The Philippine Daily Inquirer also reported that former Bataan vice governor Rogelio Roque confirmed that the military used to occupy the area, which is adjacent to his property.

Despite the military’s denials, Raymond’s testimony was considered by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court (SC) as “factual,” “harrowing” as well as “clear and convincing.” Last October 6, the SC affirmed the Appellate Court’s decision to grant the privilege of the Writ of Amparo to the Manalo brothers, providing them protection from State forces. The order also affirmed the possible culpability of Palparan in their abduction and torture, as well as that of Cadapan, Empeño, Merino and others. The SC also rejected the 7th ID’s investigation as “very limited, superficial and one-sided.”

CHR chair Leila de Lima, for her part said, “The Manalo brothers, for me, have the most significant testimony in the extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.”

‘I will prove to them I am right’

A week after being granted the privilege of the Writ of Amparo, Raymond led the fact-finding mission to the military camp. Before the sun rose, Raymond had already identified the camp layout while other mission members set up tents and cordoned areas where the possible grave sites were.

According to their observations, there was painstaking effort to erase the camp’s footprint in the area. The concrete hut floors, the basketball court, the flag pole as well as the Marian grotto were broken up and thrown in a clump of bamboo trees about 100 meters away. All the holes were backfilled and the water pipes removed. Still, amid the shrubbery and the wildflowers that overrun the abandoned camp and under the sprawling shades of the dozen huge mango trees that blanketed the area, Raymond managed to identify the spot of every structure that stood in the military camp.

Raymond Manalo describing the camp layout.

Hindi ko aakalaing babalik pa ako rito. Takot ako, nanginginig, giniginaw. ‘Nung una kaming dinala rito, akala namin ay isa-salvage na kami,” Raymond said. (“I never thought I would come back here. I am afraid, shaking, and I feel cold. When we were first taken here, we thought we would already be summarily executed.”)

By the time the CHR team arrived by mid-morning, the mission was ready to dig and document whatever could be found in the area.

At noontime, De Lima arrived from Manila and conducted an ocular inspection of the possible gravesites. She also ordered additional diggers to complement the Karapatan team who found the stony soil difficult to penetrate beyond a foot and a half.

The first four holes in three possible gravesites produced negative results. But there were signs of unusual human activity such as burnt tarpaulins, tabletop covers, shoes, among others. Raymond identified one shirt that might have belonged to Cadapan. The anthropologists also confirmed that some of the spots pinpointed by Raymond bore “disturbances” by human activity.

As dusk neared on the mission’s first day, a fifth hole was dug which the experts said was “promising” as the soil was still soft and comparatively loose past two feet. It was then that the experts ordered a halt to the diggings on account of the approaching darkness.

Night falls on the mission camp

Under the pale light thrown by old-fashioned “petromax” lamps, the remaining 30 or so human rights workers ate dinner while a squad of Philippine National Police-Regional Mobile Group troopers kept a somewhat loose perimeter security. Before dinner was over heavy rains fell on the camp, overturning tents and soaking both mission members and their clothing and equipment. The victims’ relatives bussed back to Manila due to security considerations, along with some Manila-based journalists. Only then did the CHR-sourced generator arrive from the town proper to provide electricity.

By 7 pm, when the rain stopped, the mission members slept with their wet clothes and soaked sleeping provisions. The generator was turned off an hour later and the last mobile phone calls and text messages were sent. Even the police retreated inside their tents and vehicles.

Breakthrough

The mission’s second day started with a briefing between the CHR, UP and Karapatan teams. Datar expressed confidence that if Raymond was telling the truth, they would find human remains such as small bones of the hand and feet. “These are the things that betray the perpetrators of the crime,” he said.

But that morning provided more disappointments. Site Three was abandoned after it produced no convincing evidence. A new site was opened in the hope of more positive results. Datar interviewed Raymond several times and asked him to walk from the camp’s edge to where he thought Merino was taken at least four times. Raymond also informed the expert that he remembers Merino was wearing an old pair of yellow “Beach Walk” flip-flops. Assured that Raymond was certain about his coordinates and facts, Datar ordered the widening of Site One.

While standing on the edge of the camp Raymond found clothing on the ground, nearly covered with soil. When he picked it up, he identified it to have belonged to Caigas. “Shorts ito ni Caigas. ‘Basic Wear’ ang tatak. Siya lang ang meron nito—pantulog niya,” he said. (These are Caigas’ ‘Basic Wear’ brand short pants. Only he had them—as sleepwear.”) He said he was certain because he washed the soldiers’ dirty laundry.

At exactly 12:30 pm, anticipation gripped team members on Site One. What was thought to be just a layer of burnt wood close to the surface yielded a four-centimeter splinter, which Datar immediately identified as a human bone. He then ordered a wider surface scraping of the site. Before the team decided to take a delayed lunch break the hole already produced 15 more bone pieces.

Dr. Datar shows what kind of bone fragment was found on the site.

When digging resumed more bones were found on the burnt-out hole. At 3:45 pm, Datar’s graduate assistant struck another vital piece of evidence—an overturned slipper found on the edge of the small cavity with yellow straps and bearing the brand name “Beach Walk.” When Raymond saw the article, he exclaimed “’Yan ‘yun! Kay ‘Tay Manuel! ‘Yan ‘yun!” (That’s it! That’s old man Manuel’s. That’s it!) Datar then said, “Positive na tayo.” (“We are already positive about this grave site.”) A few minutes later a simple ring band was also found as well as a human vertebra.

At 5 pm, the digging and scraping has reached the hole’s edge. Datar said that, based on the materials gathered and examined by the UP, CHR and Karapatan experts on the site, firewood and rubber tires were placed at the hole’s bottom before the victim was placed in a fetal position wrapped in a mattress. “These foreign objects and the victim’s position explain why the hole is relatively small,” he said. Datar added that the gravesite was covered with un-burnt soil in the perpetrators’ efforts to conceal the spot.

Datar however hastened to add that it would be impossible to extract DNA from the “carbonized” bones. He also said that he still has to study the specimens in the laboratory to ascertain which parts of the body the bones came from.

Strong proof

Still, Datar commended Raymond’s fortitude. “May lakas siya ng loob na sabihin (ang nalalaman),” he said. (“He was courageous to speak out.”). “It was clear there were human activities in the areas he pointed out,” Datar added.

Nabuhayan ako ng loob,” Raymond said. “Kung wala tayong nakita e di lalo na nilang sasabihing sinungaling ako,” he added. (“I had a morale boost. If we found nothing here, the military will say I lied all the more.”)

Raymond’s legal counsel Rex JMA Fernandez is optimistic about the results of the fact-finding mission. “What Raymond said (about their abduction and killings) was proven today. Moreover, there was deliberate purpose to sanitize the burial place. If you take a closer look, the camp was big. It was not cursory but a protracted occupation of the place (by the military). That Palparan was involved in the tortures would be validated by these findings. Even if the military would try to undermine the results of this mission, Raymond is a very credible witness,” the lawyer explained.

Fernandez added that he wants the area declared a crime site. “I think they should continue digging and investigating. They should also interview the locals,” he said.

The mission ends, the quest for justice continues

Cris Hizarsa summed it up for the relatives.  “Katulad ng ibang mga pamilyang naghahanap, umaasa akong hindi kasama ang asawa ko sa mga pinatay dito.  Yun ang pag-asa ko at ng mga anak ko.  Sana, yun ang regalong maiuuwi ko sa kaarawan ni Shara.” (“Like the other relatives of the victims, my family and I hope my husband was not one of those killed here.  I hope that is the news I bring home to my daughter Shara for her birthday.”)

Manalo breaks down at the spot where Manuel Merino was murdered by Philippine Army soldiers under the command of Gen. Palparan.

Before dusk of the second day, all the holes were backfilled as the mission camp was being dismantled. Raymond Manalo then walked one last time to the gravesite, accompanied by the Karapatan team and Dr Datar.  The CHR team chose not to join them.  Fr. Dionito Cabillas led the prayers while the mission members joined hands around the makeshift grave.  After the prayers, shouts of “Justice!” rang several times.

Then everyone broke down.  Copious tears flowed on Raymond’s scarred face, his shoulders askew in physical and emotional pain.  The chests of relatives of the forcibly disappeared heaved in grief while Datar’s own eyes were moist and red.

As the sun was setting behind Mt Samat the mission members walked away from the grave now looking more desolate with the weak flicker of candles amid the creeping darkness.  Finally, Raymond turned his back on the site where Manuel Merino was killed, leaving the wild flowers to bloom in a land that has seen such horror finally coming to light. (More photos of the fact-finding mission here.)

 

 

 

Rights groups assail Duterte’s fascist attacks

Human Rights group Karapatan and other progressive groups held a Black Friday Protest, September 14, at Gate 2 of Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City to call for an end to the attacks of the Duterte regime against the Filipino people.

According to Karapatan, the Duterte regime is a danger to the Filipino people.

Duterte’s reign of terror through its counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan and its imposition of martial law in Mindanao are taking advantage of alleged terrorist activities as pretext to attacks against civilians, the group said.

Two farmers from Compostella Farmer’s Association (CFA) were killed last August 19. Couple Gilbert and Jean Labial on their way home after visiting a wake from a fellow CFA member. They were killed by suspected elements of 66th IB because of their opposition to the entry of mining companies in their area, the protesters said.

Karapatan also cited the recent killing of Haide Malalay Flores last August 21 in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental who was shot dead while on her way home. She was a businesswoman and an activist for peasant advocacies.

Karapatan reported as well the case of spouses Edison and Divina Erece who were arrested by elements of military and police last September 3 in Calayan, Cagayan. The couple were members of the peasant group Amihan-Cagayan.

They were charged with illegal possession of explosives, murder, arson and qualified assault.

Political prisoners now number 509, majority of whom are poor peasants, Karapatan said.

Meanwhile, Antonio Flores, secretary-general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), stressed that aside from killings of 150 farmers, the Duterte government also slapped trumped up charges against peasant activists.

The filing of criminal offenses and red-tagging of farmer leaders as members of New Peoples Army are the trademark of this administration. Instead of addressing the problem of landlessness and poverty, continuos military operations and human rights violations happened almost everyday, Flores added.

Estrellita Bagasbas of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) said that even urban poor people were victims of Duterte’s attacks.

She cited the violence in Pandi Bulacan where “fake and ousted members” of KADAMAY are allegedly being used by the police as intelligence agents.

Some organizers and leaders of KADAMAY also recieved death threats and harassments, KADAMAY said. # (Video and report by Joseph Cuevas)

Ang malaking laban na dapat nating harapin

“Labanan ang pasistang atake sa mamamayan. Ito ang malaking laban na dapat nating harapin.”Atty. Nero Colmenares, chairperson, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, at the 5th National Congress of the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights

Ika-limang Kongreso ng Karapatan idinaos

Inilunsad ng Karapatan ang ika-lima nitong Pambansang Kongreso noong Agosto 19-21, 2018 sa Rancho Luisito, Rodriguez sa Rizal.

Dumalo sa pagtitipon ang mga kinatawan ng Karapatan mula sa iba’t-ibang rehiyon at lider ng mga progresibong grupo.

Bitbit ang temang “ Labanan ang pasistang atake sa mamamayan”, naging tampok sa kongreso ang pagtalakay sa limang taon na tagumpay ng Karapatan sa pagtataguyod ng karapatang pantao, paglaban sa atake nang dating rehimen ni Benigno Aquino III at kasalukuyang rehimen ni Rodrigo Duterte, gayundin ang pakikiisa ng organisasyon sa pakikibaka ng mamamayan sa ibat-ibang isyung panlipunan.

Nagbigay ng mensahe at pagbati ang iba’t-ibang grupo at indibidwal sa loob at labas ng bansa, tulad ni Sen. Cynthia Villar, ang Commission on Human Rights, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Civicus World Alliance for Citizen Participation at National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Nagkaroon naman ng workshop ang mga delegado kung saan pinagtibay nila ang Pangkalahatang Programa ng Pagkilos para sa taong 2019 hanggang 2021.

Binigyang-pugay din nila ang dalawa sa haligi ng Karapatan na sina Sr. Cecilia “Ateng” Ruiz ng Karapatan-Gitnang Luson at dating pambansang tagapangulo nito na si Marie Hilao Enriquez.

Nagsagawa din sila ng eleksyon para sa bagong konseho. Kabilang sa mga nahalal sina Elisa Tita Lubi bilang bagong pambansang tagapangulo, Cristina Palabay bilang pangkalahatang kalihim, Roneo “Jigs” Clamor bilang deputy secretary general, Reylan Vergara ng Karapatan Panay bilang pangalawang tagapangulo, at Gabriela Krista Dalena bilang treasurer.

Inihalal din nila ang bagong officers-at-large na kinabibilangan nila Atty. Antonio “Tony Boy” Azarcon, Dr. Reggie Pamugas, Reia Penol, Editha Burgos, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol, Jose Mari Callueng at Sr. Patricia Fox. (Video at ulat ni Joseph Cuevas)

Ampatuan furlough alarms journos, rights groups

Journalists and human rights advocates expressed alarm over a four-hour furlough given by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC-RTC) to a primary suspect in the November 24, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre that killed 58 victims, including 32 reporters.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement it is concerned to learn that QC-RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis – Reyes allowed former Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan to leave detention to attend his daughter’s wedding Tuesday, August 21.

“While we may understand a parent’s desire to be present at such an important milestone in the life of a child, we stress that the crime of which Mr. Ampatuan is accused of is of such a heinous nature that the shock and outrage it stirred around the world forced then President Gloria Arroyo to move against the powerful clan that was among her staunchest allies,” NUJP said.

The NUJP said it learned of Ampatuan’s furlough only through Tawi-Tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali who posted on social media a picture of herself with former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan.

The caption read: “Alhamdulilla with my former Boss Former RG Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan during the wedding ceremony of his eldest daugher Bai Nur Aila.”

Rep. Sahali also posted video from the wedding, which she indicated was held at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel.

“Almost nine years after the rampage that claimed the lives of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers, no one has yet been convicted. Yet a principal accused, Sajid Ampatuan, was granted bail. That and now this, we feel, gives us and the victims’ families more than enougy cause to worry about whether we can truly expect justice for this most grievous of crimes,” NUJP said.

Suara Bangsamoro and the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights also condemned what they call double standards in granting petitions for temporary releases from detention.

“Granting Zaldy Ampatuan a furlough, instead of conviction, is an insult to the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre. It also proves that under the Duterte administration impunity reigns as criminals and human rights violators such as Ampatuan’s boss, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, are allowed to regain and continue to consolidate their political power,” Suara Bangsamoro chairperson Jerome Succor Aba said.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay for her part said that while Ampatuan was readily given such privilege, “political prisoners were heartlessly denied of their appeals to properly grieve and pay their respects to their loved ones.”

“Andrea Rosal was disallowed to go to the cemetery where her child was interred. Joseph Cuevas and Eddie Cruz were not allowed to even go to the wake of their fathers. Of course, they were not in government and they are poor, so they don’t have the perks of hoodlums and killers such as the Ampatuans, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada,” Palabay said.

 

The Philippine Star also said Judge Reyes also earlier allowed Ampatuan to attend his daughter’s college graduation from the Ateneo de Manila University.

“We all know that most people accused of lesser offenses almost never get to enjoy a privilege as that granted Zaldy Ampatuan. What made him an exception to the rule?” the NUJP asked.

Sources said Department of Justice prosecutors objected to the petition for furlough by Ampatuan’s defense lawyers, to no avail.

Other sources said that both the prosecution and defense have submitted their memoranda on the case to the court, signalling that the resolution of the long-drawn case would follow shortly.

Judge Reyes reportedly has to rule on the memoranda first before announcing a promulgation schedule.

Reyes holds the Ampatuan Massacre trial in a special court inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

IACoLA arrests, charges more activists with trumped-up cases–Karapatan

Human rights group Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights revealed two more farmers were arrested in Southern Tagalog last week, accusing the Rodrigo Duterte government of continuing repression against activists.

Karapatan said farmer Arnold Albarillo was arrested by the Philippine National Police in San Teodoro, Oriental Mindoro last Saturday,  August 11, while former Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (CLIAM) spokesperson Mylene Santua was also arrested by the police in Brgy. Pagsanghan, San Francisco, Quezon Wednesday, August 15.

Albarillo, a barangay official of Calsapa, San Teodoro, was reportedly invited by two men in civilian clothing to the Provincial Safety Battallion in Barangay Taclingan in the said municipality but ended up being interrogated for two hours before being transferred to the Philipine National Police station.

Albarillo is being charged with trumped-up cases of double murder, frustrated murder and rebellion in Gumaca, Quezon filed in 2014, Karapatan said.

Albarillo’s parents and brother were tortured and killed in April 2002, during the terror reign of then Col. Jovito Palparan in the region.

Manuela and Expedito, both coordinators of Bayan Muna, were accused of being members of the New People’s Army, and were killed. Armando Albarillo, Arnold’s brother, then secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Timog Katagalugan (BAYAN-TK) was shot by elements of the 74th IBPA in 2012.

Meanwhile, Karapatan said Santua was undergoing prenatal care procedure when she was accosted by the police and currently detained at a camp in Brgy. Malamig, San Francisco, Quezon.

Santua’s group CLIAM has been calling for the return of more than 200 billion worth of funds to coconut farmers.

“There is a continuity of repression and injustice from one regime to the next. These are not isolated cases, as some of these violations have started way back in the administrations of Arroyo and Aquino. There is a thread of repression carefully weaved by those in government — a thread that keeps on getting longer,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Palabay noted that Albarillo and Santua’s arrests followed the arrest of spouses Rowena and Oliver Rosales, former organizers of public sector union Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE).

All four are now facing trumped-up charges, Palabay said.

The Karapatan leader linked the recent arrests to the formation and mobilization of the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACoLA), a committee manned by both the AFP and the PNP and specifically tasked to file charges against activists and members of progressive organizations falsely labeled as “enemies of the State.”

“Since IACLA’s creation in October 2017, 129 individuals have already been arrested and are currently detained on the basis of trumped-up charges. As of June 2018, there are already 503 political prisoners in the country,” Palabay said.

“We again call for the abolition of the IACoLA. [It is] inspired by the same task force created during the time of Arroyo [and has become]a state policy that legitimizes political persecution against rights defenders and local community leaders. We demand the immediate release of the Rosales couple, Arnold Arbarillo, Mylene Santua, and all political prisoners. The Duterte regime is deliberately continuing the thread of repression, even taking it to an unprecedented degree,” concluded Palabay. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

Abolish IACoLA, trumped-up charges—Makabayan 4

Activists called on the abolition of the government’s Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACoLA) in a gathering celebrating the dismissal of double murder charges against their four leaders in Quezon City Tuesday, August 14.

In a packed hall at the Quezon City Sports Club, National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor Liza Maza and fellow former Makabayan bloc representatives Satur Ocampo, Rafael Mariano and Teddy Casiño condemned the IACoLA as an attack mechanism resurrected from the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo era.

The four said IACoLA was the resurrected form of the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) that persecuted the four, along with former Anakpawis Representative Joel Virador and the late Crispin Beltran who were then collectively known as the Batasan 6 who sought refuge at the House of Representatives for many weeks.

“If these are truly the handiwork of the reconstituted (IALAG) as some quarters have alleged, then this body requires the reexamination as they did with its predecessor, the (AILAG) under the time of Arroyo, which was abolished upon the recommendation of the UN,” Maza said.

The IACoLA was created through a joint resolution signed by former Philippine National Police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo Año last October 9, 2017.

The PNP and the AFP said the resolution aims to strengthen the intelligence gathering and cooperation, investigation, prosecution and monitoring of cases against threat groups by establishing stronger coordination of ongoing and future efforts of the government in addressing cases.

The activists, however, said IACoLA is being used to persecute perceived dissenters using trumped up charges.

Human rights group Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights cited the abduction of couple Rowena and Oliver Rosales last Saturday in Bulacan as another handiwork of IACoLA.

Karapatan said the Rosaleses, former Confederation for the Unity, Advancement and Recognition of Government Employees (Courage) organizers, were forcibly taken while onboard their privately-owned tricycle at Barangay Wawa, Balagtas, Bulacan, and were later taken to Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Rowena was later shown a warrant of arrest for trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the same warrant used against Courage member Juan Alexander Reyes on June 2, 2018, the group said.

“The Duterte regime is tying up loose ends left by past repressive governments. Taking off from the atrocious handiwork of previous regimes, foremost that of Marcos’, Arroyo’s and Aquino’s, Duterte has escalated attacks against rights defenders,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“Many of such violations are orchestrated by the police and the military in line with the IACoLA in particular, and counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan in general,” Palabay said, adding that at least 129 rights defenders and political dissenters have already been arrested and filed with trumped-up charges since IACLA’s creation in October 2017.

“It is time to review, reexamine at dismantle this group as AILAG was dismantled before. This is a grave concern for all of us. These trumped-up charges against all of us activists and individuals who are working for genuine change in society,” Maza said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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)

Victims decry Arroyo’s ‘resurrection’ as House speaker

A day after former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wrested the House of Representatives speakership in a controversial manner Monday, families of victims of human rights violations held a press conference and vowed to bring her to justice.

Under Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya counter-insurgency program, more than 1,600 were killed extrajudicially while 200 remain missing to this day.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said it was under Arroyo’s nine-year regime when the Philippines became the most dangerous country for journalists with more than 120 killed.

Arroyo’s rehabilitation an insult to victims–groups

Families of victims of human rights violations under the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo government slammed the newly-installed House of Representatives Speaker, saying she is still accountable for the many atrocities from 2001 to 2009.

Angered at the complete rehabilitation of Arroyo’s political career, the families said her comeback is an insult to the victims and to the Filipino people who were also victims to the massive electoral fraud she befitted from in 2004.

“[Arroyo’s rise to the Speakership] illustrates the grave impunity under [President Rodrigo] Duterte who coddles a fraud, plunderer and rights violator,” the families said.

In a press conference, JL Burgos, brother of the disappeared peasant rights activist Jonas abducted in April 28, 2007, said, “Birds of a feather flock together,” adding he is not surprised the Arroyo’s political rehabilitation happened under a regime such as Duterte’s.

Roneo Clamor, Karapatan deputy secretary general, said the spectacle at the House of Representatives Monday, boils down to impunity, noting that both Arroyo and Duterte are accused of implementing policies that cause human rights violations in the country.

Karapatan said more than 1,600 were victims of extrajudicial killings while more than 200 remain missing as a result of Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya counter-insurgency program.

Also present in the press conference Tuesday were Evan Hernandez, mother of human rights worker Beng Hernandez who was among the first victims of extrajudicial killings under Arroyo, as well as Linda Cadapan, mother of missing University of the Philippines student  Sherlyn.

Cadapan said she had been in tears since Monday afternoon after learning Arroyo has benefitted from a dramatic coup d’etat that ousted former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

“It is hard to believe that the worst violator of human rights like Arroyo can escape justice and can still be rehabilitated as one of the highest officials of the land once more,” Cadapan told Kodao in Filipino.

Worst annual death rate of journalists

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines for its part said it vows to persevere even more to exact accountability from Arroyo under whose term a total of 103 journalists were killed.

“It was under the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presidency that the worst attack against journalists in history happened,” NUJP said, recalling 32 reporters were killed in November 23, 2009 in the incident called the Ampatuan Massacre.

“The family believed to be behind this gruesome act has been abetted by the corrupt and bloody government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo through political, financial, military and other forms of support, emboldening them to commit unprecendeted forms of atrocities,” NUJP said.

The group added that Arroyo’s nine years still has the worst average annual death rate of any president.

NUJP recalled that during Arroyo’s state of national emergency, the newspaper The Daily Tribune was raided and troops deployed around the premises of ABS-CBN.

During a live interview, then Arroyo Cabinet Secretary Ric Saludo said they could take over station for airing statement of mutinous military officers.

Kodao Production’s daily radio program was also taken off air due to orders from Malacañang.

The NUJP, as well as Kodao Productions and Bulatlat.com were tagged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as “enemies of the state” under Arroyo.

Kodao was also charged with rebellion, along with 60 other activists under Arroyo’s state of national emergency in 2016.

The case was dismissed, however, when the government witnessed wrongly claimed he had been working as a spy under Kodao since 1989.

Kodao was only established in 2000. #