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On the arrest of 6 human rights workers in Palawan

“The warrantless arrest of Glendhyl Malabanan and six other human rights workers in Palawan is a clear case of the government’s intensifying reprisals on human rights defenders and activists for their work in exposing the Duterte regime’s fascist attacks on the people.”-Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general

Despite filing of charges, military refuses civilian jail for Alexa Pacalda

They could not force her to say she indeed is a surrendered New People’s Army (NPA) fighter, so criminal charges were finally filed against human rights worker Alexa Pacalda at the Quezon Provincial Prosecutor’s Office last Saturday.

Seven days after her supposed arrest last September 14 in General Luna town and long before the 36-hour deadline for filing of criminal charges, the 201st Infantry Brigade-Philippine Army (IBPA) charged Alexa with illegal possession of firearms and ammunition in what the military obviously planned to be a secret inquest proceeding last September 21. Her lawyer and family were not informed.

But it did not turn out exactly the way the military wanted it.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers’ (NUPL) Atty. Kristina Conti was nearby, giving a lecture on human rights reporting to dozens of Southern Tagalog journalists, when she found about the inquest proceeding. Journalists who attended the training received a tip that the young human rights defender would be taken to Lucena City from the military camp in Calauag town where she is detained. After a phone call from her NUPL colleague and Alexa’s lawyer Maria Sol Taule, Conti rushed to the Quezon Provincial Capitol compound where the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office is located.

She was met by Alexa’s father Arnulfo and Karapatan-Quezon Chapter colleagues, gratitude and relief on their faces. Conti’s entrance at the fiscal’s office, however, was different. The three lawyers from the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO) tried to hide it but betrayed their surprise by asking where she came from, appearing all of a sudden when the inquest should have been secret.

A local activist (left) takes a selfie with a military intelligence operative (second from left) at the Quezon Provincial Prosecutor’s Office)

The mood inside the old and stuffy building became tenser when Alexa’s fellow activists called out the many intelligence operatives who kept on taking photos and videos of them. “Kanina ka pa kuha nang kuha ng photo ko, a. Para di ka na mahirapan, selfie na lang tayo,” said one to an intelligence officer in civilian clothes. (You’ve been taking lots of photos of me. Why don’t we take a selfie to make it easier for you?) The latter tried to play it cool and obliged but the mood did not lighten. Pretty quickly, more intelligence operatives, four of them, entered the building, apparently to assist their comrades.

Arnulfo Pacalda (left) listening to military personnel inside the Quezon Provincial Prosecutor’s Office.

All the while, Arnulfo and his young son with him kept their cool. As the lawyers were wrangling inside the fiscal’s room, they were seated at a distance. At exactly three o’clock, Arnulfo’s phone sounded, reciting the Catholic’s Three O’Clock Prayer. He stepped out of the room, went to a corner and finished the prayer with his head bowed.

Inside the prosecutor’s office, Conti was still being quizzed by the most senior of the three JAGO officers. She was asked if she is a local lawyer, explaining her sudden appearance. She in turn badgered her counterpart where Alexa was so she could consult with her client. The soldiers refused, even when the fiscal herself asked. “She is nearby. But there are security concerns,” the soldiers cryptically said. “But a lawyer must have access to her client, doesn’t she?” Conti shot back. The fiscal agreed and Alexa was finally brought inside.

Arnulfo and Alexa embrace at the Lucena City Regional Trial Court lobby.

Arnulfo and Alexa’s younger brother rushed to hug her as she entered the building. The embraces were long and tight. Beside them, Conti was smiling. When it was her time to speak to her, Conti asked, “Naaalala mo ako?” to which Alexa replied “Yes” and smiled back. Alexa had been Conti’s paralegal on some human rights cases they both collaborated on in the recent past.

Alexa and her younger brother embrace inside the Lucena RTC building.

Alexa looks nowhere near that of the female NPA fighter toting an AK-47 assault rifle and undergoing military training on the photos being shared on social media. (The photos appeared online only when Alexa’s video was released by her lawyer refuting giddy claims by her captors they had another surrenderee.) Alexa is hardly five feet tall and is very slight of built.

Arnulfo and Alexa Pacalda outside the prosecutor’s office.

Even with Alexa already inside the prosecutor’s office, the JAGO and the soldiers still refused to give Conti time to consult with her and her family in private. What followed were argumentations that went in circles. Finally, with the public prosecutor’s prodding, the JAGO relented and Conti and the Pacaldas were given 15 minutes at a dark corner of the building, surrounded by file cabinets outside of the female toilet.

Atty. Conti and the Pacaldas in a private consultation.

Back at the prosecutor’s office, Alexa was asked by Conti if she indeed signed the so-called surrender papers the JAGO submitted as part of its evidentiary documents. The young prisoner replied, “I do not remember anything.” Conti later told Kodao that even if she did, Alexa was obviously under extreme duress after being captured by the soldiers, tortured with sleep and food deprivation for 30 hours and forced to sign the proffered papers they told her would lead to her freedom. The same was true when her father Arnulfo was made to sign a document the Philippine Army said would help his daughter regain her freedom.

Conti asked the prosecutor if Alexa could already be committed to a civilian jail facility. The soldiers objected. The fiscal asked police officers present on who had authority over the prisoner. The police said the soldiers merely informed them two days after the abduction that Alexa had been in their custody but was never in the PNP’s. The fiscal then said Alexa’s lawyers had to file a motion first before deciding on Conti’s request. (Alexa’s lawyer and family filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus at the Supreme Court Monday, September 23.)

Military intelligence operatives taking photos and videos of the proceedings and the activists present.

Alexa’s other lawyer, Taule, told Inquirer.net Saturday that the criminal charges filed against her proves the soldiers were lying.  “They can’t win over Alexa despite detention of seven days in their camp so their game now is to file charges,” she said. The military for its part said they still consider Alexa as a surrenderee, admitting, however, that things have changed since they made public Alexa’s so-called surrender document. Lt. Col. Dennis Cana, public information officer of the Philippine Army’s Southern Luzon Command, told Inquirer.net that Pacalda’s video message refuting the military’s claim “will have a very strong effect on her surrender status” as her sincerity to lay down her arms “is put into question.”

After the inquest proceeding, Alexa was quickly brought outside to a parked black pick-up truck with darkened windows. The Pacaldas were allowed the quickest of goodbyes. By then, more fellow human rights defenders from all over the province had gathered at the gate and managed to chant, “Alexa Pacalda, palayain!” as the soldiers’ convoy sped off back to their camp in Calauag.

Alexa’s family and colleagues shouted “Alexa Pacalda, palayain!” as the military convoy taking her back to Calauag, Quezon sped by.

Conti said she was glad to have assisted Alexa during the inquest. “She really did not surrender as the military claimed,” she said. She also pointed out that if indeed Alexa was in possession of a firearm and blasting caps, it was not the 201st IBPA’s role to arrest her. It was the PNP’s. Alexa’s case is obviously a case of unlawful arrest or abduction, she said. # (Report and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)

Pagtatakip ng gubyerno sa paglabag ng karapatang pantao, kinondena

Sa pagharap ng ilang representante ng gubyerno, militar at pulis sa isinasagawang public inquiry ng Commission on Human Rights (CHR), nagdaos ng kilos protesta ang mga human rights advocates sa pangunguna ng KARAPATAN National upang pabulaanan ang pagtatakip ng pamahalaan sa maraming paglabag sa karapatang pantao sa bansa. (Arrem Alcaraz/Kodao)

Commission on Human Rights, Quezon City

September 12, 2019

Journalist seriously wounded in gun attack

(Updated: 10:00 pm, August 6)

A journalist and human rights defender is seriously wounded after being shot by unidentified gunmen in front of his house in Lagawe, Ifugao at six o’clock tonight, Tuesday, August 6.

Brandon Lee, Ifugao correspondent of Baguio City-based media outfit Northern Dispatch and paralegal volunteer of both the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM), was immediately taken to a local hospital for treatment.

He was later transferred to a bigger hospital in the neighboring province of Nueva Vizcaya, a source informed Kodao.

In a statement, the CHRA said the 54th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army frequented Lee’s residence as well as the offices of both the IPM and the Justice and Peace Advocates of Ifugao, of which he is also a member, for weeks prior to tonight’s shooting.

The soldiers gathered data by interrogating and intimidating the organizations’ members and staff, the CHRA reported.

The Philippine Army team was headed by a certain 1Lt Karol Jay R. Mendoza while its Civil-Military Operations head is a certain Lt.Col. Narciso B. Nabulneg, Jr. who both invoked President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 70 in their interrogations, the group added.

Duterte’s EO 70 issued last December created a task force to combat insurgency that human rights organizations blame for the killing of activists across the country.

In the task force’s launch in Camp Bado Dangwa in La Trinidad, Benguet last May 24, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police jointly identified Ifugao Province as a “priority target in the anti-insurgency campaign.”

Brandon Lee (Photo from his Facebook account)

In 2015, Lee was among the IPM members and staff accused of being New People’s Army members.

Lee’s media outfit, Northern Dispatch, had also been a victim of red-tagging by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

Lee first became Northern Dispatch’s correspondent in 2010.

Other sources told Kodao that Lee’s IPM colleagues are currently under surveillance from unidentified men, preventing them from visiting Lee at the hospital. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Mga aktibista: ‘Berdugong Esperon,’ walang karapatang akusahan ang mga progresibo

Isang kilos-protesta ang isinagawa ng iba’t-ibang grupo bilang suporta sa grupong Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines at Gabriela noong Agosto 1, Hwebes, kontra sa kasong perjury na isinampa ni national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. laban sa tkanila,

Mariin nilang binatikos ang opisyal sa anila’y pangigipit sa mga grupong nagtataguyod ng karapatang pantao at gawing ligal ang atake sa mga ito.

Anila, ang taong katulad ni Esperon na may maraming reklamong kinaharap hinggil sa paglabag sa karapatang pantao ay hindi dapat nambibintang ng walang batayan. (Bidyo ni Arrem Alcaraz/Kodao)

Baby Marjon

“Baby Marjon” by Jose Mari Callueng (Poster paint on paper, 20 July 2019)

“It was only on Saturday when I received photos of a crime scene of what happened in Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental. A picture of dead bodies lying on the ground. One was of a father named Marlon, the other was of a child, a one year old child named ‘Marjon.’ Before the investigators laid them on the ground, the baby’s dead body was found on a makeshift hammock. They were attacked while they peacefully slept.

“At Karapatan, we’ve been documenting rights violations of different forms–forced evacuations, illegal arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, among others. Since I joined this group of brave human rights workers, listing names and respective profiles of those killed under this murderous regime has become part of the daily routine. It never stops.

“Last week was the bloodiest in Negros, killing nine, a reflection of the dire situation of the entire island since President Rodrigo Duterte placed it under Memo. No. 32 which deployed more troops there. Many residents have been the subject of various rights violations since, such as harassment, intimidation, threats, if not murdered for being ‘suspected’ as members of the NPA.

“To write down a name of a defenseless one year old, Marjon is the most painful. He can barely talk, nor can he walk on his own little feet. He was murdered. My heart weeps as I put the image of a bloodied hammock on my drawing book. This is how low this government has become. This is too much.” — Jose Mari Callueng, Karapatan

Miradel walks free, unites with son she gave birth to under detention

After five years behind bars, Maria Miradel Torres will finally reunite with her son she gave birth to in prison.

Miradel walked out from Camp Bagong Diwa Tuesday afternoon, July 23, no longer wearing an inmate’s orange garb but an aquamarine shirt and a huge smile.

Miradel while leaving Camp Bagong Diwa yesterday. (Photo by Jose Mari Callueng/Karapatan)

She was acquitted of murder and frustrated murder charges her lawyers and supporters said are trumped up.

Miradel was four-months pregnant when she was arrested by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Southern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on June 20, 2014.

The police and the soldiers did not present a warrant of arrest and searched the entire house without a search warrant when she was snatched.

Later, an alias warrant of arrest was presented,  issued by the court on the very day of her so-called arrest.

A Gabriela member in Mauban town, Miradel was charged with murder and frustrated murder at the Infanta Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Quezon.

Miradel denied that she was a murderer.

 “I cannot even kill a mosquito. There is no truth to the crime they are accusing me of,” she told Bulatlat.com in 2014.

When the police swooped down on her relatives’ house where she was staying, Miradel was suffering from profuse bleeding and was seeking medical treatment.

Her difficult pregnancy was exacerbated by the poor maternal and pre-natal health care inside the country’s prisons.

Miradel and her then newly-born son Payter. (Bulatlat file photo)

Miradel gave birth to her son Payter on November 17, 2014, at the Philippine General Hospital. She was only allowed to be with her child for six months, two months in the hospital and four months in jail thereafter.

Miradel’s bail petitions to allow her to take care of her infant had been repeatedly denied by the Infanta RTC.

When her infant son was taken away from her, what followed was five years of agony.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay witnessed how Miradel suffered but chose to fight her unjust imprisonment.

“We saw her pain with her difficult pregnancy while in detention, her joy when she nursed little Payter in the hospital, their heartbreaking separation when jail officials decided to disallow Payter’s stay in jail despite his need for his mother’s breastmilk and care, her parents’ unbending determination to support their daughter, and Miradel’s own resolve to fight on,” Palabay said.

Human rights worker Jose Mari Callueng visited Miradel at Bagong Diwa’s “female dormitory” several times.

“[During]…the many times I visited Miradel at the female dorm of Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, she would always talk about her son and how she looked forward to the day when she can give him countless hugs and kisses,” Callueng said.

Finally, though, Miradel is reunited with her son. But many women political prisoners, some of whom mothers with little children, still languish in jail.

“There are 545 political prisoners in the Philippines, 65 of them are women, some are mothers with little children. There are 13 couples who are political prisoners, with children and/or grandchildren longing for their immediate release,” Palabay said.

Miradel’s freedom, however, is a cause for celebration for human rights workers.

“At most times, we witness the sorrows of the families of political prisoners when their loved ones get arrested, tortured, and detained for years. It is excruciatingly painful to see how they are given the run-around by the police and military to locate their loved ones, how they have to work doubly hard to have enough money for pamasahe (fare money) to see them in jail and to bring some bread or medicine that they need, how they hear the false testimonies in court accusing these dedicated and courageous individuals of crimes they did not commit, how their loved ones are maliciously painted as common criminals and terrorists,” Palabay said.

“But there are times that we witness big smiles, hearty thank you’s, joyful tears and pleasant hellos and goodbyes. Since yesterday, we witnessed these big smiles, hearty thank you’s, joyful tears and pleasant hellos and goodbyes,” she added of Miradel’s release.

“Let us not allow another good mother or father, or son or daughter, them who fight for the rights of the people, to be separated from their families again, and suffer anguish as the state imprison them on baseless trumped-up charges,” Callueng added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Pastor speaks out against worsening militarization in Mindoro

Nagbigay pahayag si Pastor Edwin Egar, tagapagsalita ng Karapatan-Southern Tagalog kaugnay sa tumitinding militarisasyon at paglabag sa karapatang pantao sa isla ng Mindoro.

Kabilang na dito ang sunud-sunod na aerial bombings sa mga komunidad ng Mangyan. Nakaranas din ang Quick Reaction Team ng Karapatan-ST nang harasment sa militar at pulis matapos silang magsagawa ng humanitarian mission.

Panawagan nila na itigil na ang Oplan Kapanatagan na siyang counter-insurgency program ng AFP at PNP. Wala itong ipinagkaiba sa martial law sa Mindanao, ayon pa sa Karapatan-ST. (Video by Joseph Cuevas/Kodao)

UNCHR reports high level of internal displacement in PH

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) tagged the Philippines as among the countries with high levels of internally displaced persons (IDPs) by the end of 2018.

In its Global Trends Forced Displacement report, the international agency said that the Philippines has as many as 212,600 victims of forced internal displacement “due to armed conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations.”

While not listed in the report as among the 10 countries with the highest number of IDPs, the Philippines have been included in the worst 11 to 20 countries since 1980.

The UNCHR defines IDPs as people or groups of people who have been forced to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or man-made disasters, and who have not crossed an international border.

UNHCR’s 2018 report, however, only included IDPs who fled conflicts and those “suffering IDP-like situations.”

The agency said that an estimated 41.3 million people were internally displaced all over the world, according to estimates from its Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

This is an increase on the 40.0 million reported in 2017.

“The small declines of the previous years were reversed and the internally displaced population in 2018 was the largest ever reported by IDMC,” the UNCHR said.

The agency maintains an office in the Philippines

Militarization and IDPs

Local human rights group Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights told Kodao that IDPs in the Philippines are victims of militarization.

“Their displacement from their homes and communities are due to military operations. Most of the victims are peasants, indigenous peoples, and Moro peoples,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Palabay said Karapatan for its part has documented 449,284 victims of forced evacuations from July 2016 to March 2019.

‘Persons of concern’

The UN report also cited in its “persons of concern” category that about 80,000 Filipino Muslims went to live abroad.

“As in previous years, Filipino Muslims (80,000) who settled in Malaysia’s Sabah state were reported as ‘others of concern’ by Malaysia, the report said.

“Persons of concern” refers to individuals to whom UNHCR has extended its protection and assistance services based on humanitarian or other special grounds. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDF Bicol vows justice for 2 slain rights workers

The National Democratic Front (NDF) in the Bicol Region vowed justice for the two human rights workers killed in Sorsogon Province Saturday morning.

“We assure the families of (Nelly) Bagasala, (Ryan) Hubilla and all other victims of violence of the reactionary State of the revolutionary movement’s nonstop efforts until justice is given them,” Nel del Mundo, Bicol NDF spokesperson, said in Filipino.

Bagasala and Hubilla were killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle at Phase 2, Seabreeze Homes, Brgy. Cabid-an, Sorsogon City at eight o’clock in the morning of Saturday April 15 while alighting from a tricycle.

Alternative media outfits Baretang Bikolnon and Bicol Today said Hubilla was paying for their fare while Bagasala was still inside the sidecar when gunned down.

Their companion Isabel (not her real name) and the tricycle driver escaped.

Bagasala was a member of Sorsogon Peoples’ Organization (SPO), a member organization of the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights.

Hubilla, on the other hand was a Karapatan Sorsogon staff member and a member of the League of Filipino Students. He was a Grade 12 student.

Baretang Bikolnon reported that the three human rights workers reported being tailed by suspected military or police personnel when they were assisting “high profile” political prisoners being released Friday.

Hubilla took videos of two unidentified men on motorcycle who were tailing them and peeking inside their van, the report said.

Screengrab from victim Hubilla’s video of the two suspects tailing them Friday. (Baretang Bikolnon image)

The report added that the van driver who drove the victims during the release was threatened with a gun by unidentified men at around 9:30 Friday evening at Sorsogon City’s van terminal.

The victims were on their way to look for the van driver, reportedly a resident of Seabreeze Homes, to ask him about the incident when gunned down.

Karapatan national secretary general Cristina Palabay revealed in a Facebook post that Hubilla was in fact being mulled to act as witness for the organization’s petitions for relief with the higher courts last April.

“We were mulling to have him as a witness in our Court of Appeals hearings on the petition of writ of amparo and habeas data because of a recent incident of harassment and surveillance of suspected state agents involving Ryan and three other Karapatan human rights workers in Sorsogon last April when they were assisting political prisoners,” Palabay wrote.

Palabay said that the victims were most diligent in assisting the detainees and ensuring that their needs in jail are being addressed.

“Just yesterday, they provided assistance for three political prisoners who have been released. But now, Ryan won’t be able to testify, he will not be able to execute his affidavit. He is dead,” Palabay added.

The Filipino people are revolted with the unceasing crimes and brutal killings under the United States-Rodrigo Duterte regime. These violence and exploitation only drive the people to resist and join the armed struggle,” del Mundo said.

Other groups condemned the killing of the human rights workers, blaming the government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapanatagan, as well as Duterte’s Memorandum Order 32 and Executive Order 70 for the “de facto martial law” in the entire country.

“Why is it that those helping the masses are the ones being killed?” Guillermo Abraham, Karapatan – Sorsogon spokesperson asked. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)