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Human rights lawyer survives murder attempt

A lawyer, counsel to human rights violations victims and petitioners against the Rodrigo Duterte government’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, had been stabbed in Iloilo City Wednesday night, March 3.

Atty. Angelo Karlo Guillen was stabbed with a screw driver on his lower left temple and back by two unidentified assailants at about 9:15 PM along Gen. Antonio Luna Street in the said city.

He was taken to the St. Paul Hospital and is reportedly in stable condition.

An assistant vice president for Visayas of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and secretary general of its local chapter, Guillen serves as counsel in various public interest and human rights cases in both Panay and Negros islands.

The lawyer represents red-tagged activists and human rights defenders, including those arrested in the simultaneous raids in Bacolod City in October 2019 and the Tumandok arrested in Panay last December that also saw the killing of nine tribes people in two villages.

On May 1, 2020, Guillen was arrested when he tried to intervene in the mass arrest of 42 activists protesting the murder of Bayan Muna Iloilo coordinator Jory Porquia.

The assailants wore masks and caps, reports said.

Not a robbery

Groups and individuals said the assailants took pains to make it appear the attack was a common crime, a scenario the local police reportedly quickly supported.

“The attack against (the victim) was conveniently dismissed by the local PNP as robbery-hold up. Four hours after the incident there is still no hot-pursuit operation. There were no check points. Not even police visibility in the crime scene,” Lean Porquia, son of murdered Bayan Muna Iloilo City coordinator Jory, said.

Atty. Jose Edmund Guillen, Public Attorney’s Office Region VI chief and uncle to the victim also dismissed the police’s robbery theory.  

“You want to make it appear as a robbery? The CCTV footage says otherwise. It was a kill operation. Right on the dot, after the stabbing, two motorcycles arrived to pick up the masked killers and they disappear[ed] in the dark,” he said.

 “[W]e cannot be fooled by this, because we know for a fact that the state and its security forces have been targeting Atty. Guillen as well as other lawyers handling cases of activists not only in Panay island but in Negros island as well,” human rights group Karapatan Negros Oriental said in a statement.

State terror in Panay

Porquia said the lawyer’s laptop was taken that contained all the files of the cases he is handling, including his father’s murder, the Tumandok massacre, the anti terror law petition, the mass arrest of 42 activists, the Sagay 9 massacre, and several writ of Amparo cases.

“The attack on Atty. Guillen should be seen in the context of systematic, continuing, and increasing attacks on human rights and human rights defenders. Atty. Guillen has been redtagged for several times just like other peoples’ lawyers and human rights defenders who were tagged as ‘terrorists’ or ‘communists’ and were subsequently attacked and harassed,” the NUPL Panay Law Students group said.

Last February 28, a possible witness to the victim’s Tumandok 9 case was also killed .

Village chief Julie Catamin of Brgy. Roosevelt, Tapaz, Capiz was shot dead by motorcycle-riding assassin in Brgy. Malitbog, Calinog, Iloilo .

Catarmin went on record belying the Philippine National Police’s allegation that those massacred and arrested by police and military operatives in the December 30, 2020 bloodbath were communist guerillas.

Swift condemnation

Various groups and individuals condemned the attack against Guillen and called for an immediate investigation.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said Guillen’s attackers are evil.

“It is very clear that those who have motives to silence Atty. Guillen, even to the point of violence, could only be the Duterte regime and its tentacles in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” the labor federation said in Filipino.

The NUPL also condemned the slay attempt against its officer.

The group said it has recorded at least 54 killings of lawyers and judges that appear to be related their human rights work.

In December 2020, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, NUPL, and various legal groups raised concerns over the increasing and alarming incidents of attacks on lawyers before the Supreme Court. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Neri Colmenares wins international human rights award

Neri Colmenares, one of the country’s most prominent public interest lawyers, is this year’s awardee for outstanding contribution to human rights by the foremost organization for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies.

The International Bar Association (IBA) bestowed Colmenares the award for his “extensive contribution to human rights, and his continuing determination and advocacy, in the face of great adversity.”

IBA said Colmenares has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of the human rights of any group of people, particularly with respect to their right to live in a fair and just society under the rule of law.

The presentation was made on Monday, 9 November, during the online Section on Public and Professional Interest Awards ceremony as part of the IBA 2020 – Virtually Together Conference.

Himself a victim of unrelenting red-baiting by military, police and government officials for his human rights advocacy and activism, Colmenares is a former three-term member of the Philippine House of Representatives and is currently the national chairperson of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).

He is also a leader of the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties and adviser for advocacies of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

Stellar academic career

Colmenares’ human rights advocacy began when he became the Western Visayas regional chairperson of the Student Catholic Action of the Philippines during martial law in the 1970s.

Neri Colmenares (Photo by Bong Magpayo from the Bedans for neri Colmenares Facebook page)

While campaigning for the return of student councils in schools ordered closed by then President Ferdinand Marcos, Colmenares was arrested and tortured by the military.

He spent four years in jail as one of martial law’s youngest political prisoners at 18.

After his release from prison, Colmenares earned his BA Economics degree from San Beda University (SBU), his law degree from the University of the Philippines and his Master of Laws degree from the University of Melbourne in Australia on scholarship.

Colmenares is an outstanding alumnus awardee of SBU.

Legal fighter

As a human rights lawyer, Colmenares has argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court and championed causes in the legislature in support of marginalized sectors, including the following:

* The Party List Election Case in 2000, which led to the High Court ordering that 20 per cent of the seats in Congress be reserved for the marginalized and underrepresented poorer .

* The Pork Barrel Case during the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration that led the Supreme Court to declare the Congressional practice as unconstitutional.

* In 2017 Mr Colmenares, alongside fellow human rights lawyers, constitutionalists and several law students, established Manlaban sa EJK that campaigns against the continuing extra judicial killings under President Rodrigo Duterte.

* Colmenares is also acting as co-counsel in a complaint against President Duterte for crimes against humanity, filed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by families of extrajudicial killing victims.

* Colmenares is a counsel-complainant in one of the 37 petitions questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

As a parliamentarian, Colmenares advocated for the democratic rights of those with disabilities and the elderly, such as special election precincts to assist them in voting, as well as introducing the Early Voting Law for media personnel who would be covering the election on the day.

He also authored the law mandating the Philippine government to issue early warning to citizens during disasters and calamities as well as an increase of benefits given to social security system pensioners, among many other pieces of legislation.  

In 2005, Colmenares helped organize the Counsels for the Defense against Attacks on Lawyers, a group of lawyers and law students advocating against the unlawful killings and arrests of their colleagues under then President Arroyo.

Colmenares (second from left) denouncing extra-judicial killings. (Photo from Neri Colmenares’s Facebook account)

‘Exceptional lawyer’

In bestowing him the award, IBA Human Rights Law Committee co-chairperson Federica D’Alessandra said Colmenares has drawn on every tool in the legal toolbox, from legislation, to litigation, to advocacy in order to advance human rights and the rule of law for the protection of the Filipino people.

“With this award the IBA recognizes [Colmenares’] incredible accomplishments, and celebrates his great resolve as he continues to fight for media freedom, and stand against extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and unlawful detention in the Philippines,” D’Alessandra said.

“Mr Colmenares is truly an exceptional human rights lawyer, and has contributed hugely to increasing respect for the rule of law and the promotion and protection of human rights. His advocacy is all the more remarkable given the relentless persecution in the Philippines of individuals speaking out against human rights abuses. His continuing determination and courage make him an exceptional awardee,” she added.

No better time

The NUPL said it is humbled by the International Bar Association’s choice of Colmenares as the recipient of the prestigious award.

“It could not have come at a better time than now that human rights lawyers and defenders in the Philippines are under attack especially in the form of vicious vilification commonly referred to as red-tagging,” the NUPL said.

The group said this is the first time that a Filipino has won the award bestowed by IBA’s

80,000 member-lawyers from 190 Bar Associations in 160 countries worldwide.

“We share the elation of our colleagues, clients and friends and see this latest award on yet another prominent progressive leader not only as a distinct and well-deserved honor but also as a tribute to all others who rage against injustice despite the great odds and risks and as a clear repudiation of the ongoing demonization of human rights defenders and social activists in the country,” the NUPL said.

The group also asked the global legal community to continue monitoring the human rights situation in the Philippines and support their campaign for human rights as well as the call to stop the attacks against lawyers, judges and human rights defenders.

“We hope that message sinks in on those forces who peddle lies, spins and crap against us who continue to push back and stand ground against brazen attacks on rights and freedom,” the NUPL said.

Added reason to continue human rights work

Colmenares said the award is both an honor and an inspiration to human rights lawyers like them to continue their work with the people despite the threats and difficulties.

He said awards from established international institutions like the IBA serves as a mantle of protection to threatened lawyers worldwide.

“Fifty (50) lawyers and judges have been killed in the Philippines since 2016 and this award will also provide a mantle of protection for human rights lawyers like me,” Colmenares said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘It ain’t over yet’

“It ain’t over yet. We will not cease to exhaust any and all legitimate steps and platforms to challenge this draconian law. This without doubt is the most unpopular and perilous piece of legislation that could ever be pushed by a government that is fixated with the potion of power. In time, we will look back to this day of infamy and say the unbridled and terrorizing power of the government will always bend and retreat eventually when the people push back hard enough.”Atty. Edre U. Olalia, ‘Activist, not terrorist’

‘It is imperative that the Anti-Terrorism Bill be fervently resisted’

“Recent events have shown that the greater threat comes from a government ignorant, even outright dismissive, of the constitutional limits of its own authority and the importance and value of the rights and liberties of its people.

It is, therefore, imperative that attempts to pass the Anti-Terrorism Bill be fervently resisted, not only to protect those voices critical of the government, but also to protect everyone else who wishes to speak freely about matters of public interests and concern, without censorship or fear of punishment, without someone looking over our shoulder or stalking us, mostly without our knowing it.”

Atty. Ephraim B. Cortez
Secretary General,
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Carlo Francisco

‘Lawyers must serve justice incessantly’

Congratulatory message of NUPL in regards to the 2019 Bar Exam result:

“There is no “new normal” in rudimentary notions of fairness, equity, justice. Only new perspectives and new approaches from the lens of the people and not the powerful.

Lawyers must serve justice and complain incessantly against everything that is wrong in our society. In the right way, for the right reasons, in the right place, at the right time.

CONGRATULATIONS!”

Atty. Edre U. Olalia
President, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Jo Maline Mamangun

Lawyers vs lawyer: Calida’s attack against reporter-lawyer Navallo earns objections

The country’s top public lawyer earned the objection of his fellow lawyers after publicly castigating another lawyer while filing a petition questioning how media giant ABS-CBN had been implementing its franchises at the Supreme Court last Monday, February 10.

While being asked by ABS-CBN reporter and lawyer Mike Navallo for an interview, Solicitor General Jose Calida confronted him for allegedly “always criticizing” him in the news.

The lawyers’ group National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said Calida wore a stoic expression when he reprimanded the reporter but used an arrogant tone as “he condescendingly challenged the young but unperturbed Navallo to practice law and face him in court.”

Navallo calmly replied to Calida that he was “only doing his job.”

“Calida’s actions – without doubt condoned if not encouraged and goaded by President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s persistent threats against the media outfit – reveal an attempt at censorship and prior restraint, masked as a perfectly legal action to ‘put an end… to highly abusive practices,’” the NUPL said.

The solicitor general is the official chief legal counsel to President Duterte—himself a lawyer—and the entire executive branch of government.

The NUPL added that Calida’s “feudal treatment” of a fellow lawyer based on his self-professed superiority does not speak well neither of the office he represents nor of the profession.

The human rights lawyers group added that “Calida’s showcase of power exposes this government’s utter disrespect of the people’s right to a free and independent press, and its unqualified intolerance to dissent, disapproval of any diversion from the official line, and aversion to critical yet constructive views, opinions and ideas.”

“It fits right into the mold of presidential tantrums in tandem with legislative collusion. We pray that the judiciary does not become a party to this outrageous lawfare,” NUPL said.

“History will judge all these disingenuous legal assaults against freedoms and liberties the way they deserve. In time, everyone will be given his due,” the group warned.

Former Supreme Court spokesperson Atty. Theodore Te also came to the defense of the reporter, saying Navallo is a good lawyer.

“[Navallo] is a better lawyer than he is a reporter and he is one of the best reporters I know,” Te wrote on his twitter account.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) earlier condemned Calida’s actions, saying he “clearly overstepped the bounds of his office when he turned personal against Navallo” who was on coverage.

The NUJP said Calida was being boorish, “a classic example of a government factotum who mistakes his position of authority as a license to throw his weight around.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gate-crashing general booed out of forum by his red-baiting victims

A gate-crashing general was booed and shooed away from a forum organized and attended by the very victims of the government’s red-baiting tactics that he spearheads.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Deputy Chief-of-Staff for Civil-Military Operations Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. was escorted out of the Quezon City Sports Club room where members of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) were attending the forum entitled “Weaponizing the Law, Criminalizing Dissent.”

The forum, co-organized by the National Union of People’s Lawyers, was aimed at highlighting “the abuses committed against critics of the [Duterte] administration.”

During the open forum, Perlade asked to speak and walked to the front but Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo did not allow him.

“This is a forum organized by MAT…Gen. Parlade has every platform that he can get, including mass media to spill his twisted lies. He is not welcome here…If he can be so kind and act like a gentleman and step out of this hall,” Araullo said.

NUPL video of Gen Parlade being asked to leave the event he gate-crashed.

As applause greeted Araullo’s statement, an organizer motioned for Parlade to step out of the room.

The general still tried to speak but was roundly heckled.

Eventually, Araullo and several others, including a visibly incensed elderly nun, escorted Parlade out.

Out in the hallway, Parlade tried to argue but was flatly told he was not welcome.

Parlade has led the red-baiting of activists nationwide and abroad in so-called peace caravans.

Activists said Parlade’s repeated accusations endanger their lives and violate their human rights. 

Last November 9, Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region chapter linked the enforced disappearance of its former secretary-general Honey Mae Suazo to Parlade’s accusations she is associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army (NPA).

Parlade singled Suazo out after she assisted the family of NPA leader Zaldy Cañete to visit the latter who was hospitalized after suffering near-fatal injuries after an encounter in Bukidnon Province.

The group said Suazo, missing since November 2 after visiting the graves of her departed relatives, was subjected to numerous threats, the most recent of which came from Parlade himself.

In a statement, Bayan said the organizers did not want Parlade to use the forum as his platform.

“He has no place among human rights defenders he has constantly attacked and endangered,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Peoples’ lawyers vow to continue defending human rights ‘alongside the poor and oppressed’

Public interest lawyers vowed to persevere in defending human rights as the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) holds its two-day national congress starting today in Manila.

Themed “Conquering Challenges in People’s Lawyering: Unifying Our Ranks to Strengthen the Protection and Advancement of Human Rights in the Face of Adversity,” the country’s top human rights lawyers said they are not fazed with the threats they face, even if some of their colleagues have paid for their advocacy with their very lives.

“We will win this battle against impunity because we are on the side of truth and the people,” NUPL chairperson Neri Colmenares said in his speech.

“In the line of fire is always a place of honor,” Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, quoting the late activist Lean Alejandro, told NUPL 5th Congress delegates in encouraging them against harassment.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in his keynote speech praised the NUPL as the country’s most passionate human rights defenders even in the face of harassments and being in the line of fire.

“You do not only define public interest lawyering, you live it,” Leonen said.

Leonen added it is time the country recognizes the NUPL’s brand of lawyering and its passion for justice.

Established in 2007, the NUPL has grown from 89 to around 500 members spread across more than 50 chapters nationwide, taking on the most celebrated human rights cases in more than decade.

Lawyers for the oppressed

In his opening remarks, NUPL president Edre Olalia said the NUPL remains committed to peoples’ lawyering “for the demands and aspirations of the Filipino people, especially the poor and the oppressed.”

“We are the lawyers of the exploited, persecuted and marginalized. We are in the legal forefront in the fight against impunity. We are the ones on the ground as we fight in the legal trenches and foxholes,” he added.

Olalia called on his colleagues to close ranks and fight back against “vicious attacks, weaponization of the law by a blitzkreig of legal attacks.”

The guests in the event’s opening ceremonies include Concepcion Empeño and Erlinda Cadapan, mothers of University of the Philippines students Karen and Sherlyn abducted by retired Philippine Army Major General Jovito Palparan.

Also present were Raymond Manalo, Celia Veloso and mothers of victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s  drug war.

In her speech, Veloso said their family could not contain their joy when the NUPL successfully convinced the Supreme Court to allow Mary Jane’s diposition, giving them hope the overseas Filipino worker may still be saved from execution in Indonesia.

Other guests included former Senator Rene Saguisag, Ateneo Law School dean Antonio Laviña and Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Egon Cayosa.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno gave the welcome remarks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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)

‘I’ll sue you,’ Colmenares warns people behind trafficking raps over ‘missing’ youth

By Visayas Today

Former Bayan Muna congressman Neri Colmenares said he would sue those responsible for filing kidnapping and child abuse charges against him and several others over allegedly “missing” youth activists after the Department of Justice issued subpoenas for the respondents.

While acknowledging he had yet to read the complaint, filed by the Major Crimes Investigation Unit of the police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Colmenares said it was a “foregone conclusion” that “I’ll file a criminal case” against those responsible for filing the complaint and “witnesses who commit perjury.”

“We will not take this sitting down,” he said.

The complaint alleges violations of: 
• Republic Act No. 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 
• RA 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act
• RA 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and other Crimes against Humanity

Aside from Colmenares, the named respondents are Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago, Anakbayan president Vencer Crisostomo and secretary general Einstein Recedes; Anakbayan members Charie del Rosario, Bianca Gacos, Jayroven Villafuente Balais, and Alex Danday; and, ironically, former Akbayan congressman Tom Villarin, who belongs to a party list group that is known to have been at odds with the organizations his co-accused belong to.

The complaint also seeks to include “all other officers” of Kabataan and “all other members” of Anakbayan in the complaint as “John and Jane Does.”

The case stems from the complaints of parents who claimed their children left home and went missing after being recruited into activist groups.

Among the complainants in the case is Relissa Lucena, whose daughter, 18-year old senior high school student and Anakbayan member Alicia, belied the claim that she was missing or had been kidnapped.

Alicia, who stressed it was her choice to join the youth group, said she left home in July after her parents refused to let her out and instead took her to Camp Aguinaldo, military headquarters, in hopes of making her “normal.”

Colmenares, who learned of the subpoena on Tuesday, August 20, while visiting Bacolod, dismissed the complaint.

“It is clear I have committed no crime, much less trafficking. This is a trumped up harassment charge,” he said.

(Images provided by the NUPL show pages from the CIDG complaint)

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, which Colmenares chairs, also condemned the “false charge.”

“How in heaven’s name could someone like Neri be even remotely involved, connected or liable for such inane and contrived shotgun charges that have been debunked? Totally absurd,” NUPL president Edre Olalia said in a statement.

Olalia saw a more sinister pattern, linking the complaint to a perceived government crackdown on critics.

“Make no mistake about it: they are lining and rounding up the most voluble and visible people who stand in the way and who fight back against repression and injustice,” he said. #