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Putting Back the “Community” in Community Pantry

By L. S. Mendizabal

On the seventh day since the first community pantry on Maginhawa St., Quezon City was erected, one of its initiators, Ana Patricia Non, took a break but did not rest. The 26-year-old small entrepreneur, “Patreng” to many, gave a press conference via Facebook Live, explaining why she and her fellow organizers ceased operations temporarily: They did not feel safe after the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict accused her of being a “communist,” a brand the Duterte administration has proclaimed to be synonymous with “criminal,” “terrorist,” “a menace to society.”

“People are grateful because the community pantry revived their spirits to help one another in times of crisis . . . But even that had to stop. It hurts that we were forced to close even for just a day. Think of how many families, how many meals the community pantry would have provided,” Patreng said in Filipino, her voice cracking, barely able to hold back tears. “We had to stop for the time being to ensure our safety and to clear the allegations.”

On the same day, Metro Manila Eastern Police District set up its own community pantry with rice, canned goods, face masks and face shields. Also stacked are copies of the Gideon Bible and the police journal magazine replete with red-tagging propaganda because, y’know, “Communism is bad.” Throughout the Duterte regime alone, PNP is notorious for tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings in the war against drugs and anti-terror campaign. From accessorizing dead bodies with pieces of cardboard that said, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan (I am a drug pusher, do not emulate)” to giving away food and bibles under cardboard signs stating a rather interesting iteration of the Maginhawa Community Pantry slogan,

“Magbigay nang naaayon sa kakayahan, dumampot ayon sa inyong pangangailangan (Give what you can, seize what you need)”—their altruism is of the violent kind.

Ana Patricia Non (Photo from Altermidya)

Death, hunger, gloom and doom

Since the novel coronavirus claimed its first victim in the Philippines when the government failed to promptly close our borders, there’s been no mass testing or contact tracing. Hospitals are full. Frontliners are grossly underpaid, overworked and dying. COVID funds amounting to a trillion pesos have yet to be felt by 18 million beneficiaries still waiting for a second cash dole-out.

Unemployment is at an all-time record high. According to IBON Foundation, the total number of unemployed and underemployed soared to a staggering 12 million in February 2021. With the absence of food subsidy and the disruption of food systems, the poor are the hardest hit by draconian lockdowns, or this administration’s single palpable response to the pandemic. Minimum wage earners must go out to work or find work every day, risking COVID exposure. Staying home is a luxury the poor simply can’t afford. To them, dying from hunger is a more immediate concern than dying from the virus.

Academics of the Philippine Sociological Society in a study on the community pantry initiative claim that Filipinos have also been experiencing feelings of “gloom and doom.” WHO says that isolation, bereavement, fear and loss of income during the pandemic have been detrimental to individual mental health. Constant news of human rights violations may cause gloom and doom as well, for how can you sleep soundly at night knowing a 12-year-old boy just died after barangay tanods chased him when he was “caught playing outside?”

Omega Avenue community pantry. (Photo by Roberto de Castro)

A social phenomenon bred by state abandonment

On April 14, Patreng and her little bamboo trolley of free vegetables with a signboard bearing the words, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan (Give what you can, take what you need),” first stood on a street corner in the city with the most COVID cases and deaths in the country. Small vendors and tricycle drivers nearby have since helped Patreng repack and distribute goods as well as facilitate the daily queue of neighbors they’ve invited themselves. And just like that, a movement was born.

Within three days, PSS identified 44 community pantries nationwide with majority in NCR. As of this writing, there are 500 from as far up north as Cagayan all the way south to “DDS Country,” Davao City. PSS in its initial analysis of the community pantry calls it an “emergent agency”—an independent initiative taken by stakeholders to effect changes on their situation. Emergent collective behaviors rise when preexisting structures fail to meet people’s demands. Notably, a good chunk of the community pantries that swiftly followed Maginhawa’s example are of organized masses from marginalized sectors who initiated community kitchens and collective gardening since the first enhanced community quarantine. PSS notes that these earlier emergent agencies didn’t quite capture the people’s imagination the way community pantries have.

Although they’re not the cure to end food insecurity, the viral spread of community pantries is but a symptom of the true state of the nation: Like Patreng, Filipinos are “tired of complaining and fed up with government inaction.”

Fish on their way from Laguna de Bai to community pantries in Quezon City. (Pamalakaya photo)

Half a piece of ginger, cups of taho and a tale of two oranges

Community pantries have been practiced in the US and other parts of the world. When COVID hit Thailand, locals installed cupboards filled with food, medicines and other necessities in public spaces in Bangkok to help one another. Called “happiness-sharing pantries,” they spread all over the country, reaching a total of 1 400 by the end of 2020. As lockdown restrictions were lifted in Thailand and stores reopened, the pantries were later abandoned.

In the Philippines, community pantries show no signs of slowing down as Duterte stays in power, hoarding public funds for his election war chest. (The original Maginhawa Community Pantry announced Monday night it will cease to be a distribution center starting today, Tuesday, April 27. It will instead be a donation center from which nearby community pantries shall be replesnished.—Ed. ) A viral element of the phenomenon is its slogan which people have adopted and translated into many different languages and dialects, my favorite being LGBTQ+ organization Bahaghari’s “Gumib luv offering ayern sa kerichinabels, gumeching vatai sa needine lustre.” More than just a catchphrase, Filipinos from all walks of life have been unified by the idea and practice of a mutual aid grounded on giving what they can and taking only what they need.

In contrast to donation drives where the same prepacked goods are given to households without taking into account household size, you have the freedom to get what your family specifically needs from a community pantry regardless of what you donate. How much one takes / gives is a non-issue. In a Bulatlat article, University of the Philippines Professor Sarah Raymundo says that community pantries defy the capitalist market because they highlight products’ utility (use value) over their monetary worth (exchange value).

This encourages people to prioritize the needs of others over their own. For instance, a resident in a resettlement area in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan only needed a small slice of ginger, so she broke one into two pieces “para makakuha rin ang iba (so others may have as well).” In Kawit, Cavite, a taho vendor gave out free cups of his own product by a small roadside table. Inspiring passersby, they bought more cups of taho for his little pantry. Patreng also shared in the press conference how an old beggar picked up two oranges. When he was told to get more, he said two were enough to get him by for the day.

The community pantry is a utopian space where the destitute and benevolent converge, often one and the same. More than bayanihan and volunteerism, it advocates collectivism. This boggles the minds of the rich because they only understand an individualist way of life, not unlike that of a barangay captain in Los Baños, Laguna who threw a fit, accusing organizers of profiting off their pantry. His angry constituents later exposed him on social media for using personal connections to get vaccinated ahead of frontliners.

The Maginhawa Community Pantry. (Photo by Roberto de Castro)

“Communist Pantry,” “just bayanihan” and other anti-people takes

Once the community pantry became a phenomenon, anyone who knows this administration damn well would’ve seen red-tagging from a mile away. Historically, emergent agencies or relief efforts that expose government incompetence are met with hostility. Last year alone, cops destroyed Sitio San Roque’s community kitchen and apprehended youth volunteers distributing food packs to impoverished communities in QC, Malate, Marikina, Bulacan, etc. Armed men killed activist Jory Porquia while conducting relief operations in Iloilo City.

According to UP Prof. Danilo Arao in an online forum on journalism ethics and community pantries, red-baiting is the “highest form of fake news” because it endangers lives. It is the state’s go-to tactic in discrediting and demonizing personalities and organizations so that hurting them is justified. Another objective of red-tagging, Arao explained, is to challenge its target/s to denounce Communist links. Sounds familiar? Mainstream media, GMA Network being the biggest offender of late, has become nothing more than a mouthpiece of a regime that persecutes people like Patreng whose only fault is facilitating change.

Neoliberalism has so deprived us of basic social services and turned everything into a capitalist commodity that Filipinos sharing goods among themselves has become quite the spectacle. That said, what really frightens the state is not its “phenomenal” or “bayanihan” aspect, or Patreng’s political affiliations. The community pantry is not just a place of sharing and caring but sharing and caring between the middle and lower social classes with similar traumas caused by the pandemic and exacerbated by state inutility and terrorism. Some might’ve lost jobs, others loved ones, most of them hope. Now, they find solace and strength in being able to not only take but give, whether it’s 50 kilos of fish from small fisherfolk alliance PAMALAKAYA; sacks of sweet potatoes from a farmer in Paniqui, Tarlac; or three packs of noodles from the kind balut vendor at Maginhawa. The community pantry feeds people for a day but empowers them for much longer as they continue to struggle in a society that takes jobs, loved ones and children’s lives, and thrives on widespread hunger, doom and gloom.

Community pantries as a collective refusal to not starve are a protest whether you like it or not. And it’s disturbing how Malacañang, NTF-ELCAC, some journalists and centrist liberals all sound the same: “It’s just bayanihan and should be free of any politics.” Keep calm and share gulay, they say. A bishop went as far as declaring that these pantries with their signboards will “forever erase the shame” of cardboard justice in the drug war. Great. When they’re not red-baiting whole movements, they’re whitewashing or romanticizing them. Why do we celebrate bayanihan yet balk at the idea of hopeful, empowered masses who feed one another and understand why they starve in the first place?

“Everything is political,” says PAMALAKAYA – Southern Tagalog Spokesperson Ronnel Arambulo. “Widespread hunger is a result of government inadequacy in responding to the health crisis. The national situation should not be seen as a separate picture from community pantries.”

Meanwhile, mayors have expressed support and assured organizers of their safety. A resignation was tendered. Gag orders were issued. These are little victories, indeed, but we must not be complacent. Patreng is right: She may be safe for now but entire communities are not. Believing that community pantries are red-tagged because some have given political meaning to them is only blaming the victim. It says outright, “They deserve to be red-tagged for not submitting to the status quo.” This fascist thinking is harmful to the people.

The Iloilo City mobile community pantry by a local LGBTQIA+ group. (Photo by Irish Granada)

From the masses, to the masses

An organizer posted on FB about buying vegetables from a peasant in Nueva Ecija. Upon knowing they were for a community pantry, she said, “Napanood ko sa TV kanina. Nagugutom ang tao, pinapasara pa nila! Komunista raw. E ano naman? Namimigay lang naman! (I learned about it on TV. People are starving yet the government wants to close them! They call them communists. What about it? They’re only giving out food!)” After donating 200 pesos, she added, “Maganda ‘yang ginagawa ninyo. Pipila kami mamaya pero hindi na gulay ‘yung kukunin namin. Bigas sana (What you’re doing is noble. We’re going to line up at the pantry later but we won’t be getting vegetables. I hope there’s rice).”

It isn’t hard for the poor to understand and embrace the community pantry as their own because they struggle the most and have been quite vocal about their grievances. Instead of calling them “komunista,” “reklamador” or “pasaway,” Patreng listened. If the masses are not afraid to voice out their demands and work towards social change, why should we be? Let’s stop telling them what to do and as them instead what must be done. Let communities lead the way for community pantries. #

References:

Altermidya (2021, April 23). To ask or not to ask: Lessons on red-tagging & community pantry [Video]. Facebook. https://fb.watch/56UyZvIOhF/

Bolledo, J. (2021). “12-year-old boy chased by Pasay tanods loses consciousness, dies”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://www.rappler.com/nation/minor-chased-by-pasay-tanods-loses-consciousness-dies-april-2021

Chatinakrob. T. (2020). “Happiness-sharing Pantries: an effective weapon to ease hunger for the needy during the pandemic in Thailand”. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/seac/2020/09/16/happiness-sharing-pantries/

Dionisio, J. et al (2021). “Contagion of Mutual Aid in the Philippines: An Initial Analysis of the Viral Community Pantry Initiative as Emergent Agency in Times of Covid-19”. Retrieved from https://philippinesociology.com/contagion-of-mutual-aid-in-the-philippines/

IBON Foundation (2021). “Joblessness worsens in February and will get worse with ECQ”. Retrieved from https://www.ibon.org/joblessness-worsens-in-february-and-will-get-worse-with-ecq-ibon/

Raymundo, S. (2021). “Community Pantry Ph: Hugpungan ng ginhawa at pag-iral ng use value”. Bulatlat. Retrieved from https://www.bulatlat.com/2021/04/22/community-pantry-ph-hugpungan-ng-ginhawa-at-pag-iral-ng-use-value/

Red-tagging halts kindness: Maginhawa community pantry suspends operations

Red-tagging and police harassment has forced the phenomenal Maginhawa Community Pantry to suspend operations, one of its initiators announced late Monday evening.

“Bad news. The #MaginhawaCommunityPantry is temporarily taking a pause for the safety of its volunteers. This is sad as we will not be able to distribute the goods we prepared all day because of the #RedTagging that is happening,” Anna Patricia Non said on her Facebook account.

The Maginhawa Community Pantry that inspired 300 similar initiatives throughout Luzon.

Non said she was sure there would be more poor people who are expected to line up on Tuesday morning but the pantry’s operations would have to wait, more so that other pantries were also having problems with the police.

As of seven o’clock Tuesday morning, intended beneficiaries who started lining up at three o’clock, were walking home to nearby Barangay Krus na Ligas with empty bags.

Non’s community pantry initiative at Barangay Teachers’ Village East spread like wildfire throughout Luzon with at least 300 similar efforts from as far north as Ilagan City in Isabela, as far south as Legazpi City in Albay and as remotely as Odiongan in Romblon.

Other community pantries are also being planned in the Visayas.

Non revealed that three police officers have demanded to be given her phone number and have interrogated her as to her affiliations.

(Screenshot from PA Non’s FB account)

“I am afraid to walk to the community pantry alone at five o’clock in the morning because of the baseless accusations against us,” Non said.

The police have started visiting community pantries in Quezon City and Manila on Monday afternoon, asking its organizers to fill up forms and interrogating the organizers.

(Screenshot from PA Non’s FB account)

Both the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and the Quezon City Police District of the Philippine National Police also shared a post by the Facebook page called Peace Philippines alleging the community pantries were organized to recruit and gather funds for the communist New People’s Army.

The move earned swift and wide condemnation on social media.

Bayan Muna Representative Ferdinand Gaite also slammed the police’s operations against the pantries, saying these were unnecessarily causing anxiety to the organizers.

“Have you no decency? Why are you intimidating those who only wish to help?” Gaite asked. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

ACT, TDC express alarm as DepEd gathers numbers of members

Two teachers’ organizations oppose a Department of Education (DepEd) order to gather numbers of their members in several regions throughout the country.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) expressed alarm at the directive to division level officials on orders from DepEd Undersecretary for Field Operations Revsee Escobedo.

“As per reports, our union leaders in regions 1, 3, 4A, 4B, 6, 10, and CAR have been asked by their division offices to provide the number of ACT members in their area as per orders from Usec. Revsee,” ACT said in a statement Saturday, April 17.

TDC for its part bared that one notice sent through a Facebook chat group in one of the divisions in Region II reads: “Good morning everyone, the DepEd Central Office is surveying thru this online form, teachers, who are currently members of the (TDC) and (ACT). We appreciate receiving your feedback by filling out this Google form today until 12:00 Noon. All PSDS/Districts In-charge are requested to disseminate to all School Heads and Teachers in AOR (area of responsibility).”

Both organizations, victims of red-tagging operations by the police and military, said the order may be another profiling drive against their members.

‘For possible dialogues’

Escobedo confirmed to Kodao he issued the order but said it is in preparation for possible dialogues with both organizations and other teachers’ groups.

Department of Education Undersecretary for Field Operations, Atty. Revsee Escobedo. (Phjoto from DepEd Tayo FB page)

“I only asked for numbers, not names. How can we red-tag numbers?” Escobedo, also DepEd Employees Association Coordinating Office supervising official, said in a phone interview.

The official said they want to know the number of members of teachers’ groups to identify which organizations to initiate dialogues with on various issues such as salary increases.

He said the groups’ statements are overreactions.

‘No clear explanation’

Both teachers’ organizations however said the order, sent only through text and social media messages, lack explanation that gives rise to doubts as to its real intent.

ACT recalled that the Philippine National Police earlier asked school officials for the names of its members, several of whom were later accused of being communists or communist sympathizers.

“This is eerily reminiscent of the 2019 police profiling of our members, which precluded worse attacks on our members and on our very organization,” ACT said.

The group said its members Nestor Ada and Lai Consad have been arrested and charged with trumped-up charges after being profiled and subsequently red-tagged.

Ada, a high school principal, is still in jail in Northern Samar three months after being arrested on charges of illegal possession of guns and explosives in campus.

Assistant Principal Consad was also arrested at her school in Butuan City last November after being red-tagged by the police and the military.

“So we’re understandably alarmed at (the) sudden interest with our members,” ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio said.

TDC for its part said it will instruct its members not to participate in the “survey, profiling and inventory” of its members that “has no clear objectives and hastily done through Google Forms, text messages, Facebook messages or phone calls.”

ACT said DepEd has never defended teachers and school officials who fell victim to red-tagging and persecution by other government agencies.

The DepEd is a member of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups welcome Senate bill criminalizing red-tagging

Several groups welcomed a bill filed by Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon criminalizing red-tagging, promising to strongly lobby for its passage.

Both the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said they support the measure that seeks to penalize the act.

“This is a very welcome development in the people’s fight against State-sponsored red-tagging and human rights violations. We are hoping for the approval of this measure. Farmers will lobby for the passage of this bill,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.  

The farmers’ group said it is being consistently red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and its Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

“Many of our leaders and members who were subjected to red-tagging were either extrajudicially-killed, illegally arrested, and charged with trumped-up non-bailable charges. Red-tagging kills. We want masterminds of red-tagging to be held accountable accordingly,” Ramos said.

In a separate statement, the NUJP said it also welcomes Drilon’s bill seeking to define and penalize red-tagging by State actors.

“These dangerous accusations, when done by state agents as part of a so-called counter-insurgency program, are no longer private opinions and conspiracy theories but official actions and policy,” the NUJP said.

Like the KMP, NUJP has been openly and repeatedly accused by government officials of fronting for the Communist Party of the Philippines, an allegation it has consistently denied.

“Red-tagging has often led to harassment and violence against its targets and NUJP welcomes moves that will protect journalists from these threats and hold those making them to account,” it said. Filed on Wednesday, March 24, Drilon’s measure seeks to define red-tagging as “the act of labeling, vilifying, branding, naming, accusing, harassing, persecuting, stereotyping or caricaturing individuals, groups or organizations as state enemies, left-leaning subversives, communists or terrorists, or as part of counter-insurgency, or anti-terrorism strategy or program, by any state actor such as law enforcement agent, paramilitary or military personnel.”

The Senate Bill also seeks a penalty of 10 years imprisonment and perpetual absolute disqualification to hold public office for violators. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Communist leader and wife executed; corpses left in military safe house—CPP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) abducted, tortured and killed a retired top Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leader and his wife, the underground group said.

In a belated announcement, CPP information officer Marco Valbuena said the corpses of Antonio Cabanatan, 74, and Florenda Yap, 65, were left in a military safe house in Oton, Iloilo on December 26 last year, the revolutionary group’s 52nd founding anniversary.

The elderly couple were abducted around October 2020, secretly detained, tortured and killed by strangulation, Valbuena said.

Cabanatan, known as Manlimbasog (To Strive) by his comrades, was a member of the CPP Central Committee, served as secretary of its Mindanao Commission and member of its Political Bureau and Executive Committee until his reported retirement due to health problems in 2017.

The entire (CPP) and all revolutionary forces are seething with rage over the incident, Valbuena said.

“We hold the AFP, the Philippine National Police, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and other armed agents of the US-Duterte regime responsible for this brutal crime,” he said.

The CPP spokesperson explained that difficulties in lines of communication and vicious military operations by the government belated their confirmation of of the victims’ identities.

Valbuena said that the dimunitive and hunchbacked Cabanatan and Yap, known in the underground movement as Comrade Osang, have already retired from active duties in the Party.

“We cannot begin to imagine the cruelty of the psychological and physical torture that they were made to undergo before they were brutally killed,” he said.

Valbuena added that the couple’s assassination followed the successive brutal murders of Ka Nars (Julius Giron), Ka Fiel (Eugenia Magpantay), Ka Boy (Agaton Topacio) and Ka Randall Echanis in 2020 by Duterte’s blood-thirsty murderers.

NDFP Negotiating Panel peace consultant Randy Malayao was also assassinated in January 2019.

Valbuena said Cabanatan was among the first generation of Filipino communists who helped plant the seeds of the armed revolution across the country.

“He was among the vanguard of the expansion of the New People’s Army in the Visayas and Mindanao,” Valbuena said.

The AFP has yet to reply to the CPP’s allegations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

VP Robredo blames Duterte’s ‘kill’ rant for massacre

Vice President Leni Robredo blamed President Rodrigo Duterte’s “finish them off” and “ignore human rights” rant for the massacre of nine civilians last Sunday, March 7.

In a statement, Robredo said she condemns the massacre she likened to the many innocents killed by the Duterte administration.

“There is no other way to describe this: it was a massacre,” Robredo said.

The Vice President noted that the incident came just two days after Duterte himself ordered the police and the military to kill suspected communists in a rant before the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in Cagayan de Oro City last frint.

“This is the painful truth: The killing of Filipinos goes unabated,” Robredo said in Filipino.

“The Filipino people deserve better than this murderous regime,” she added.

Churh groups demand justice

Meanwhile, church groups also condemned the massacre and called on Duterte to choose the rule of law over militarization.

In separate statements, the Council of the Laity of the Philippines (CLP) and Caritas Philippines, both groups under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, called for justice.

“The blood of these fellow Filipinos are literally crying for justice as they are wiped-off from the floor tiles of their homes,” CLP, through its president Rouquel Ponte, said.

“We call on peace-loving Filipinos to make strong statements of condemnation against these brutal and organized atrocities,” it added.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the ‘Bloody Sunday initiated by the members of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army,” Caritas for its part said.

Caritas called on the Supreme Court to fast-track the ongoing discussions and review of the controversial Anti-Terror Act the law’s opponents say emboldens the unnecessary use of force “which only victimizes the poor and the vulnerable. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CHR: Duterte’s kill order emboldens impunity

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said President Rodrigo Duterte’s order “to shoot and kill right away” may have encouraged the massacre and mass arrest of activists in Southern Tagalog on Sunday, March 7.

CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia said the national human rights institution expresses concern on Duterte’s statement on Friday, 5 March, to not only kill communists but to “ignore human rights.”

De Guia said: “Words matter and such words can embolden some to act with abuse and impunity.”

The mass killing and arrests of prominent activists and unionists in Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Batangas in an operation called Conduct of Simultaneous Implementation of Search Warrants was launched two days after Duterte ordered the police and military at a meeting in Cagayan de Oro City of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“If there’s an encounter and you see them armed, kill! Kill them! Don’t mind human rights! I will be the one to go to prison, I don’t have qualms,” the President said.

‘Brutal deaths’

Reacting to the brutal deaths of nine activists across three provinces, however, de Guia said, “CHR finds the number of deaths most concerning in light of the pattern of prevalent red-tagging and escalating attacks against activists,” de Guia said.

De Guia said the government is primarily obligated to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of everyone.

“Where the right to life is concerned, the government has the utmost obligation to fulfil its obligation—no matter which side of the political spectrum one belongs,” the lawyer added.

The CHR called on the government to urgently investigate, “given the brutal nature of the deaths and allegations of irregularities in the said law enforcement operations. “

De Guia also reminded the government to honor its domestic and international commitment to uphold, respect and protect human rights.

“We have yet to see concrete response to our repeated plea for tangible reduction of violence on the ground,” she said.

De Guia added that its Region IV-A (CALABARZON) office CHR is pursuing independent probes into the bloody operations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Another activist arrested with same warrant, same allegation and same judge

A second unionist was arrested on Thursday, March 4, with a search warrant of the same allegation and from the same judge, leading a human rights organization to ask if the country’s courts have become factories of “bogus search warrants.”

Lakas ng Manggagawang Nagkakaisa sa Honda and Alyansa ng Manggagawa sa Enklabo member Arnedo Laguinias was arrested at his house in Barangay Pulong, Sta. Rosa, Laguna by Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) operatives.

Like Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees National Council member Ramir Corcolon who was arrested at 4:30 AM at his home in San Pablo City, Laguna yesterday, Laguinias is alleged to have illegally possessed a rifle grenade.

Instead of rifle grenades, however, the police claimed they found identical .45 caliber handguns at both raids.

Laguinias was an illegal surveillance, harassment and red-tagging victim of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict last year that alleged the unionist is a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, human rights group Karapatan Southern Tagalog said

Laguinias and Corcolon are detained at the PNP-CIDG Southern Luzon headquarters at Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna.

The search warrant used to raid the unionist’s home was also issued by Sta. Cruz (Laguna) Regional Trial Court (RTC) Presiding Judge Divinagracia Bustos-Ongkeko.

‘Factories of bogus search warrants’

Karapatan said the Judge and her Court are “notorious” for issuing “bogus search warrants.”

Sta. Cruz (Laguna) Regional Trial Court Judge Divinagracia Burgos-Ongkeko delivering a speech before the Laguna Provincial Police office. (Photo from Judge Burgos-Ongkeko’s Facebook page)

The group likened Burgos-Ongkeko with fellow Sta. Cruz, Laguna Judge Cynthia Mariño-Ricablanca and Quezon City Regional Trial Presiding Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert as “factories” of orders that inevitably result in planted evidence.

Karapatan revealed that Mariño-Ricablanca have in the past issued invalid warrants against Calaca, Batangas  sugar cane farm workers who the police accused to have illegally possessed guns and explosives.

The charges against the farm workers were later dismissed because the search warrant, aside from its inherent irregularities, violated due process, the group said.

Burgos-Villavert’s search warrant against journalist Lady Ann Salem and labor union organizer Rodrigo Esparago was also dismissed by the Mandaluyong City RTC as it violated due process and inconsistencies in the testimonies provided by the police.

Karapatan accused Burgos-Villavert as the most notorious among the three, having issued the most warrants that arrested activists in Metro Manila and Negros island with the same allegations: illegal possession of guns and explosives.

One such order by Burgos-Villavert resulted in last year’s arrest of women’s rights activist Reina Mae Nasino who was seven months pregnant when Bagong Alyansang Makabayan’s Tondo, Manila office was raided by the same police unit: the CIDG.

Nasino was forced to give birth while in custody, but was denied the chance to nurse her infant.

The child’s death became an international scandal because of the “inhumane” manner jail guards conducted his internment.

Karapatan said it appears that some judges have become accomplices in the Rodrigo Duterte’s “witch hunt” against activists. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

DILG, NTF-ELCAC afraid of peace, NDFP consultant says

A National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant condemned “militarists” in the Rodrigo Duterte administration for opposing the possible resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Left and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

NDFP consultant Rafael Baylosis in a statement Friday said those opposing attempts to resume the negotiations are afraid that the peace talks would eventually lead to a genuine just and lasting peace in the Philippines.

“This is because they are afraid it might lead to certain agreements for reforms such as the free redistribution of land to peasants and national industrialization,” Baylosis said.

“They also do not want the possible grant of general amnesty to the CPP-NPA and release of political prisoners,” he added.

‘No more talks’

In a strongly worded statement last February 21, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTC-ALCEC) denied the possibility of the peace negotiations being resumed in the last 16 months of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“There will be no resumption of peace talks with the NDFP now or ever in as far as the Duterte Administration is concerned,” it said.

The task force said peace negotiations with the Left had always been a mistake, accusing the NDFP and its allied organizations, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, of having been insincere from the start.

The Department of Interior of Local Government (DILG) in a statement Wednesday, February 24, said it supports the NTF-ELCAC declaration.

“The [DILG] fully supports the position of the [NTF-ELCAC] opposing any move for the resumption of the failed peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF,” DILG officer-in-charge Usec. Bernardo C. Florece, Jr.
said.

Florece added that back channel efforts to resume peace negotiations with the NDFP are futile.

‘Their statements run counter to declarations by Duterte’s emissaries with the NDFP however.

Norway pushes for resumption

Labor secretary and former Government of the Philippines chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III revealed in a two-day online forum last week he and former Pangasinan Rep. Hernani Braganza were supposed to travel to The Netherlands last December to meet with the NDFP.

The trip did not push however as new coronavirus cases spiked in Europe since November.

Bello also revealed the Royal Norwegian Government, Third Party Facilitator to the GRP-NDFP Peace Process, had been working on back channel talks to resume the stalled formal negotiations.

He added that Duterte is again “very much inclined” to revive the negotiations the President scuttled in June 2017.

NDFP Negotiating Panel interim chairperson Juliet de Lima for her part said the planned back-channel talks would resume discussions on an interim peace agreement (IPA) that includes agreements on social and economic reforms.

IPA discussions shall also include possible coordinated unilateral ceasefire declarations as well as modes for their implementation, de Lima said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Military ‘sorry’ for false list of dead or captured NPA

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (UP) apologized for its false list of University of the Philippines (UP) students who died or were captured as New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

In a statement, the AFP said it sincerely apologizes to those “inadvertently affected by inconsistencies” in the list published on its Facebook account.

The AFP said its Civil-Military Operations Office is already conducting an internal investigation, adding it will hold to account those responsible.

The AFP apology,

The list had gone viral despite being deleted shortly after publication.

Among those listed as dead or captured NPA rebels are prominent UP alumni, including former government officials.

Former Congressman and Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Roan Libarios, former Government of the Republic of the Philippines Negotiating Panel chairperson and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation president Atty. Alexander Padilla, former Deparment of Environment and Natural Resources executive Elmer Mercado, and stage and film director Behn Cervantes who died of natural causes in August 2013 were among those listed.

False list

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the inclusion of at least two journalists in the list.

The NUJP said the listing of Agence France Presse bureau chief for Singapore and Malaysia Roberto “Bobby” Coloma and business and economic journalist Roel Landingin was “malicious red-tagging” by the military.

“It is appalling how the military office tasked with communicating with the citizenry has shamelessly resorted to such blatant falsehood to push the narrative of UP as the supposed ‘breeding ground’ of enemies of the state,” the NUJP said.

“We would normally dismiss this canard as laughably stupid. However, putting the people it names in mortal danger is no laughing matter at all. Especially since AFP units are known to spread disinformation such as this through their own social media accounts,” the media group added.

Schools reject Parlade’s allegation

In a related development, the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), De La Salle University (DLSU), University of Santo Tomas (UST), and the Far Eastern University (FEU) protested their inclusion in another list as recruitment havens for the NPA.

In a repeat of his allegations in 2018, National Task Force to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade said the NPA recruits new members from 18 Philippine colleges and universities.

ADMU President Roberto Yap, DLSU President Raymundo Suplido, FEU President Michael Alba and UST Vice Rector Isaias Tiongco jointly rejected Paralde’s statement against their schools.

The officials said their universities “seek to direct our students to engage in acts that contribute to the strengthening of social cohesion, defend the country’s democratic institutions, and promote nation-building.”

Parlade’s claims are “really getting old” and that the accusations were irresponsibly “cast without proof,” the school officials said.

Parlade’s statement and the AFP list followed defense secretary’s Delfin Lorenzana’s unilateral abrogation last week of the UP-Department of National Defense Agreement of 1989 requiring the AFP to seek permission before conducting operations in campus.

The move earned widespread condemnation from UP alumni and civil society groups. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)