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Lawyer, doctor refused from seeing Frank Fernandez

A lawyer assisting arrested National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Frank Fernandez complained of being repeatedly barred from visiting and consulting with her client at the Philippine Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

Atty. Kristina Conti of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said that she has twice been refused from seeing Fernandez and his fellow detainees at the hospital even if she is allowed by law to do so.

“For the second time at Gate 6 of Fort Bonifacio, I have been denied access by MPBn (Military Police Battalion) chief Capt. Andres B. Ramirez upon instructions of his ‘higher-ups,’” Conti said on her Facebook account late Tuesday night.

Conti said that Captain Ramirez in fact told her she can visit Fernandez, his wife Cleofe Lagtapon and Geann Perez, who are all confined in the said hospital.

“Yesterday (Monday), he denied that a Frank or Francisco Fernandez was confined in the Army General Hospital. Today he reverses, but tells me that I can visit ‘anytime’ but only between 11am-4pm,” Conti said.

The lawyer said the military is violating Republic Act 7438, the Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or under Custodial Investigation Law.

The law says lawyers, doctors, priests or spiritual adviser cannot be denied access any time, which Conti said Ramirez is disregarding.

“What’s roundly dissonant for me as a lawyer is the police posturing that this was a legitimate law enforcement operation, specifically arrest due to a lawful warrant. Yet, when I asked either Calabarzon Police Regional Director Edward Carranza or Laguna Police Provincial Chief Eleazar Matta for access they defer to the military,” Conti said.

Conti asked the military to be upfront if the three detainees are being treated as prisoners of war and under military custody instead of the police.

If the three are POWs, they should be treated as hors de combat, or out of action due to injury or damage, the lawyer explained.

’Wag nyo na kami paikut-ikutin, literally and figuratively,” she said. (Do not try to fool us and make us run around.)

Conti said she wonders what excuses the military will use the next time she tries to visit her clients.

Kelangan naka-sapatos? Naka-white? May strip search? Walang cellphone? Anong patakaran sa kampo na naman ang mangingibabaw sa civilian law enforcement/judicial orders?” she asked (Do I need to wear shoes? Wear white? Will they conduct a strip-search? What camp policies will they say lords over civilian law enforcement/judicial orders?)

“Martial law ba ulit?” she asked. (Is it Martial Law all over again?)

Doctor also turned away

Conti also revealed that an unnamed doctor sent to check on the three detainees was turned away.

“Earlier we sent a doctor, who came within the time stated by Capt. Ramirez, to check (on) the three. He was rebuffed, even if the inquest prosecutor’s resolution specified that Fr. Frank should see his doctor of choice,” Conti revealed.

Conti said Fernandez reported to the Sta. Cruz, Laguna inquest fiscal Monday evening that he is suffering from incessant interrogation by military agents, depriving him of sleep and affecting his general health.

Fernandez is reported to having heart and lung ailments the lawyer said need special attention.

“His condition, fluctuating BP (blood pressure) and all, is very worrisome. The military even had to pull into Asian Hospital on March 24 while they were taking him to Manila from Laguna because he was slurring his speech a bit,” Conti said.

The lawyer said it is suspected the former Roman Catholic priest and long-time NDFP spokesperson in Negros suffered a mild stroke or heart attack.

 “[Y]et he has not been allowed to choose a doctor or specialist. I am not too sure the Army General Hospital can take care of his needs – and in the first place, if it is in their interest (to do so),” the lawyer said.

Lagtapon is reported to be suffering from frail health while Perez is being treated for Hansen’s Disease.

Conti recalled previous clients who were sick while in prison and eventually died under detention.

“My experience with sick political prisoners is marred by deaths. Diona Andrea Rosal, stillborn, because his mother was under too much stress. Eduardo Serrano, Bernabe Ocasla, Alex Arias who suffered heart attacks in jail. My fervent hope is he does not join this mater dolorosa list,” she said.

She cautioned the military to treat the three detainees humanely.

“I understand the context is war – and two sides are at odds. Pero bawal bang maging makatao ‘pag magkaaway? Kung kaya ng isa, kaya din naman ng kabila, di ba?” she asked. (Isn’t it possible that both sides treat each other humanely? If one side can do it, the other side also can.)

Conti said that killing Fernandez while under government custody would not be killing the Communist Party-led revolution but is actually killing the peace. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

PH withdrawal from ICC to worsen impunity, groups say

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — As the Philippines withdrawal from the International Criminal Court takes effect today, rights groups warned of escalating human rights abuses and further impunity.

Senatorial candidate and long-time human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s “self-serving” move. In his speech March 14 at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Colmenares said Duterte intends to evade accountability for his crimes against poor Filipinos.

The ICC has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

Duterte announced the country’s exit from the ICC after the tribunal started its preliminary examination of the charge of crimes against humanity filed against the President. Two complaints were filed against Duterte — one by Jude Sabio, lawyer of self-confessed Davao Death Squad member Edgar Matobato, and another by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, counsel of families of victims of extrajudicial killings.

READ: Why kin of drug war victims charged Duterte for mass murder before ICC

Still, Colmenares explained that the withdrawal has no impact on the pending complaints filed against Duterte.

He cited Article 127 Rome Statute of the ICC stating that “a State shall not be discharged, by reason of its withdrawal, from the obligations arising from this Statute while it was a Party to the Statute.” The Rome Statute further states that a State’s withdrawal shall not affect any criminal investigations and proceedings which were commenced prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective, nor shall it prejudice in any way the continued consideration of any matter which was already under consideration by the Court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective.”

Colmenares said the ICC has jurisdiction over Duterte because domestic laws provide the Philippine president immunity from suit.

For its part, human rights alliance Karapatan underscored Duterte’s “double-talk” with regard to the ICC.

“Duterte previously denied ordering extrajudicial killings, only to admit to it in several live telecast. He has also expressed willingness to subject himself to investigation under the ICC, but withdrew the country from the Rome Statute. This government has denied perpetrating human rights violations while persecuting human rights advocates and silencing the voices of victims and their kin who counter the State’s repeated denials,” Roneo Clamor, Karapatan deputy secretary general, said in a statement.

“The Duterte government is run by pathological liars and militarists who are corrupt to the core, able to subvert laws and mechanisms to evade accountability,” Clamor said.

In a separate statement, NUPL President Edre Olalia said that with the Philippines’ exit from the ICC, “victims will again be deprived of an alternative arena for redress.”

In lieu of the ICC, Olalia said other means of exacting accountability could be explored, such as the creation of a special tribunal sanctioned by the United Nations or through people’s tribunals. #

Accusing lawyers as communists sets them up to be killed—Agcaoili

Accusing progressive lawyers of being under the direct control of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is setting them up to be killed, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said.

Reacting to a February 27 Philippine News Agency (PNA) report that he has the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) directly under his command, Agcaoili said the accusation by the so-called “No to Communist Terrorist Group Coalition” has a more sinister objective.

“[The accusation] is meant to smear any organization or individual to set them up for the kill, as has been shown in many cases in the past such as those of NDFP consultant Randy Malayao and NUPL lawyer Benjamin Ramos,” Agcaoili said in a statement.

In a PNA report, the coalition accused Agcaoili of using the NUPL to lawyer for accused communists facing legal complaints so that “top-level” rebels are shielded.

“Agcaoili handles the legal affairs of the [communists] and he has the NUPL directly under his command,” the group alleged.

The Left’s chief negotiator, however, denied the allegations, adding the PNA report was also mistaken in saying he is a lawyer.

“For the record, I am not a lawyer, never had the ambition to be one despite coming from a family of lawyers. So I have nothing to do with the [NUPL], though some of its members happen to be legal consultants of the NDFP Negotiating Panel even before the organization was founded, as well as legal counsels of detained NDFP consultants and political prisoners,” Agcaoili said.

“Such happenstance does not make NUPL a so-called front of the [CPP] nor are the concerned lawyers as members of the Party,” he added, challenging his accusers of proving their accusations.

“In accordance with due process, it is for any court of law, be it revolutionary or reactionary, to determine the truth of such allegations through competent and admissible evidence and not through manufactured witnesses or planted evidence like what is brazenly happening now,” Agcaoili said.

Agcaoili in turn accused the coalition of being part of “the GRP security cluster [that] are having a heyday in engaging in a wild frenzy of anti-communist witch hunting against legal democratic organizations, individuals and the parliamentary opposition.”

“They have even become bold enough to disrespect and challenge the pronouncements of their commander-in-chief. But I leave it up to them to sort out their differences,” Agcaoili said, referring to a recent pronouncement by Government of the Republic of the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte that he may be allowed back into the country. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Petition amendment proves terrorist proscription vs CPP-NPA arbitrary–lawyer

The Rodrigo Duterte government’s amendment to its petition to proscribe revolutionary groups as terrorists is proof that it has a weak case against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), a human rights lawyer said.

In a statement, National Union of People’s Lawyer president Edre Olalia said the government’s original petition filed in February 2018 is weak and is merely a move to railroad the legal process.

“[The] amended petition by the government to proscribe the CPP-NPA is proof that the original one was sloppy, shotgun and arbitrary against hundreds of individuals and was designed to harass and threaten them,” Olalia said.

Last January 3, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the amended petition before Branch 19 of the Regional Trial Court in Manila.

Six hundred individuals listed as “terrorists” in the original petition have been taken off  but retained CPP founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison; NPA national operations command spokesperson Jorge Madlos; NPA’s Melito Glor Command spokesperson Jaime Padilla, National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Negros spokesperson Francisco Fernandez; alleged CPP-Visayas deputy secretary Cleofe Lagtapon; alleged CPP Mindanao Commission secretary Antonio Cabanatan; alleged NPA-Mindanao leader; and alleged NPA-Mindanao operations chief Myrna Sularte.

The amended petition no longer includes United Nations Environment Programme 2018 Champion of the Earth awardee Joan Carling and five Baguio activists like Jeanette Ribaya-Cawiding.

Cawiding, former chair of the Tongtongan ti Umili and coordinator of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), said the new petition removes them from immediate danger posed by being labelled as terrorists, but said government spying on non-government organizations remains as a threat to free speech and human rights.

“This is a partial victory, but we cannot let our guard down,” Cawiding said.

She points to the latest red-tagging of ACT and harassment of teachers who are ACT members as proof that the threat against activists and government critics will continue.

“Harassment has been continuous against progressive organizations, like ACT, the delisting of the individuals named in the DOJ proscription does not guarantee the protection of our rights and our safety because the Philippine National Police and Malacañang are justifying their witch hunt in the context of [Duterte’s] Executive Order 70,” Cawiding said.

EO 70, signed last December, directs the creation of a national task force headed by the President and vice-chaired by the National Security Adviser to end local communist armed conflict and pushed for localized peace talks.

The court earlier directed the DOJ to remove the names of Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples Concerns and former Baguio councilor Jose Molintas.

Molintas was also a former member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP).

Corpuz, Carling, Longid and Molintas are former leaders of the militant Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), which Cariño helped establish as an indigenous peoples’ rights group that opposed the Marcos regime.

Current CPA chair Windell Bolinget said strong protests pushed the DOJ to amend its proscription petition.

But he said the threat does not end.

“They wanted the proscription of the CPP and NPA as terrorists by focusing on few names. Once they are proscribed as terrorists, people they suspect, vilify and attack as fronts and supporters will be linked and later considered terrorists. This is the danger,” Bolinget said.

Still dangerous

Olalia said that even with the amendment, the petition remains dangerous to those earlier named.

“[The] present petition remains to be without legal and factual basis and repackaged the old one in order to railroad the legal process. This will in turn violate a slew of individual and collective rights not only for those who remain in the list but many others who are maliciously identified, associated, suspected or labelled,” Olalia said.

IFI Bishop Vermilon Tagalog, chair of the regional coordinating committee of the Ilocos Network for the Environment welcomed the amended DOJ petition but said “the removal of names does not guarantee their safety”.

“The mere existence of the DOJ petition remains a clear threat especially with the insistent communist-tagging of Duterte’s administration of activists and progressive organizations,” Tagalog added.

Tagalog said that the Human Security Act of 2007, the DOJ’s basis for the filing of the proscription petition is not just directed against “terrorists” but also to critics of the government.

“We call on all environmental defenders to remain vigilant and steadfast in the fight against efforts of the administration to impose its tyrannical rule and clamped-down on our democratic rights.” #(Raymund B. Villanueva/ Kodao and Kimberlie Olmaya Ngabit-Quitasol/Northern Dispatch)

Catholic shrine, activist organizations report police, military ‘harassment’

A revered Catholic Church shrine in Parañaque and a building housing activist organizations in Quezon City complained of harassments Thursday, reporting that police officers and suspected military agents are out to further intimidate institutions and organizations critical of the Rodrigo Duterte regime.

In an alert, human rights group Karapatan said its national officers and staff members observed increased presence of suspected military and police agents within the vicinity of Erythrina Building in Barangay Central in Quezon City since morning.

The building houses Karapatan, National Union of People’s Lawyers, Kodao Productions and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, among other organizations.

Aside from armed men in civilian clothing surrounding the building, a small Philippine Army truck was seen parked nearby.

Meanwhile, Philippine National Police officers had been swarming the Baclaran Church compound in Parañaque since Wednesday, forcing a bazaar meant to raise funds for indigenous peoples to suspend operations.

Instead of staying at the church gate, the police reportedly insisted on visiting the clergy’s living quarters because of an alleged bomb threat.

Baclaran Church, formally known as The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, is known to regularly host indigenous peoples who suffer forced evacuation by the military.

The Redemptorist priests administering the shrine has yet to issue a formal statement but has reportedly asked the police to stay outside the church gate.

A police car in front of Erythrina Building. (Photo by Jinky Mendoza-Aguilar/Kodao)

Karapatan blamed the activities on President Duterte’s latest tirade against human rights defenders.

“We are warning government forces – stop harassing rights defenders, lawyers and alternative media practitioners; and do not plant evidence in our offices. We shall make you accountable in different fora in time,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Karapatan later reported that suspected military and police agents circling the area have already left as of seven o’clock in the evening.

“We attribute this temporary respite to the vigilance of NUPL lawyers, human rights workers and staff members of Karapatan, Bayan and Kodao Productions, and allied lawyers and members of the media who responded to the call to monitor the increased presence and activity of suspected military agents and police in our offices,” Palabay said.

Karapatan said it will remain vigilant and defiant against any attempt to intimidate and harass their ranks as well as all human rights defenders and communities who bear witness to the Duterte regime’s repressive policies. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

Raps filed vs Sagay massacre survivor’s father, police

The mother of the 14-year old survivor of Sagay Massacre last October filed charges against her ex-husband and police officers of Sagay Philippine National Police before the National Prosecution Services of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila, December 4.

In her complaint affidavit, Flor, mother of survivor “Lester” filed psychological violence charges in violation of Section 5 of Republic Act 9262 or the Violence Against Women and Children Act against Vic Pedaso.

Atty. Katherine Panguban, Flor’s lawyer said that her client experienced continuous harassment from Pedaso and wanted to get the custody of their child.

Flor also filed charges versus Sagay City police Chief Insp. Robert Mansueto, SPO1 Julie Ann Diaz, and PO Christine Magpusaw for violating the RA 6710 or the Child abuse Law and violation of the Supreme Court rules on the handling of child witnesses.

Panguban explained that Lester was forcibly taken and interrogated by the police after the massacre when no one is allowed to talk to a child witness unless accompanied by someone he trusts.

The police also wanted Lester to be the primary witness against his fellow survivors.

Atty. Josalee Deinla, spokesperson of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer hopes that the prosecution will transmit the case to the Court.

Atty. Deinla also said that last November 27 the Sagay Prosecutions Office filed kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges against her client Atty. Panguban but have yet to receive a copy of the compalint. (Video and report by Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

‘Masugid na peoples’ lawyer’

Si Ben Ramos ay isang masugid na people’s lawyer, abogado ng mga magsasaka, abogado ng napakaraming political prisoner. Dahil dito, siya ay pinatay.–Atty. Rey Cortez, Secretary General, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)

Meme by Carlo Francisco

Lawyers condemn killing of colleague in Negros

Members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers held an indignation rally in Quezon City hours after learning that their colleague, Atty Benjamin Ramos–NUPL founding member and Negros Oriental secretary general–was killed in cold blood in Kabankalan City Tuesday night.

The lawyers believed that Ramos’ murder was connected with his involvement with the struggles of poor peasants in his home island. (Video by Jo Maline D. Mamangun)

Human rights lawyer killed, groups condemn killings and harassments

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) condemned the killing of one of its officers in Kabankalan City Tuesday night, November 6.

Atty. Benjamin Ramos, secretary general of NUPL-Negros Occidental Chapter died from four gunshot wounds fired by two motorcycle riding men.

“We are shocked, devastated and enraged at the premeditated cold-blooded murder of our colleague and fellow people’s lawyer, Atty. Benjamin Tarug Ramos, our Secretary General for the NUPL Negros Occidental Chapter,” the NUPL said in a statement.

Ramos was taking a break by a store in Barangay 5, near the public plaza of Kabankalan City, 103 kilometers south of the provincial capital Bacolod City, when shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen around 10:20 pm, Clarizza Singson of human rights group Karapatan said, quoting the victim’s wife, Clarissa.

Singson said Ramos was rushed to a hospital but was already dead from four gunshot wounds, three in the front and one in the back.

“Ben is the 34th lawyer killed under the two-year administration of President [Rodrigo] Duterte. Excluding judges and prosecutors, he is the 24th member of the profession killed and the eigth in the Visayas,” NUPL said.

Ramos was also the lawyer for six young activists accused and arrested of being New People’s Army fighters last year in Mabinay town in neighboring Negros Oriental.

The father of three was also a peasant advocate and had founded the farmers’ organization Paghiliusa Development Group.

“These beastly attacks by treacherous cowards cannot go on. Not a few of our members have been attacked and killed before while literally practicing their profession and advocacies in the courts, in rallies, in picket lines, in urban poor communities, and in fact-finding missions,” the NUPL said.

NUPL said Ramos was earlier “maliciously and irresponsibly tagged” in a public poster by the Philippine National Police as among the so-called personalities of the underground armed movement.

Ramos’ co-counsel for the Sagay massacre victims and survivors, Atty Katherin Panguban, was charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention reportedly filed by Vic Pedaso, biological father of “Lester”, a 14-year old witness-survivor of the Sagay massacre.

Human rights group Karapatan strongly condemned against Panguban, NUPL Women and Children’s Committee Head.

“These charges, which we can only presume to have been wildly concocted by the Negros police and other forces who want to divert the accountability of paramilitary forces and private armies of landlords, have no legal and factual basis, and are ill-intentioned and manufactured. It is lamentable that they have been using Mr. Pedaso to peddle and insist on lies regarding the roles of Atty. Panguban, NUPL and Karapatan in the case,” Karapatan said in a separate statement.

Karapatan said their group and the NUPL merely assisted Lester’s mother in obtaining custody of her child from the Sagay City Social Welfare and Development Office last October 25.

“The turn-over of custody was duly documented and Pedaso was present in the said turn-over, Karapatan said, adding Panguban represented Lester’s mother.

“There is absolutely no truth to allegations of Pedaso and the police that mother and son are being held against their will by Atty. Panguban, NUPL and Karapatan,” the group said.

Karapatan explained that the charges against Atty. Panguban are among the forms of intimidation by state forces against people’s lawyers.

“This incident once again exposes the vile intent of the police to go to great lengths to exploit relatives of victims and survivors and to use them for their slanted narratives,” Karapatan said, adding the charges against Atty. Panguban should be withdrawn or dropped immediately. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Prosecutor drops gun possession charge vs Silva’s companions

Three companions of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Adelberto Silva arrested with him last Monday, October 15, were ordered freed Thursday after charges of illegal possession of firearms against them have been dismissed.

Public Interest Law Center (PILC) managing counsel Rachel Pastores said that the temporary release of Hedda Calderon, Ireneo Atadero and Edisel Legaspi is allowed pending further investigation of an additional charge against them.

Pastores said that additional charges of illegal possession of explosives were referred for preliminary investigation by Laguna provincial prosecutor Ma. Victoria Dado.

The three were arrested along with Silva and their driver Julio Lusania by combined elements of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

The CIDG said the two .45 caliber handguns, three hand grenades, a claymore mine-type improvised explosive device and assorted ammunition were seized from the five during their arrest.

Silva, however, told Kodao that the guns and explosives were “planted”.

“PILC expects the CIDG-NCR to implement the release soonest possible, in respect of due process and presumption of innocence of all detained, most especially the wrongfully-accused,” Pastores said.

The CIDG, however, still has to abide by the resolution and release the three.

In an Inquirer report, PILC’s Atty. Kristina Conti denied that Silva is part of any destabilization plot against President Rodrigo Duterte, such as the so-called Red October plot the military described by the military.

“This story is laughable but we are not amused,” Conti said.

Conti said the Calderon, Atadero and Legaspi were consulting with Silva who is a leading member of the NDFP’s Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms in its peace process with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Facing multiple murder charges for an alleged massacre in Inopacan, Leyte, Silva was released in August 2016 to enable his participation in the first formal talks between the GRP and the NDFP in Oslo, Norway.

His temporary bail was suspended last January, however, after President Duterte cancelled the peace talks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)