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No to legal attacks on freedom of expression and public participation

CAP condemns perjury, sedition charges vs. colleagues

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) condemns the successive filing of legal charges against human rights advocates and opposition members, which includes in their respondents members of the artist community.

This week alone has seen the filing of two complaints, which threaten not only the respondents but the very essence of freedom of expression and public participation itself.

First, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. filed perjury charges against human rights groups who asked for a protection order against government harassment. These are KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, Gabriela, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, which earlier petitioned for a writ of amparo and habeas data following the killings, vilification, and harassment against their members. Second is the “inciting to sedition” charge initiated by the PNP and the DOJ against a diverse line-up of 36 opposition figures starting with the Vice-President, on the pretext of being responsible for the spread of the “Ang Totoong Narcolist” videos.

Included in the former is Kiri Dalena, a filmmaker, visual artist, and human rights advocate whose work has bravely reflected on the state’s perpetuation of human rights violations. Included in the latter is Joel Saracho, a veteran actor, writer and convener of the media and arts alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI).

We are outraged over how artists are facing these absurd charges of perjury and inciting to sedition. We view such legal attacks as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which are lawsuits filed in retaliation for speaking out on a public issue and intending to burden, censor, intimidate, and silence critics into abandoning their criticism or opposition. While the Palace denies any hand in these charges, it can not deny that these incidents are rising as more people are expected to take to the streets in the United People’s SONA on July 22.

We condemn these assaults on our colleagues in the art and culture sector, who have tirelessly dedicated their craft, consciousness, and practice towards being artists for democracy, nationalism, and justice. We denounce the continuing red-tagging of our colleagues, our organizations, our films and the institutions that screen these.

We condemn how citizens at the forefront of protecting human rights are viciously attacked and targeted. These include human rights defenders Christina Palabay and Edith Burgos, wife of late press freedom icon Jose Burgos and mother of desaparecido Jonas Burgos, whose lifelong struggle for justice has been referenced across artworks to films.

We must not let such legal harassment pass. Already, artists and cultural workers are among 509 political prisoners in the Philippines today. These include Alvin Fortaliza, arrested on March 4, 2019 in Guindulman, Bohol and falsely charged with two counts of murder. Fortaliza is the Artistic Director of the Bol-anong Artista nga may Diwang Dagohoy (Bansiwag Bohol) Bohol Cultural Network which stages theater performances and conducts theater workshops for youth groups and was a volunteer provincial coordinator for Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Partylist in Bohol.

Artists, cultural, knowledge and media workers will fight back: with our voices, our art, and our presence in the parliament of the streets on July 22 at the United People’s SONA.

Send off activities for Sr Patricia Fox

President Rodrigo Duterte got his wish last November 3 when Sr. Patricia Ann Fox, NDS left the Philippines for Australia after the Bureau of Immigration recalled her missionary visa and refused to renew her visitors visa.

She was feted in a series of activities that day all the way to the airport by Church groups, sectoral organizations, lawyers and activists thanking her for her nearly three decades of service to the poor.

Watch this video of these activities. (Video by Joseph Cuevas)

Maza resigns; last NDFP-nominated member leaves Duterte Cabinet

The last of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)-nominated members to the Rodrigo Duterte Cabinet has tendered her irrevocable resignation today, August 20

National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) Lead Convenor Liza Maza announced she is leaving the Duterte government after deeper reflection on the events of the past weeks, including the double murder charges she faced with three other former Makabayan bloc representatives like herself.

“I am announcing that I have tendered this morning my irrevocable resignation as Secretary and Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission,” Maza said in a pres conference.

She said that while the fabricated and baseless murder charges were eventually dismissed, the revival of these cases and the issuance of warrants of arrest under a seeming crackdown on activists like her took its toll on her work at the NAPC.

“I realized that similar attacks by the anti-reform, rightist, and militarist forces in our society will continue to undermine my leadership of this agency. As such, I simply can no longer work under these circumstances,” she said.

Along with Maza, former social work and development secretary Judy Taguiwalo and agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano were nominated to the Duterte Cabinet by the NDFP.

Taguiwalo and Mariano were no longer re-appointed by President Duterte after they were rejected by the Commission on Appointments.

Maza explained that Duterte’s total cancellation of its peace talks with the NDFP last August 14 was her biggest reason for resigning.

“The decision killed my remaining hopes that the peace talks would result to substantive social and economic reforms that would end widespred poverty in the country as well as the ongoing civil war,” she said.

She added that the cancellation of the talks signals that policies that are counter to reforms for the poor as well as militaristic mindset and attitude are primary to the government.

Maza said that her resignation is not a surrender of the pursuit of meaningful reforms that she has embarked on in her two years of leading the NAPC, which she said has always been her life’s work as an activist and legislator.

“[N]or am I succumbing to the reactionary forces who have long wanted me out of this post. Rather, it has become clear to me that this pursuit will be better served with me working outside of government,” she said.

Among Maza’s biggest achievements as NAPC lead convenor was the publication of the 100-page “Reforming Philippine Anti-Poverty Policy – Going Beyond, Moving Forward” roadmap that sought “meaningful debates on poverty eradication instead of mere poverty alleviation.”

Maza said during its launch in January that among the book’s proposals are the development of Philippine industries, review of international economic deals, regulation of foreign investments for development, state-directed financing for development, and more progressive taxation.

She said then she hoped that President Duterte would support their proposals.

Maza, in her statement today, said that poverty eradication may no longer be possible under the Duterte administration.

“I joined the Cabinet more than two years ago with high hopes of helping to facilitate meaningful socioeconomic and political reforms from within the government, when the President was initially engaged in the peace negotiations that can potentially bring these about,” she explained.

“His latest pronouncement, however, on finally terminating the talks brings me to the conclusion that these reforms may no longer be possible under the current administration,” she said, adding she believes “genuine change cannot happen when the old forces of fascism and corruption, and the defenders of elite and foreign interests, are consolidating their position in government.”

“I have found it best to resume fighting from among the masses for this genuine change, which, as ever, has been the only real way to make sure that it will happen,” Maza concluded. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Activists condemn persecution in rally

Days after trumped-up charges against four leading activists were dismissed by the Regional Trial Court of Palayan City, activists marched to Mendiola, Manila to condemn the Rodrigo Duterte government for its political persecution of dissenters.

Saying the government has revived Gloria Arroyo-era mechanisms to quell dissent on top of its own bloody record on human rights, the protesters recalled that their rally Thursday, August 16, also coincided with the first anniversary of the killing of 17-year old high school student Kian de los Santos in Caloocan City that who was widely believed to be killed extrajudicially by the Philippine National Police. (Video by Joseph Cuevas)

Makabayan 4 blame military and police for ‘trumped-up charge’

After the dismissal of the double murder charge against them by a Nueva Ecija court, four former Makabayan Coalition representatives condemned government’s security cluster for what they call a mere case of political persecution against dissenters.

National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor Liza Maza and fellow former Makabayan representatives Rafael Mariano, Teddy Casiño and Satur Ocampo were welcomed in a gathering in Quezon City last August 14 after warrants of arrest against them were withdrawn.

Abolish IACoLA, trumped-up charges—Makabayan 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Court dismisses double murder charges vs Makabayan 4

The Palayan Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissed the double murder case against National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor Liza Maza and her fellow former Makabayan bloc representatives Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño and Rafael Mariano.

In a decision dated August 8, Palayan City RTC Acting Presiding Judge Trese D. Wenceslao ordered the dismissal of the cases and quashed the warrants of arrest against the four.

“[C]onsidering that the evidence on hand absolutely fails to support a finding of probable cause against the accused-movants, the Motion for Reconsidetion (of the Order dated July 11, 2018 with Prayer to Quash Warrants of Arrests) is hereby GRANTED,” Judge Wenceslao ordered.

“Consequently, the Warrants of Arrest issued on July 11, 2018 under Criminal Case Nos. 1879-P and 1880-P against Saturnino C. Ocampo, Liza L. Maza, Teodoro A. Casiño and Rafael V. Mariano are QUASHED. The instant cases are DISMISSED as to the said accused-movenats,” he added.

Wenceslao, however, ordered that the arrest warrants against more than a dozen others who did not ask the court for reconsideration stand.

Dispositive portion of Judge Wenceslao’s decision. (Photo by Renato Reyes Jr.)

The four opposition leaders were ordered arrested by Judge Evelyn Atienza-Turla last July 11 after reversing her 2008 decision that the case does not meet her standards in finding probable cause.

Atty. Rachel Pastores, counsel for the four accused, said the case is pure harassment as the complaint was not even subscribed before a public prosecutor before it was filed.

“The complainants swore before the Philippine National Police and not to a public prosecutor. It was irregular,” Pastores said.

A Cleotilde Peralta and an Isabelita Bayudang alleged Ocampo, Maza, Mariano, Casiño and 18 other activists met in 1998 to plan the assassination of former Bayan Muna (BM) members who have left the party.

Peralta said her husband was ran over and killed in 2001 while Bayudang said her husband was shot to death in 2004 upon orders of the four accused and others.

In 2016, however, Peralta and Bayudang were found liable for damages in a civil suit and were ordered to pay P325,000 to Ocampo by Quezon City RTC Branch 95.

The QC RTC said Peralta and Bayudang lied when they alleged BM was already existing in 1998 when it was in fact created only in 2000.

The two complainants were ordered to pay damages to Ocampo, but have yet to abide by the court decision.

The two complainants have not appeared in court since then.

Peralta and Bayudang’s petition to have Bayan Muna disqualified using the same allegations was also dismissed by the Commission on Elections in 2008. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

Groups gather to defend Makabayan 4

Various groups gathered last Saturday, August 11, to defend the four former Makabayan Representatives, Satur Ocampo, Liza Maza, Teddy Casiño and Rafael Mariano.

Lawyers explained that the double murder case used as basis for the issuance of warrants against the four were baseless, as proven by two earlier decisions by a trial court and the Commission on Elections.

Family members of the accused also spoke against what they call the political persecution of political dissenters by the Rodrigo Duterte government. (Video by Joseph Cuevas)

Hinggil sa persekusyon ng Makabayan 4

“Nagaganap ang political persecution kapag iyong mga nasa kapangyarihan tulad ni Duterte at mga kasapakat niya ay gustong patigilin at supilin ang mga nagsasabi ng katotohanan.”–Prof. Jose Maria Sison, International League of Peoples’ Struggles chairperson.

 

Groups launch #DefendSecLiza campaign

Various groups launched a campaign to defend National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor Liza Maza in a press conference in Quezon City last Monday, August 6.

Saying they are composed of groups outside the Makabayan bloc, they said they want to show that support for Maza is wide and committed in defending the embattled Cabinet secretary from political persecution.

Maza, along with former Makabayan representatives Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño and Rafael Mariano were issued warrants of arrest by a Palayan City Regional Trial Court for alleged murders committed nearly two decades ago.

The accused and their supporters, however, claim that the cases were trumped up, as proven by earlier decisions by the QC RTC and the Commission on Elections. (Video by Joseph Cuevas)