Posts

Philippine Army soldiers kill journalist in Masbate

MANILA — A journalist was shot and killed by government soldiers in Milagros, Masbate, last Saturday, November 14.

Ronnie Villamor, 50, a stringer for local tabloid Dos Kantos Balita was killed by troops led by a certain 2nd Lieutenant Maydim Jomadil after covering an aborted survey of a disputed property.

Villamor was also a pastor of the Life in Christ Church.

A spot report on the incident by Milagros police chief Major Aldrin Rosales quoted army troops as saying they were investigating the presence of five armed men in Barangat Matanglad who fled at their approach.

The army and the police said Villamor was a New People’s Army (NPA) member who allegedly drew a firearm when ordered to stop his motorcycle at a Scout Platoon-2nd Infantry Battalion Philippine Army checkpoint.

The victim’s colleagues however disputed the soldiers’ version of the incident, saying there was no encounter between the government soldiers and the NPA.

Masbate Tri-Media President Dadong Briones Sr. told Dos Kantos Balita the victim just came from a coverage of an aborted survey of a piece of land being disputed by certain Dimen family and businessman Randy Favis.

Favis’s goons reportedly prevented the survey from proceeding, prompting the surveyors to return to mainland Bicol and the victim to proceed to his brother Arthur’s house at Barangay Bonbon.

Dos Kantos Balita reported that witnesses saw army troopers flagging down the victim and, after being identified by Favis’s men Johnrey Floresta and Eric Desilva, shot Villamor dead.

In a statement, the Masbate chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the killing of their colleague and demands a thorough investigation of the incident.

“The killing of our colleague…at the hands of government soldiers sends a chilling message to us journalists not only here in Masbate but all throughout the country,” the victims’ colleagues said.

Villamor is the fourth journalist murdered in Masbate after Joaquin Briones (March 13, 2017), Antonio Castillo (June 12, 2009), and Nelson Nedura (December 2, 2003), the NUJP said.

“He (Villamor) is the 19th slain during the Duterte administration and the 191st since 1986. He was also the second killed this month, only four days after NUJP member Virgilio Maganes, who had survived an attempt on his life in 2016, was shot dead outside his home in Villasis town, Pangasinan,” the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CHR slams PNP’s arrest and humiliation of minor

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it will investigate the arrest and humiliation of a 13-year old by the Philippine National Police in Malabon City last Saturday, September 26.

The CHR reported that the minor was arrested for not wearing a mask when he crossed the street to their house from a neighbor’s place.

The agency said that after taking the boy’s mugshot at the police station, officers allegedly told the minor that “he now has a profile picture for his Facebook account.”

The CHR said the remark caused distress to the boy.

 “It is concerning that this happened despite the prohibition on the arrests of minors,” CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement Monday, September 28.

While noting that Joint Task Force Covid-19 Shield Commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar reminded police forces and barangay law enforcers to not penalize minors for quarantine violations, the CHR said proper sanction and disciplinary actions must still be pursued to prevent a similar incident.

The CHR said the barangay chairperson also apologized for the incident.

De Guia reminded the police of the joint memorandum circular “Reiteration of Protocols on Reaching out to Children, including those in Street Situations, in need of Special Protection, Children at Risk, and Children in Conflict with the Law During the Enhanced Community Quarantine” issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Council on the Welfare of Children (CWC) in dealing with such cases.

“Minors who are guilty of violating quarantine rules must be turned over to their parents, guardians, and/or a social worker so that proper interventions, guidance, and/or advice are given to them,” de Guia said.

“We remind that law enforcers and barangay leaders are duty-bound to protect the rights of children. Any form of punishment that humiliates and degrades the dignity of minors is violative of this sworn obligation,” she added.

The CHR said children should be protected more so during the coronavirus pandemic,  “as they bear the brunt of the secondary effects and the measures taken to combat Covid-19.”

“Government officials and its officers should be the first ones to protect the welfare of children, not violate them,” de Guia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups laud global calls for probes and sanctions on Duterte’s rights violations

Human rights groups welcomed measures by the international community to call for investigations and sanctions to stop human rights violations under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Karapatan said the recent resolution on the human rights situation in the Philippines by the European Parliament is a “welcome step towards reckoning and accountability over the Duterte administration’s blatant disregard of its obligation to uphold human rights and civil liberties in the country.”

The European Parliament, voting last Thursday, September 17, said it proactively supports the adoption of a resolution at the ongoing 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international investigation into human rights violations committed in the Philippines since Duterte became president.

The measure also recommended to the European Union (EU) to temporarily withdraw the Philippines’ Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus status that provides tariff perks for Filipino goods until the Duterte government “immediately carry out impartial, transparent, independent and meaningful investigations into all extrajudicial killings.”

“The resolution — adopted with 626 votes in favor, 7 against, and 52 abstentions —particularly killings related to the drug war as well as the recent killings of human rights activists Jose Reynaldo Porquia in Iloilo City, Randall Echanis in Quezon City and Zara Alvarez in Bacolod City while the Philippines is under coronavirus lockdown imposed by the government,” Karapatan said in a statement.  

The resolution also expressed alarm on the conviction of Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa over cyberlibel charges and the shutdown of ABS-CBN.


Philippine Human Rights Bill

US Congresswoman Susan Wild (D-PA). Supplied photo.

Filipino-American organizations meanwhile welcomed the introduction of the Philippine Human Rights Bill at the United States House of Representatives by Philadelphia Democrat Susan Wild.

The measure seeks to block US assistance to the Philippine police and military, including equipment and training, “until human rights conditions are met.”

The bill is co-sponsored by 18 other representatives.

If the bill becomes law, the US government shall stop funding support to the Philippine police and military unless the following are met:

  • Investigating and prosecuting members of the military and police forces who are credibly found to have violated human rights;  
  • Withdrawing the military from domestic policy;
  • Establishing protections of the rights of trade unionists, journalists, human right defenders, indigenous persons, small-farmers, LGBTI activists, and critics of the government;
  • Taking steps to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses; and
  • Fully complying with any and all audits or investigations regarding the improper use of security aid.

Organizations such as the Communications Workers of America (CWA), The Malaya Movement, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines and Kabataan Alliance said they applaud the bill.

“[We are] proud to support the introduction of the Philippine Human Rights Act to protect the working people in the Philippines who are suffering greatly under the Duterte regime,” CWA Senior Director for Government Affairs and Policy Shane Larson said.

“Although we’re all dealing with the fallout of the pandemic right now, we cannot turn our backs on the crisis that Filipino workers have been facing under Duterte, which has greatly accelerated during COVID-19, with the Philippines government’s intensified power grab to persecute its political enemies. We must show Duterte that Americans and the labor movement won’t stand for him and his administration imprisoning and executing trade unionists and activists,” Larson added.

Other organizations supporting the bill include the Teamsters, Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, United Church of Christ – Global Ministries, United Methodist Church – General Board of Church & Society, Migrante USA, Gabriela USA, Anakbayan USA, Bayan-USA, Franciscan Network on Migration, Pax Christi New Jersey, Kabataan Alliance, and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns and others.

PH government response

In response, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque dismissed the effects of a possible revocation of the tariff perks on Philippine goods in Europe.

“No more discussions. They should do what they want to do during this time. If they want to implement it, go ahead,” Roque in an annoyed tone said.

“I’m sorry. I’m being very undiplomatic in my answer, but what else can I say? At the time of a pandemic, they’re threatening us. Susmaryosep, what else do we lose?” Roque added.

Philippine House of Representatives Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for his part said the European Parliament’s resolution is an interference in the “country’s domestic issues.”

“The Philippine House of Representatives takes exception to the outright interference of the European Parliament in the purely domestic matters of the Philippines by dictating on the government ‘to renew the broadcast license’ of ABS-CBN and to ‘drop’ the Cyberlibel charges against Maria Ressa,” Cayetano said in a statement.

“To our friends in the European Parliament, we have a saying here in the Philippines that the world is round. The day will come – mark my words – that the Philippines will be in a position to impose economic sanctions on your countries,” he fired back.

Karapatan however thanked the political parties who initiated the European Parliament resolution and the members of parliament who supported and adopted it.

“[W]e hope this will enjoin other governments and the international community at large to continue to take a strong stance in denouncing the Duterte administration’s attacks on human and people’s rights in the Philippines and in supporting an independent investigation by the UN HRC on these attacks,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Transport leader beaten up inside police station

A transport group said its leader arrested Sunday was beaten up inside the Daraga, Albay police station by suspected military intelligence agents.

The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) said its vice president and its Bicol chapter CONDOR-PISTON spokesperson Ramon Rescovilla was beaten up by three burly men inside the Daraga police station.

While undergoing tactical interrogation, Rescovilla was punched five times on his body and head. He was also kicked on his right foot, the group reported.

Rescovilla was arrested at a bridge near his home between Barangays Bintayan and Kilicao in Daraga, Albay Province at 4 pm by about 20 civilian-clad and uniformed police and military personnel.

The transport group leader told his colleagues he was ordered to lie face down on the pavement and handcuffed while an orange body bag was forcibly slung across his body when arrested.

When the bag was later opened by the police, a gun and a grenade was seen inside, a criminal charge the Philippine National Police has filed against many activists.

The police also refused Rescovilla’s requests for a medical check up after the beating as no doctor was available at the time.

Rescovilla’s son Bryan was told by a brother said the victim was crying in pain when found by family members at the police station.

Ayon, umiiyak, hinahawakan iyong tiyan. Binugbog yata sa loob,” regional alternative news group Baretang Bikolnon reported. (He was crying, holding his stomach. He may have been beaten while under police custody.)

Rescovilla had been continuously red-tagged and harassed by state forces prior to the arrest, PISTON said in a statement.

Rescovilla is the fourth activist arrested in the Bicol region since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Aswang’ Documentary Review: Do Not Dare Look Away

By L.S. Mendizabal

(Trigger warning: Murders, mutilation of corpses)

Pumarito ka. Bahala ka, kukunin ka ng aswang diyan! (Come here, or else the aswang will get you!)” is a threat often directed at Filipino children by their mothers. In fact, you can’t be Filipino without having heard it at least once in your life. For as early as in childhood, we are taught to fear creatures we’ve only seen in nightmares triggered by bedtime stories told by our Lolas.

In Philippine folklore, an “aswang” is a shape-shifting monster that roams in the night to prey on people or animals for survival. They may take a human form during the day. The concept of “monster” was first introduced to us in the 16th century by the Spanish to demonize animist shamans, known as “babaylan” and “asog,” in order to persuade Filipino natives to abandon their “anitos” (nature, ancestor spirits) and convert to Roman Catholicism—a colonizing tactic that proved to be effective from Luzon to Northern Mindanao.

In the early 1950s, seeing that Filipinos continued to be superstitious, the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized folklore against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap), an army of mostly local peasants who opposed US intervention in the country following our victory over the Japanese in World War II. The CIA trained the Philippine Army to butcher and puncture holes in the dead bodies of kidnapped Huk fighters to make them look like they were bitten and killed by an aswang. They would then pile these carcasses on the roadside where the townspeople could see them, spreading fear and terror in the countryside. Soon enough, people stopped sympathizing with and giving support to the Huks, frightened that the aswang might get them, too.

Fast forward to a post-Duterte Philippines wherein the sight of splayed corpses has become as common as of the huddled living bodies of beggars in the streets. Under the harsh, flickering streetlights, it’s difficult to tell the dead and the living apart. This is one of many disturbing images you may encounter in Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang. The documentary, which premiered online and streamed for free for a limited period last weekend, chronicles the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs. “Oplan Tokhang” authorized the Philippine National Police to conduct a door-to-door manhunt of drug dealers and/or users. According to human rights groups, Tokhang has killed an estimated 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom were suspected small-time drug offenders without any actual charges filed against them. A pattern emerged of eerily identical police reports across cases: They were killed in a “neutralization” because they fought back (“nanlaban”) with a gun, which was the same rusty .38 caliber pistol repeatedly found along with packets of methamphetamine (“shabu”) near the bloodied corpses. When children and innocent people died during operations, PNP would call them “collateral damage.” Encouraged by Duterte himself, there were also vigilante killings too many to count. Some were gunned down by unidentified riding-in-tandem suspects, while some ended up as dead bodies wrapped in duct tape, maimed or accessorized with a piece of cardboard bearing the words, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not emulate). Almost all the dead casualties shared one thing in common: they were poor. Virtually no large-scale drug lord suffered the same fate they did.

And for a while, it was somehow tempting to call it “fate.” Filipinos were being desensitized to the sheer number of drug-related extrajudicial killings (a thousand a month, according to the film). “Nanlaban” jokes and memes circulated on Facebook and news of slain Tokhang victims were no longer news as their names and faces were reduced to figures in a death toll that saw no end.

As much as Aswang captures the real horrors and gore of the drug war, so has it shown effectively the abnormal “sense of normal” in the slums of Manila as residents deal with Tokhang on the daily. Fearing for their lives has become part of their routine along with making sure they have something to eat or slippers on their feet. This biting everyday reality is highlighted by Arumpac’s storytelling unlike that of any documentary I’ve ever seen. Outlined by poetic narration with an ominous tone that sounds like a legitimately hair-raising ghost story, Aswang transports the audience, whether they like it or not, from previously seeing Tokhang exclusively on the news to the actual scenes of the crime and funerals through the eyes of four main individuals: a nightcrawler photojournalist and dear family friend, Ciriaco Santiago III (“Brother Jun” to many), a funeral parlor operator, a street kid and an unnamed woman.

Along with other nightcrawlers, Bro. Jun waits for calls or texts alerting them of Tokhang killings all over Manila’s nooks and crannies. What sets him apart from the others, perhaps motivated by his mission as Redemptorist Brother, is that he speaks to the families of the murdered victims to not only obtain information but to comfort them. In fact, Bro. Jun rarely speaks throughout the film. Most of the time, he’s just listening, his brows furrowed with visible concern and empathy. It’s as if the bereaved are confessing to him not their own transgressions but those committed against them by the state. One particular scene that really struck me is when he consoles a middle-aged man whose brother was just killed not far from his house. “Kay Duterte ako pero mali ang ginawa nila sa kapatid ko” (I am for Duterte but what they did to my brother was wrong), he says to Bro. Jun in between sobs. Meanwhile, a mother tells the story of how her teenage son went out with friends and never came home. His corpse later surfaced in a mortuary. “Just because Duterte gave [cops] the right to kill, some of them take advantage because they know there won’t be consequences,” she angrily says in Filipino before wailing in pain while showing Bro. Jun photos of her son smiling in selfies and then laying pale and lifeless at the morgue.

The Eusebio Funeral Services is a setting in the film that becomes as familiar as the blood-soaked alleys of the city. Its operator is an old man who gives the impression of being seasoned in his profession. And yet, nothing has prepared him for the burden of accommodating at least five cadavers every night when he was used to only one to two a week. When asked where all the unclaimed bodies go, he casually answers, “mass burial.” We later find out at the local cemetery that “mass burial” is the stacking of corpses in tiny niches they designated for the nameless and kinless. Children pause in their games as they look on at this crude interment, after which a man seals the niche with hollow blocks and wet cement, ready to be smashed open again for the next occupant/s. At night, the same cemetery transforms into a shelter for the homeless whose blanketed bodies resemble those covered in cloth at Eusebio Funeral Services.

Tama na po, may exam pa ako bukas” (Please stop, I still have an exam tomorrow). 17-year-old high school student, Kian Delo Santos, pleaded for his life with these words before police shot him dead in a dark alley near his home. The documentary takes us to this very alley without the foreknowledge that the corpse we see on the screen is in fact Kian’s. At his wake, we meet Jomari, a little boy who looks not older than seven but talks like a grown man. He fondly recalls Kian as a kind friend, short of saying that there was no way he could’ve been involved in drugs. Jomari should know, his parents are both in jail for using and peddling drugs. At a very young age, he knows that the cops are the enemy and that he must run at the first sign of them. Coupled with this wisdom and prematurely heightened sense of self-preservation is Jomari’s innocence, glimpses of which we see when he’s thrilled to try on new clothes and when he plays with his friends. Children in the slums are innocent but not naïve. They play with wild abandon but their exchanges are riddled with expletives, drugs and violence. They even reenact a Tokhang scene where the cops beat up and shoot a victim.

Towards the end of the film, a woman whose face is hidden and identity kept private gives a brief interview where, like the children drawing monsters only they could see in horror movies, she sketches a prison cell she was held in behind a bookshelf. Her interview alternates with shots of the actual secret jail that was uncovered by the press in a police station in Tondo in 2017. “Naghuhugas lang po ako ng pinggan n’ung kinuha nila ‘ko!” (I was just washing the dishes when they took me!), screams one woman the very second the bookshelf is slid open like a door. Camera lights reveal the hidden cell to be no wider than a corridor with no window, light or ventilation. More than ten people are inside. They later tell the media that they were abducted and have been detained for a week without cases filed against them, let alone a police blotter. They slept in their own shit and urine, were tortured and electrocuted by the cops, and told that they’d only be released if they paid the PNP money ranging from 10 000 to 100 000 pesos. Instead of being freed that day, their papers are processed for their transfer to different jails.

Aswang is almost surreal in its depiction of social realities. It is spellbinding yet deeply disturbing in both content and form. Its extremely violent visuals and hopelessly bleak scenes are eclipsed by its more delicate moments: Bro. Jun praying quietly by his lonesome after a night of pursuing trails of blood, Jomari clapping his hands in joyful glee as he becomes the owner of a new pair of slippers, an old woman playing with her pet dog in an urban poor community, a huge rally where protesters demand justice for all the victims of EJKs and human rights violations, meaning that they were not forgotten. It’s also interesting to note that while the film covers events in a span of two years, the recounting of these incidents is not chronological as seen in Bro. Jun’s changing haircuts and in Jomari’s unchanging outfit from when he gets new slippers to when he’s found after months of going missing. Without naming people, places and even dates, with Arumpacletting the poor do most of the heavy lifting bysimply telling their stories on state terrorism and impunity in their own language, Aswang succeeds in demonstrating how Duterte’s war on drugs is, in reality, a genocide of the poor, elevating the film beyond numb reportage meant to merely inform the public to being a testament to the people’s struggle. The scattered sequence, riveting images, sinister music and writing that borrows elements from folklore and the horror genre make Aswang feel more like a dream than a documentary—a nightmare, to be precise. And then, a rude awakening. The film compels us to replay and review Oplan Tokhang by bringing the audience to a place of such intimate and troubling closeness with the dead and the living they had left behind.

Its unfiltered rawness makes Aswang a challenging yet crucial watch. Blogger and company CEO, Cecile Zamora, wrote on her Instagram stories that she only checked Aswang out since it was trending but that she gave up 23 minutes in because it depressed her, declaring the documentary “not worth her mental health” and discouraging her 52,000 followers from watching it, too. Naturally, her tone-deaf statements went viral on Twitter and in response to the backlash, she posted a photo of a Tokhang victim’s family with a caption that said she bought them a meal and gave them money as if this should exempt her from criticism and earn her an ally cookie, instead.

 Aswang is definitely not a film about privileged Filipinos like Zamora—who owns designer handbags and lives in a luxurious Ed Calma home—but this doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant or necessary for them to watch. Zamora missed the point entirely: Aswang is supposed to make her and the rest of us feel upset! It nails the purpose of art in comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. It establishes that the only aswang that exists is not a precolonial shaman or a shape-shifting monster, but fear itself—the fear that dwells within us that is currently aggravated and used by a fascist state to force us into quiet submission and apathy towards the most marginalized sectors of society.

Before the credits roll, the film verbalizes its call to action in the midst of the ongoing slaughter of the poor and psychological warfare by the Duterte regime:

“Kapag sinabi nilang may aswang, ang gusto talaga nilang sabihin ay, ‘Matakot ka.’ Itong lungsod na napiling tambakan ng katawan ay lalamunin ka, tulad ng kung paano nilalamon ng takot ang tatag. Pero meron pa ring hindi natatakot at nagagawang harapin ang halimaw. Dito nagsisimula.” (When they say there’s a monster, what they really want to say is “be afraid.” This city, chosen to be the dumpsite of the dead, will devour you as fear devours courage. But there are still those who are not afraid and are able to look the monster in the eye. This is where it begins).

During these times, when an unjust congressional vote recently shut down arguably the country’s largest multimedia network in an effort to stifle press freedom and when the Anti-Terrorism Law is now in effect, Aswang should be made more accessible to the masses because it truly is a must-see for every Filipino, and by “must-see,” I mean, “Don’t you dare look away.” #

= = = = = =

References:

Buan, L. (2020). “UN Report: Documents suggest PH Police Planted Guns in Drug War Ops”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://rappler.com/nation/united-nations-report-documents-suggest-philippine-police-planted-guns-drug-war-operations

Ichimura, A., & Severino, A. (2019). “How the CIA Used the Aswang to Win a War in the Philippines”. Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/cia-aswang-war-a00304-a2416-20191019-lfrm

Lim, B. C. (2015). “Queer Aswang Transmedia: Folklore as Camp”. Kritika Kultura, 24. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3mj1k076

Tan, L. (2017). “Duterte Encourages Vigilante Killings, Tolerates Police Modus – Human Rights Watch”. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/02/Duterte-PNP-war-on-drugs-Human-Rights-Watch.html

Rights activist frustrates new PNP modus in serving arrest warrants

A Philippine National Police (PNP) operative dressed and presented himself to be a delivery boy in a failed attempt to arrest Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay Wednesday, June 7.

Police Master Sergeant (SPOI) Joelon de Tomas Rafael was dressed as an LBC courier when he arrived at Karapatan’s office in Quezon City and introduced himself as an employee of the delivery company.

“I was served a warrant of arrest this afternoon by a guy who introduced himself as an LBC courier. He was wearing the uniform/t-shirt and had an ID. Is this the usual procedure now?” Palabay wrote in a Facebook post.

Palabay said she was surprised when Rafael introduced himself as an LBC courier when he served the arrest warrant. 

She added that another person in civilian clothes accompanying Rafael introduced himself as a police officer from the Quezon City Police District’s headquarters in nearby Camp Karingal. 

Palabay told Kodao that the undercover officer was Police Chief Master Sergeant (SPO3) Luisito Johnson Ubias

“I asked for their IDs. The guy in plainclothes easily gave his and said, after I badgered the ‘LBC guy’ for his ID, that the LBC guy is also a cop,” Palabay revealed.

The prominent human rights activist said she reminded the two police officers that the manner they were serving the arrest warrant violated the PNP’s manual on such operations.

“[W]hen you’re serving warrants of arrests, you should introduce yourself as policemen/arresting officers. You should be in uniform. In fact, you should have read to me my Miranda rights,” Palabay told Ubias and Rafael. 

Rafael also lied when asked for his identification card, saying he left it in the car. He eventually took it from his pocket when pressed, Palabay said.

The officers tried to justify their ruse by saying they would not be able to arrest respondents if they stick to legal procedures, she added. 

Ubias and Rafael apologized and left after their identification cards and documents were photocopied, Palabay said. 

Perjury complaint by Esperon

Palabay said the arrest warrant stemmed from a perjury case filed by national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. in retaliation for the Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data petition Karapatan, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela filed with the Supreme Court in May 2019.

Esperon was among the respondents named in the petition of having threatened and red-baited officers and members of the three organizations.

“This (the perjury case) was initially dismissed by a Quezon City prosecutor, and then revived and filed in court by another prosecutor, after Esperon’s motion for reconsideration,” Palabay explained.

Palabay said she showed Ubias and Rafael the recall order for the arrest warrant against her.

The recall order of Palabay’s arrest warrant.

“They said they only received the arrest warrant yesterday and they haven’t received the recall order (issued on April 29, 2020! More than two months ago!),” Palabay said, adding she has posted bail and presented myself to an executive judge via online channels to secure the recall of the arrest warrant against her.

‘Does LBC know?’

In a Facebook post, Karapatan lawyer Ma. Sol Taule asked if the courier company knows its identity is being used by the PNP for undercover operations.

 “Alam ba ng LBC Express Inc na ginagamit niyo ang pangalan ng kompanya nila para mang-harass ng mga tao?” Taule asked. (Does LBC Express Inc. know that you [PNP] use their company to harass people?)

At ano naman kaya ang susunod niyong costume? Grab, Food Panda, Lala Move Delivery?” she asked, referring to other courier service companies in the country. (What costume would you be using next?)

Taule also asked the police if donning LBC uniforms is part of Rule 6.1 of the PNP’s operations manual.

The manual orders that arrest, search and seizure, checkpoint, roadblocks, demolition and civil disturbance management operations shall be conducted with a marked police vehicle, led by a Police Commissioned Officer (PCO), and with personnel in prescribed police uniform or attire.

Ubias and Rafael are non-commissioned officers. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CPP denounces military’s detention of Red Cross convoy carrying wounded rebels

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) denounced the detention of an International Committee of the Red Cross convoy in Lianga, Surigao del Sur last Friday, May 29, saying Philippine Army’s action is an affront on international humanitarian law (IHL).

In a statement, the underground group said the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (IDPA) also subjected the three-vehicle convoy to search and interrogation.

“The flagging down and inspection of the ICRC convoy, clearly marked with the Red Cross logos, was an unacceptable affront on IHL. As a recognized guardian of IHL, the ICRC medical convoy should have been accorded due respect and allowed to travel unimpeded,” the CPP said.

The CPP said the ICRC convoy was reported to be transporting two wounded fighters identified as Jea Angeles Perez and Noel Dadang it said were both hors de combat. A hors de combat is a person who is no longer participating in hostilities, by choice or circumstance

The group said the convoy was stopped at a checkpoint and were surrounded by the soldiers. It was later “escorted” by military and police vehicles to the Davao Regional Medical Center in Tagum City, Davao del Norte province “with the aim of subjecting the two patients to arrest and detention.”

“The AFP virtually turned the ICRC convoy into a prisoner transport for the AFP in violation of the ICRC’s recognized international role,” the CPP said.

The ICRC, including its vehicles and buildings clearly marked with either the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblems, are declared immune from attack in accordance with the First Geneva Conventions of 1949.

In an Inquirer report, 4th IDPA spokesperson Capt. Al Anthony Pueblas admitted the convoy was “briefly detained” after fetching Perez and Dadang from San Agustin, Surigao del Sur, a known New People’s Army stronghold.

Military and police troopers block ICRC convoy.
(Photo by PNP Surigao del Sur)

Pueblas said the patients were probably wounded in a series of clashes between the NPA and government troops from May 14 to 19.

ICRC communications officer Allison Lopez said the Army and police were informed of the humanitarian evacuation before they transported the two wounded persons.

“This medical evacuation was carried out strictly for humanitarian purposes. As a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization, the ICRC’s mandate is to protect and assist victims of armed conflict. Under the International Humanitarian Law, wounded and sick fighters regardless of which side they are from are entitled to the medical care and treatment required by their condition,” Lopez said.

The CPP said the incident marked a new level of impunity by the military and police, demanding reparation for the incident.

“The Party demands respect for the rights of the detained and calls for their immediate release under IHL,” it said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Manila police arrest activist couple

By Joseph Cuevas

Women and other groups held a quick reaction protest in front of the Manila Police District headquarters against what they allege was an illegal arrest of an activist couple in Manila last Thursday, October 31.

The Philippine National Police (PNP)-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Manila Police District arrested Gabriela-Metro Manila spokesperson Cora Agovida and her husband Mickael Tan Bartolome, campaign officer of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap-Metro Manila.

The police forcibly entered the couple’s house at around 5:00 o’clock in the morning in Paco, Manila and ordered them, their two children (10 and 2 years old, respectively) and a companion to lie down on the floor. 

The police alleged that a .45 caliber pistol and two hand grenades were found inside the couple’s house after a search.

The police said they had search warrants issued by Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 88, the same judge who issued the warrants used on the mass raids and arrests in Bacolod City late Thursday afternoon.

Agovida’s group Gabriela however allege the search warrants were issued based on spurious police “intelligence” reports.

The group pointed out that the search warrants indicated specific calibers and types of guns and explosives that were the exact guns and grenades presented after the raids.

“Everything was indeed orchestrated,” Gabriela said.

Newly-installed PNP National Capital Region commander Debold Sinas met with Burgos-Villavert Wednesday afternoon, a police Facebook page announced.

Activists call for the immediate release of the arrested couple at the Manila Police District headquaters Thursday night. (Photo by J. Cuevas)

The police refused requests by lawyers and medical workers to visit the couple inside the MPD headquarters as of last night.

Their children were reportedly forcibly taken and brought to the Manila Reception and Action Center, a government-run “shelter” for street-children.

Gabriela and KADAMAY-Metro Manila condemned the couple’s arrest and called for their immediate release.

The groups condemned the Rodrigo Duterte government’s crackdown against women and urban poor activists under its ant-insurgency programs Oplan Kalasag and Executive Order No. 70. # (with reports from 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)

‘Return Vic’s hearing aid,’ wife demands from police

Fides Lim, wife of detained National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant Vicente Ladlad, again demanded the return of her husband’s hearing aid she said was taken by the police arresting team.

“[T]hat Oticon pair cost me a lot, we’re still waiting for the police team to return these. It’s fitted just for Vic’s ear canal, what use is it to you?” Lim wrote on her Facebook account following the first hearing on the illegal possession of firearms and explosives case against Ladlad and companions Alberto and Virginia Villamor at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Thursday, September 12.

Lim was actually commenting on Police Major Raleigh Herbert Ampuan’s testimony that medical examinations on Ladlad and the Villamors were duly performed and that their arrest was lawful.

Ampuan is a Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory personnel at Camp Crame.

Lim said Ampuan should have noted in his report that Ladlad had difficulty of hearing he wasn’t wearing his hearing aid during their arrest.

Doctor doctoran,” (playing doctor) Lim said of the police doctor who testified he was limited to looking for just physical injuries on the three “as he was not in a hospital.”

‘Irregular’

In his testimony, Ampuan admitted those arrested last November 8 should have been brought to the nearest government hospital.

“I asked them why did they not bring those arrested to the nearest government hospital. They insisted that I should be the one to examine the three,” Ampuan said during the cross examination.

Ampuan explained it was the command of the Chief of PNP [Police Director General Oscar Albayalde].

Ampuan also admitted there was no written request for the PNP Crime Laboratory to do the physical examination.

“When I asked them [QCPD] for the request, they just told me they would give it later,” he explained.

In his medico-legal reports, Ampuan noted that the three had the same blood pressure of 140/90. He also said he did not note of any “external findings [injuries].”

‘Lies’

Lim, however, said “Ampuan’s testimony was “sapped/zapped by a miasma of untruths,” insisting that no physical examination were conducted on the arrested persons.

She pointed out that while that Ampuan’s medical report was time-stamped “7:11 AM”, the “Request for Physical Examination” by the QCPD superintendent, based on the “Received” stamp marks of the PC Crime Laboratory, indicate the times of “8:30 AM” and “8:35 AM.”

“Why would a police doctor do something without first awaiting the order of his superior?” Lim asked.

Lim also pointed out that the blood pressure of all three was a uniform “140/90” on the three exam sheets she said is an unlikely occurrence.

She added that Virginia told her that no medical examination was performed on them.

“More peculiar is, why didn’t the doctor note down that Virginia had difficulty standing up and that walking was even more excruciatingly difficult? Wasn’t he supposed to have done a ‘physical examination’ to determine the presence of superficial injuries?” Lim asked.

Virginia’s hip and leg injuries were aggravated when the arresting officers forcibly forced her to lie face down on the floor during the arrest, Lim explained.

“It’s symptomatic of the entirety of this Case of Planted Firearms vs. Vic Ladlad and the Villamors – TRUMPED UP as with other fabricated cases against other activists and critics of the Duterte government,” Lim said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)