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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)

BAYAN warns against police disinformation as SONA approaches

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) warned of a disinformation campaign that may be orchestrated by government forces to dissuade people from coming out and joining the protests on President Rodrigo Duterte’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on June 22.

“Fake news regarding the protest actions and rally organizers are expected to be on overdrive as SONA day approaches,” BAYAN said in a statement today.

The group, one of the organizers of Monday’s United People’s SONA, said the Philippine National Police have warned participants not to bring jackets and backpacks during the rally as a security precaution.

“Protesters see this as unreasonable and may only be intended to sow fear among the public,” BAYAN said.

The group said the organizers expect a generally peaceful yet militant mass action on Monday, with national sovereignty, human rights and the economy as key issues in the protest.

Bayan calls on the Duterte government to respect freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble.

“The practice of harassing protesters, attacking human rights defenders and criminalizing dissent should stop immediately,” BAYAN said.

The United People’s SONA will be held at Commonwealth Avenue at three o’clock in the afternoon.

Various groups will however mass up at points along the broad avenue starting at eleven o’clock in the morning.

“After the passage of a crucial UNHRC resolution on human rights the Philippines, the world will be watching how the SONA protests will turn out on Monday,” BAYAN said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

PNP putting words in Cardinal Tagle’s mouth, Sison says

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said the Philippine National Police (PNP) is putting words in Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s mouth when it claimed the Manila Archbishop agreed to collaborate with the Rodrigo Duterte administration in staging localized “peace talks” between the government and the revolutionary movement.

Reacting to the press release published on the PNP’s official Facebook page entitled “POLICE AND CHURCH BAT FOR LOCALIZED PEACETALKS TO END INSURGENCY,” Sison said the police’s claim is misleading.

“I do not read anything which quotes Tagle directly as joining hands with the police for localized peace talks,” Sison said.

Sison initially reacted to an Inq.net report but told Kodao he is also referring to the PNP press release, “which is obviously the basis of the Inquirer report.”

“Because it quotes extensively from PNP chief Albayalde, the news story…especially its title, tends to make it appear that Cardinal Tagle has agreed to collaborate with the tyrannical Duterte regime in staging sham localized peace talks and in carrying out a campaign of psy-war (psychological warfare) and military suppression against the revolutionary movement of the people,” Sison said.

The press release said the PNP and the Roman Catholic clergy “are joining hands to explore and reaffirm the collaboration of the church and security sector to end the decades-old local insurgency.”

PNP chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde and Tagle met Tuesday in Manila to discuss the pursuit of localized peace talks with members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the report said.

Sison however pointed out that Tagle was clear enough with his reported statement that any call for peace talks must come from the broad sector of society and not just a unilateral declaration from either government or underground movement.

Sison pointed out that the PNP’s press release reflects the one-sided presumption and talk of Albayalde that he has hoodwinked the Cardinal into siding with the “tyrannical Duterte government” on the issue.

He said he does not see Tagle as becoming an endorser of the localized “peace talks” being staged by the military and police.

“I think that Cardinal Tagle is sufficiently informed that the sham localized ‘peace talks’ are being staged by the military and police and have been condemned by the leading political organs of the NDFP and CPP and commands of the NPA at every level, from the national to the local level,” Sison said.

Sison said that the police and military’s localized peace talks activities have been exposed as a “mere psy-war and red-tagging device…in a futile attempt to divide and destroy the revolutionary movement.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Migrante asks UN to conduct investigations on killings in PH

Filipino migrants asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCRC) to look into extrajudicial killings in the country, accusing the Rodrigo Duterte government of committing “gross human rights violations committed against Filipino migrants.”

Migrante International submitted its Global Petition of Filipino Migrants UNHCRC Tuesday in support to the call of 11 UN Special Rapporteurs for an independent investigation into the increasing rights violations in the Philippines.

Migrante cited government neglect of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and the rampant extrajudicial killings in the country in its petition, also posted on the online petition platform change.org since last week.

Filipino migrants and families are not spared from extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations perpetrated by government forces, the group said.

Migrante recalled the killing of 17-year old Kian delos Santos in August 2017 by police operatives who collared the youngster, dragged him across a dark alley and summarily killed. The victim was the son of a Saudi-based domestic worker.

In August 2018, Manila police officers mugged OFW Allan Rafael and detained him until he died under police custody.

Rafael, a cancer patient, was arrested by the police on suspicion of being a drug addict based on his pale appearance, his family alleges. He was undergoing chemotherapy when accosted by the police.

Migrante’s petition likewise accused the government of sending cheap Filipino labor abroad instead of creating enough domestic jobs to end forced migration.

“Through the Duterte regime’s labor export program, the government has been imposing unjust state exactions as its way of subjecting OFWs to legalized robbery. A Filipino migrant worker already wallows in debt even before she is deployed overseas and whenever they get mistreated abroad, they are often left neglected or coerced by government agencies to keep silent and relinquish their demands for justice,” Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion said.

In its petition, Migrante also cited the case of 81 Filipino migrants currently on death rows as well as the numerous cases of unsolved deaths and detention of migrant Filipinos abroad.

International pressure

The Philippine government is facing mounting international pressure on widespread reports of continuing extrajudicial killings related to Duterte’s so-called anti-drug war.

Last Thursday, Iceland issued a draft resolution signed by 28 UN-member states asking the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to impose concrete actions on the killings.

Members of the Philippines’ official delegation to the 41st UNHRC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland reportedly walked out of the meeting in protest to suggestions that an official and impartial investigation be conducted in the Philippines.

Varied estimates from 6,000 to 30,000 victims killed have been reported by local and international groups.

“My only sin are the extrajudicial killings,” Duterte confessed at a gathering in the Presidential palace in September 2018.

In a speech in Malacañan last Monday, Duterte also said he prefers to be tried on his human rights record than being accused of corruption.  

“Well, extrajudicial killing is ok but not corruption,” Duterte said during the oath-taking of government officials at the Palace.

Human rights groups said that Duterte’s admissions add weight to the preliminary investigations conducted by the International Criminal Court last year. 

“We demand an end to the violation of our collective human rights and hold the Duterte government accountable. We urgently plead with the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into the human rights violations committed by the Philippine Duterte government,” Migrante’s petition said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bishop calls for end to ‘barbaric attacks’ as police general says church ‘not competent’ to probe Negros killings

By Visayas Today

“I am begging our state forces, the police and military personnel, these killings must end.”

This was the earnest appeal Wednesday by San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza as controversy continues to hound the March 30 deaths in Negros Oriental of 14 men during a police operation that was initially dubbed an anti-crime drive but was later acknowledged to be targeted against alleged communist rebels.

Alminaza’s statement was read by Fr. Eduardo Laude, director for pastoral management of the San Carlos diocese, who represented the prelate at the Wednesday Roundtable at Lido hosted by journalist Melo Acuna, which discussed the Negros Oriental killings.

The bishop was in Cebu City for the launching of a movement that will campaign for an end to killings and other rights violations.

“This is very personal on my part,” Alminaza said in his statement.

“Fourteen people of our island perished in this barbaric operation. They are part of my flock, their deaths pierced my heart with pain,” he added.

“I share the collective suffering of the many families left by the barbaric arrogance of our state forces,” the bishop said.

“We are demanding peace based on justice,” he said.

In all, said Alminaza, 69 persons have died in what are believed to be politically motivated killings, a substantial number of these happening in his diocese in less than half a year in what he called a “continuing injustice.”

In October 20 last year, nine persons were massacred in a farmers’ protest camp in Sagay City, Negros Occidental, which is part of the diocese.

And on December 27, police mounted the predecessor to the March operation, Oplan Sauron, leaving six persons dead in Negros Oriental, five of these in Guihulngan City, again part of the diocese.

Of the 14 persons killed on March 30, eight were from Canlaon City, which also belongs to the San Carlos diocese.

Manjuyod town accounted for four of the dead, including two barangay captains, and Sta. Catalina, two more.

Laude told the forum that the diocese had immediately mounted an investigation into the March 30 deaths and said the accounts of eyewitnesses and the families of the slain disputed police claims that those who died were killed when they fought it out with officers serving search warrants.

He also pointed to alleged irregularities, saying witnesses told of police commandos concealing their faces in balaclavas and with no nameplates on their uniforms who “surrounded victims’ houses and forced their way inside without identifying themselves as enforcers or giving them a chance to read the warrants.”

In earlier interviews to media, families of the fatalities, who lived far from and did not know each other, gave similar accounts of what happened, all saying the raider forced them out of their houses or rooms and then executed the victims.

Laude also said all accounts noted that “no barangay officials were present at the time of entry or search,” and showed up “only hours after.”

But Philippine National Police director for police-community relations, Major General Benigno Durana Jr, immediately dismissed the church’s findings saying it was “not a competent or legitimate investigative body.”

“Any findings they have will not matter,” he stressed, even as he warned that, “if you peddle that it will create a biased perception against our legitimate police forces.”

But Laude clarified that they had tapped the services of lawyers in their investigation and also cooperated with the Commission on Human Rights. Durana also claimed that, while “some sectors would call (the fatalities) farmers,” these were “farmers with other activities” who “acted as tipsters” and, thus, were “either accessories or accomplices of terrorist groups,” referring to communist rebels behind the assassination or ambush of police personnel.

He insisted that accusations of human rights violations were “all lies” by “sectors who are front organizations” of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army.

When CHR representative noted that, since the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law, “belief in communism is not a crime” and that the farmers, had they committed any crimes, should have been tried, Durana accused him of “parroting the propaganda line of the CPP-NPA.”

Siapno protested this “unfair assertion” and stressed that the farmers enjoyed the presumption of innocence as much as the police operation was covered by the presumption of regularity.

He also stressed that even if police claimed the slain farmers were killed because they fought back, these “should be tried and go through our courts.”

Alminaza, meanwhile, minced no words in his statement, calling the police’s insistence that the farmers fought back “callous.”

The bishop pointed out that Negros has had “a long history of social struggle” and the island’s farmers possess “grate social awareness” as well as “experience defending our lives and rights.”

Citing the atrocities committed on the island by the police, military and paramilitary groups during the Marcos dictatorship, Alminaza said: “Here we are again calling to stop the attacks of violent and barbaric at the very hands of our state forces. Let me ask this again: What’s happening? Are we still observing law and order?”

Referencing the thousands of deaths from the government’s bloody campaign against narcotics, he noted that “the madness of the drug war has rippled into our farming communities, inflicting more harm to … our poor communities.”

“Why continue this madness? Why execute people by mere suspicion? Why shed blood just because of command from the mighty? Why? We demand answers,” Alminaza said as he reiterated an earlier warning for state security forces to “please make sure you are not adding more reasons for our people to get disillusioned with our government and peacekeepers that will make the best recruiters for the underground movement.”

COVER IMAGE: Journalist Melo Acuna, police Major General Benigno Durana Jr., Fr. Eduardo Laude and the CHR’s Marc Siapno discuss the March 30 killings of 14 persons during police operations in Negros Oriental at the Wednesday Roundtable at Lido. (image grabbed from video courtesy of Melo Acuna)

Probe reveals state security forces committed ‘murder, theft, other abuses’

“The horrific nature and extent of the victims’ wounds belie any claim that the force used against them was – by any stretch of the imagination – reasonable, and erodes the Philippine National Police’s credibility as to its claim that the killings were carried out under justifiable circumstances.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – – A 53-member national fact-finding mission (NFFM) found state security forces involved in the March 30 operations in Negros Oriental liable for murder, theft and other rights abuses.

In its initial report sent to Bulatlat, the NFFM led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that eyewitnesses “clearly and categorically attested that what happened on March 30 were summary executions.”

The report revealed that all the 14 farmers killed in Canlaon City, Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina were unarmed and were already under the custody and control of state security forces when they were killed.

The mission underscored the fact that members of the raiding teams were in full battle gear, with their faces and their nameplates covered during the operations.

The NFFM said the use of deadly force was premeditated. Except for one, the victims were shot multiple times. The report cited the following:

• Valentin Acabal was shot in his genital area and his right thigh was riddled with bullets it was completely destroyed.

• Ismael Avelino’s torso had at least eight gunshots that his intestines burst out of his stomach

• Edgardo Avelino was shot twice in the chest and once in the center of the forehead

• Steve Arapoc was shot both in his back and chest while he was lying on the floor

“The horrific nature and extent of the victims’ wounds belie any claim that the force used against them was – by any stretch of the imagination – reasonable, and erodes the PNP’s credibility as to its claim that the killings were carried out under justifiable circumstances,” the report read.

The NFFM said the raiding teams were also the ones who dragged the bodies of the victims out of the crime scenes. “Such disturbance of a crime scene is strictly prohibited as it removes potential evidence of foul play,” the report read.

The NFFM thus deemed that the removal of the bodies was “an effort to conceal the crimes committed.”

Replete with irregularities

The NFFM said the search warrants issued against the victims “were nothing more than a pretext for the conduct of the operation.”

In a press conference held April 8 in Bacolod City and streamed live on Facebook, Karapatan legal counsel Maria Sol Taule pointed out irregularities in the conduct of police operations.

The team found out that copies of search warrants were either given to the victims’ families only after the killings took place or such copies were never provided at all.

The NFFM noted the following irregularities in the search warrants:

– All were issued by a single judge, Judge Soliver C. Peras of Branch 10 Regional Trial Court of Cebu City. Standard court procedure requires applications for search warrants to be filed with the trial court which has jurisdiction over the territory where the crime is being committed.

– Search warrants fail to describe the places to be searched with sufficient particularity, such as sketches or other details that should confine the search to a limited location. This violates a procedural requirement that search warrants must particularly describe the place to be searched.

– The search warrant against one of those arrested in Manjuyod, Nestor Kadusale, used false information. Police claimed that they conducted the surveillance and confirmed Kadusale’s possession of loose firearms on March 14, 2019, but records show that the request for Firearm Holder Verification filed with Camp Crame in Quezon City was made on March 8, six days before the actual surveillance.

The NFFM team also said that the raiding teams barged into the victims’ homes without giving prior announcement as to their presence and their intention to enforce the search warrants. The NFFM said this was a violation of an established rule that a law-enforcement officer may break into a house to execute the warrant only if he refused admittance to the place after giving notice of his purpose and authority.

Operatives also ordered the occupants to leave their houses as they supposedly searched the different rooms. The report said that both the rules of criminal procedure and the Philippine National Police’s operational rules strictly prohibit the conduct of a search of a house, room, or any other premises except in the presence of the lawful occupant, a member of his family or, in the absence of the latter, two witnesses of sufficient age and discretion residing in the same locality.

“With all the victims’ family members kept outside the premises, and the barangay officials arriving only hours after the raid and the purported search, the operatives involved therein were in clear breach of the aforementioned rules,” the report said.

Planting of evidence

The NFFM said that inventories of items allegedly confiscated from the victims’ houses were signed by barangay officials. Eyewitnesses, however, testified that these officials arrived only hours after the raid and the killings.

The victims’ family members also recounted that they were made to sign the same inventories. “These signatures, however, were procured under the most intimidating and coercive of circumstances, with dozens of masked men carrying high-powered firearms present, without the assistance of local officials or lawyers, after the raiding teams had carried out the executions, and with the family members fearing for their own lives,” the report said.

The NFFM also noted inconsistencies in the search warrants used against the victims and the inventories of items allegedly confiscated from the houses of those killed and arrested. For instance, the search warrant against Steve Arapoc claimed that he was in possession of one (1) .45 caliber pistol; yet, the raiding team claimed they found one (1) .38 caliber pistol.

Theft, other abuses

The NFFM also found out that operatives stole money and valuables in the total amount of P167,300 from the families of Sonny Palagtiw, Valentin Acabal, Edgardo Avelino, Armogena Caballero and Steve Arapoc.

The victims’ family members were also subjected to physical abuse and the unnecessary use of force, the NFFM said.

Arapoc’s younger brother, Mc Khillif Jun, was assaulted and handcuffed while his sister, Keren Arapoc, was harassed when a male member of the raiding team profusely frisked her entire body.

The NFFM also lamented the trauma inflicted on family members, especially minors.

• Franklin Lariosa’s four-year-old son was right beside him when he was shot and killed by the raiding team.

• Edgardo Avelino’s 16-year-old daughter suffered a nervous breakdown after the incident.

• Ismael Avelino’s children, aged ten and five years old were forced out of the room just before their father was shot multiple times while lying in his bed.

• Three of Steve Arapoc’s 10 siblings – aged 14, 10, and 6 – were also in the house when Arapoc was shot several times while lying in the living room.

Lucia Francisco of Gabriela, a member of the NFFM, said that the trauma being experienced by the victims’ families, especially the children, is so deep. “What they need now is psycho-social therapy,” she said during the press conference.

Those arrested, meanwhile, were not informed of their rights as cited in Miranda doctrine.

Danilo Ramos, KMP chairperson, called for justice for the victims. He said that all those involved in the March 30 operations dubbed as Operation Sauron must be held accountable.

The NFFM noted that Oplan Sauron has killed a total of 21 individuals killed in several Negros Oriental towns since December 2018.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said these joint police and military operations conducted under the guise of anti-criminality are directed against individuals who are members of mass organizations.

The NFFM noted that the victims were branded as New People’s Army fighters or supporters. It said that the March 30 operations were part of the implementation of President Duterte’s Executive Order 70 establishing a whole-of-nation approach in ending local insurgency and the Memorandum Order 32 placing Negros Island, Bicol, and Samar, under the “state of emergency.” #

Survivors’ tales show ‘most evil intentions’ in Negros Oriental killings

Visayas Today

MANJUYOD/CANLAON CITY –Sige na, sige na!” (Go ahead, go ahead!)

These words, followed by three shots – all she managed to count in her panic – and Angenate Acabal knew her husband Valentin, 47, was dead inside their home in Manjuyod town, Negros Oriental.

Some 125 kilometers north of there, around the same time, in Canlaon City, ordered out of her home at gunpoint, Carmela Avelino heard a shout in a mix of Tagalog and Bisaya: “Merong kalaban, nagsukol!” (There’s an enemy, he’s fighting back!)

Again, three shots and she knew Edgardo, 59, her husband, was gone.

Next door, Ismael, Edgardo’s 53-year old brother, uttered his last words, addressed to his 10-year old child, as his wife Leonora and two youngest children, the other 5, were herded out their house by armed men: “Indi pagpabay-i si Mama kag utod nimo.” (Don’t leave your mother and sister alone!)

As Leonora stepped outside their smashed door, she heard a burst of gunfire.

Contributed photo shows a masked police commando during the operation in Barangay Panciao, Manjuyod where three men, including village chairman Sonny Palagtiw, were killed.

As dawn broke on March 30, 14 men in all had died during pre-dawn raids by police commandos – eight in Canlaon, four in Manjuyod, two more in Sta. Catalina town – during what authorities initially called an “anti-crime operation” but later acknowledged was targeted against suspected communist rebels.

Even on an island beset by outbreaks of violence from an insurgency fueled by the vast gulf between the hacienderos, the planters, who own and control the vast sugarcane plantations that are Negros’ lifeblood and the landless farmers and laborers who toil for them, the single day’s toll came as a bad enough shock that Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo demanded police explain why so many needed to die.

Police claimed all the dead were rebel assassins, members of the New People’s Army Special Partisan Unit or SPARU, all supposedly wanted for carrying out attacks on government forces, who were killed when they chose to shoot it out against officers serving arrest or search warrants.

Malacanang stood by the police, insisting the operation was legitimate.

Never mind that many of the dead were in their 50s to late 60s, way too old to be the communist hitmen, who tend to be young, quick and agile, police claim they were, and two of those slain in Manjuyod were elected village chieftains – Valentin Acabal and Sonny Palactiw.Of the eight men killed in Canlaon, one was a Catholic lay minister and two – one of two father-and-son pairs – volunteer church workers.

As far as can be ascertained, only four of the dead – the Avelino brothers of Canlaon, Franklin Lariosa of Sta. Catalina, and Steve Arapoc of Manjuyod – belonged to peasant groups openly accused by state security forces of supporting or being “legal fronts” of the rebels.

And only the Avelinos appear to have been engaged in any recent activity that might have earned them the ire of authorities – the local farmers’ organization chaired by Edgardo hosted a forum about residents of neighboring Guihulngan City who had been displaced in December last year by a police operation similar to that of March 30.

Incidentally, police gave both operations the same code name – Sauron, the “dark lord” of The Lord of the Rings trilogy – with the March operation dubbed “2.0”.

And both operations involved not local police forces but units under the Central Visayas command based in Cebu City.

Aside from this, the warrants were also issued by courts in Cebu City, not in Negros Oriental. The separate but almost uniform accounts of Angenate Acabal and the Avelino widows, who do not know each other – as well as the stories the families of other victims told human rights organizations – not only belied the police accounts but, according to human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares, who visited the wakes of the three victims, showed “the most evil intentions,” the carefully coordinated “state-sponsored killings” of activists and others deemed “enemies of the state.”

All the stories begin in the dark before dawn – between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. – with the sound of doors being smashed in and then armed men in tactical gear, their faces covered in balaclavas and even dark glasses, storming in, assault rifles aimed at stunned residents.

Angelate Acabal greets a visitor at the wake of her husband, slain Barangay Candabong, Manjuyod caption Valentin Acabal

Around 20 armed men burst into the Acabal household and roused the 17-year old son who slept on a couch in the living room, ordering him to kneel, his hands clasped behind his neck. It was a position he would keep for more than two hours.

Other policemen then barged into the room where Valentin, who was sick with the flu, and Angenate slept with their 7-year old daughter, ordering them to kneel on the floor with their hands up.

“All three of us were praying and our daughter begged them not to hurt us,” Angenate said after sending the girl to another room so she would not have to listen to the retelling.

“Then they grabbed and my daughter and forced us out of the room.”The last thing she heard Valentin say was a prayer: “Gino-o, gitugyan nako kanimo ang tanan.” (Lord, I leave everything up to you.)

For two hours, Angenate said she and her children were kept under guard in the living room, not allowed near the room where her husband lay dead, and accompanied even on trips to the toilet.

It was only around 6 a.m., as curious villagers began to gather, that the policemen summoned two councilmen. Only then did they show a search warrant and the .45 caliber pistol the village chief was supposedly armed with.

Angenate said one of the policemen who guarded them asked her what her husband’s name was. When she told him, “he shook his head and said, ‘But in the blotter it was Eric’.”

A copy of the warrant, which she obtained later, did show it was for Eric, not Avelino, Acabal. Colmenares said even if Acabal used to be called by his old nickname Eric, “the warrant should reflect his real name, Avelino. This already makes it irregular.”

Shortly after, Angenate said, policemen from the town arrived “but only to take away my husband’s body to the hospital even though it was clear he was already dead” from at least seven gunshots, including one that shattered his femur and genitals.

“There was no attempt to investigate the scene of the crime. The (police) Scene of Crime Operatives only inspected his body at the hospital.”

Senatorial candidate and human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares talks to Ray and Argie, sons of slain Barangay Candabong, Manjuyod captain Valentin Acabal.

Worse, said Arcabal’s son Argie, a Qatar Airways cabin crew who flew home on learning of his father’s fate, “they took P30,000 I had just sent home for home repairs and even P7,000 that my mother was keeping for our church, of which she was treasurer.”

Meanwhile in Canlaon, Carmela Avelino was awakened by her 16-year old daughter’s shout for help and rushed out thinking a snake had crawled into their house.

As she got out of bed, “the curtains of our window parted and I saw five rifle barrels aimed at us and a voice ordered us out of the room.”

In the dirt-floor front room, “five policemen stood in line, blocking me from my husband, while others ordered me and the children outside and to go to the community center next door.”

On their way out, they heard three shots from their house and, moments later, more gunshots from Ismael’s house.

Carmela Avelino shows the spot where her husband Edgardo was killed.

Leonora said she and her two young children were awakened by the commotion from Edgardo’s house and stepped out of their room to see their door burst open as six hooded men in black entered and ordered them to lie on the floor at gunpoint.

They were then ordered out of their home and to crawl toward another house where they were kept under guard for the next three hours.

Another Avelino brother, Efraim, rushed out of his nearby house only to be grabbed by his neck and pushed back inside by a gunman in a uniform of the police Special Action Force who ordered him back inside or “you might be the first.”

Like Valentin Acabal, the bodies of the Avelino brothers would be taken from their homes hours later, after daybreak, and taken to the local hospital even though they had already been dead for hours.

A boot print can still be seen on the broken door of the home of Ismael Avelino in Barangay Panubigan, Canlaon City.

Edgardo had been shot in the forehead and right arm. Ismael suffered at least five gunshot wounds.

But unlike Acabal, who has not been autopsied, the Avelino brothers underwent a post-mortem examination and had their deaths classified as “homicide” by the Canlaon civil registrar. Only after the ambulance had left were village officials summoned and shown warrants.

Carmela said the warrant for Edgardo gave his family name as “Marquez,” which is his middle name, and not Avelino.

She said the policemen then asked her to accompany them inside the house and showed her a .45 caliber pistol lying in the pool of blood where her husband had fallen and an M16 rifle they supposedly found by a closet.

A policeman also “returned” money taken from their home, only to find out that P2,000 was missing from the original P5,000.

Post-mortem diagram showing the gunshot wounds that killed Ismael Avelino.

A sister of the Avelinos, Azucena Garubat, was arrested for allegedly possessing a .38 caliber revolver and remains detained at the Canlaon police station, together with Corazon Javier, a coordinator of activist women’s group Gabriela, who was allegedly found in possession of a rifle grenade.

The two were among 12 persons nabbed in the course of the March 30 operation.

Reacting to the accounts of the widows, Colmenares said it was “clear the operations were irregular. The fact alone that they wore masks to serve supposed warrants proves this. And there is also the total lack of an investigation after the deaths, which indicates that the police have no intention whatsoever to tell the truth about what happened.”

But while confident about the chances of successfully prosecuting the police personnel involved in the bloody operation, Colmenares said this would not be enough.

“Public uproar is crucial to send the message that enough is enough.”He also said that ultimate responsibility for the March 30 deaths, as for the December deaths, lay with President Rodrigo Duterte, who last year issued Memorandum Order No. 32, which ordered more police and military personnel to the Bicol region, Samar island and Negros to “quell lawless violence.”

Colmenares said the actions of Duterte and the police fell into the “three patterns of evidence” he said were the bases for successful prosecutions involving extrajudicial killings:

· “Public vilification, which establishes motive”;

· “The brazenness with which the crime is committed”; and

· “The complete lack of interest to investigate o prosecute”

COVER PHOTO: Leonora Avelino (partly hidden, top) talks to visitors at the wake of her husband, Ismael, and his brother, Edgardo in Barangay Panubigan, Canlaon City.

PNP surfaces NDFP’s Frank Fernandez

The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army finally surfaced National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Francisco “Ka Frank” Fernandez after arresting him early Sunday morning and denying he was in their custody to human rights responders.

In a press conference at Camp Crame this morning, PNP chief Oscar Albayalde said Fernandez was arrested in Barangay Calumpang, Liliw, Laguna at 5:15 a.m. Sunday morning and, like five fellow NDFP consultants earlier arrested, was allegedly found to be in possession of firearms, ammunition and grenades.

Fernandez was arrested with his wife Cleofe Lagtapon and Gee-Ann Perez and are facing charges of violation of Commission on Election (Comelec) Resolution 10429 in relation to the Omnibus Election Code as well as violation of Republic Act 10591 (Illegal possession of firearms) and violation of Republic Act 9516 (Illegal possession of explosives), the PNP said.

Three caliber .45 pistols, three magazines with 15 live bullets and three grenades were allegedly found in their possession.

Fernandez also has four standing murder arrest warrants while his wife was included in one of the arrest warrants, the PNP said.

The three are under the custody of the Military Intelligence Group of Calabarzon and are set to face illegal firearms and explosives possession charges, the police added.

Fernandez, a former Roman Catholic priest, was a long-time NDFP spokesperson in Negros Island.

‘Hide and seek’

Human rights group Karapatan, however, slammed the PNP for withholding the three’s whereabouts for more than a day despite asking various police and military camps in Region IV-A and the National Capital Region.

“Legal counsel and paralegals went to Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna; Camp Paciano Rizal in Sta. Cruz, Laguna; Laguna Provincial Police Office and Municipal Police Office in Sta. Cruz, Laguna; Camp Crame in Quezon City; and Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. Military and police officers denied having the three in their custody,” Karapatan said in a statement.

“This morning of March 25, legals counsels and paralegals went to the ISAFP Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City; NBI National Office in Manila; and Camp Crame, Quezon City. The same answer was given to them,” the group added.

Karapatan said it was only after further prodding that unidentified officials revealed that the three arrested persons were in the Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

Karapatan said that lawyers and paralegals should have access to those arrested, particularly the elderly couple Fernandez and Lagtapon, aged 71 and 66, respectively.

Fernandez and his wife are reportedly in Laguna to seek medical treatment.

Karapatan raised the possibility that the three might be subjected to physical and psychological torture, a reported practice of state forces during arrests.

“Access of lawyers to the victims on time and ascertaining the responsible units and officers are a deterrent to the ill-treatment of arrested persons,” Karapatan said.

The group said the police and the military deliberately played a game of hide and seek, instead of directly giving the whereabouts of the detainees to their legal counsels, as mandated by Republic Act 7438 or the rights of persons arrested, detained or under custodial investigation law.

‘Ordered by Duterte’

NDFP’s chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison, for his part, condemned yet another allegation by the police that its latest arrested peace consultant and companions were in possession of guns and ammunition at the time of their arrest.

“Following the orders publicly given by their master (President Rodrigo) Duterte, the criminals in uniform always plant firearms and frame up NDFP consultants,” Sison told Kodao.

Sison said that planting such false evidence is the police’s way of violating the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Sison said that when there are no witnesses, so-called “criminals in authority” kill NDFP consultants as in the case of Randy Felix Malayao.

Malayao was killed in his sleep inside a bus in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya last January 30.

Sison said the planting of firearms is meant to justify also the arrest of people or witnesses who are in the company of the NDFP consultant.

NDFP peace consultants Rafael Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad, Rey Claro Casambre and Reynante Gamarahave been arrested in succession from January 2018 and all were charged with illegal possession of firearms along with their respective companions.

“In the first place, they are even supposed not to surveil NDFP consultants under JASIG,” Sison explained.

New presidential adviser on the peace process Carlito Galvez Jr., however, said last Wednesday the JASIG is no longer operable since Duterte terminated the talks in November 2017.

“[T]he formal negotiation was terminated along with Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) through Proclamation 360 by President Rodrigo Duterte on November 2017,” Galvez said in a statement.

The NDFP, however, said the JASIG is still in effect.

“The safety and immunity guarantees for NDFP consultants are continuing even in case of breakdown or termination of the peace negotiations,” Sison said.

Baylosis was released last January 18 after the Quezon City Regional Trial Court dismissed charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against him. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)