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NUJP launches campaign against reporters’ involvement in drug war

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, along with other media organizations, launched the ‘Sign Against the Sign’ campaign on Friday, urging Congress to repeal the law that includes journalists among the possible witnesses in anti-drug operations.

Journalists and industry leaders signed a manifesto calling for an end to the practice of making journalists witnesses to drug-bust operations, which has put a number of them in danger.

NUJP Chairperson Nonoy Espina explained that media groups have consistenly opposed this practice when it was made a requirement under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

While the law has since been amended by Republic Act No. 10640, enacted in 2014, Espina said media colleagues especially those from the provinces have reported that law enforcement units continue to require them to become witnesses, often as a condition for being allowed to cover operations.

Espina noted that as a result of this, some joirnalist have found themselves at risk of retaliation from crime syndicates.

“One of our colleages from Zamboanga del Norte has been receiving death threats from an accused drug dealer because she testified as witness in the operation. She didnt’ even want her name to be revealed because of fear. This has to stop,” Espina said.

He added that another journalist from the Visayas who regularly signed on as witness to drug inventories found himself included in a drug watchlist.

Aside from the issue of physical safety, the practice also exposes journalists to prosecution for perjury and other offenses in the event of irregularities in the conduct of anti-drug operations.

Espina said that while journalists can decline to serve as witnesses, they risk being isolated from their police sources or even normal channels of information.

“To ensure that this practice is ended once and for all, we urge Congress to craft legislation or amend the existing law,” Espina said.

The group plans to dialogue with Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and lawmakers to discuss the proposed legislation.

 

Ladlad and companions say PNP planted guns, grenades

As expected, the Philippine National Police claimed that National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant Vicente Ladlad was in possession of an assortment of guns and grenades when arrested in Barangay San Bartolome at around midnight last Thursday.

At their inquest proceedings at the Quezon City Hall of Justice Friday, however, Ladlad asserted the guns and grenades were planted by the PNP, as they did when his fellow NDFP consultants Rafael Baylosis and Adelberto Silva were taken.

The couple Alberto and Virginia Villamor were arrested with Ladlad.

Atty. Rachel Pastores, managing counsel of Public Interest Law Center and lead counsel of the accused, said there are clear defects and irregularities in the warrant presented before the Prosecutor. Atty. Pastores cited that her clients was not given a copy of the search warrant during the arrest and their constitutional rights (Miranda Law) were violated.

Atty. Pastores is hoping that the inquest prosecutors resolving to the complaint will grant their manifestions and will drop the cases against their clients. The deadline of resolution is on Monday, November 12. # (Video by Joseph Cuevas)

NDFP condemns Ladlad’s arrest, demands his immediate release

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) condemned the arrest of its peace consultant Vicente Ladlad along with couple Alberto and Virginia Villamor midnight of November 8 in Barangay San Bartolome, Novaliches, Quezon City.

The NDFP said Ladlad’s arrest is a flagrant violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) it signed with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

The group also accused arresting officers of “planting” explosives on Ladlad to justify his prolonged detention on non-bailable offenses.

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Ladlad was in possession of two assault rifles, two handguns, four grenades and assorted ammunition at the time of his arrest.

Ladlad is the third NDFP consultant actively participating in the peace talks to be arrested by the Duterte regime.

“Less than a month ago, Adelberto Silva, a member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms was arrested with five others in Sta. Cruz, Laguna on October 15 while conducting sectoral consultations,” the NDFP said.

A third consultant, Rafael Baylosis, was arrested along Katipunan Ave. in Quezon City on January 31.

Silva and Baylosis were also accused of possessing guns and explosives when arrested.

“Under the JASIG, Ladlad, Silva and Baylosis as duly accredited NDFP consultants publicly known to be involved in the peace negotiations should have been free from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions,” the NDFP said.

Just two weeks ago, Ladlad’s wife Fides Lim reported being tailed by suspected state agents riding a silver Innova van with plate number TY 4585 as she left her house.

A check with the Land Transportation Office revealed that the number is registered to a red Honda TMX motorcycle.

In a separate statement Thursday, Lim challenged the PNP to conduct a fingerprint test of all the guns the arresting officers said they found in the house where Ladlad was staying.

“They will not find a single speck of his fingerprint in any of that trove because they were all planted to keep him locked up on non-bailable charges. They faked their evidence because they have no case against him,” Lim said.

Lim said the PNP failed to present Ladlad in a press conference in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig Thursday in time for Director General Oscar Albayalde’s birthday when their stunt “flopped”.

“[T]he PNP failed to present Vic because their publicity stunt flopped when the media began interviewing me right inside that room and I said that all those guns the PNP says they captured from him were all planted,” Lim said.

“I kept on insisting that all I want is to see my husband, to verify with my own eyes that they have not harmed him in any way. But the PNP maneuvered at least three times to get me and the media out of that room,” she added.

Lim said she told the media that the PNP is doing this because it wanted to display the “planted guns” on the tables inside the room and it did not want the feisty woman around.

“What is PNP Chief Albayalde so afraid of? The truth. Because he is a liar who manufactures evidence to justify their cases that are built on pure lies,” Lim fumed.

She added it was only after nearly nine hours that she was able to see her husband when they sped after the PNP convoy that brought him back to Camp Karingal to imprison him.

“Happy birthday, Gen. Albayalde, I’m glad I rained on your parade,” Lim taunted.

The NDFP said it demands its consultants’ immediate release and the dropping of “trumped-up criminal charges” against them to end their unjust detention.

The NDFP likewise demanded the release of four other “unjusty imprisoned” NDFP consultants Rommel Salinas and Ferdinand Castillo who are being held in BJMP facilities and Eduardo Sarmiento and Leopoldo Caloza who are incarcerated at the national penitentiary. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Acting as drug war witnesses endangers journalists—NUJP

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) launched an online petition asking that journalists be spared from acting as witnesses in the government’s so-called anti-drug war.

In its petition on change.org, the NUJP called on law enforcement units to immediately end the practice of requiring journalists to sign as witnesses to the inventory of contraband and other items seized during anti-drug operations.

“Our opposition to this practice stems from the fact that it unnecessarily places journalists at risk of retaliation from crime syndicates, on the one hand, and also exposes them to prosecution for perjury and other offenses in the event of irregularities in the conduct of anti-drug operations,” the NUJP said.

Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, requires witnesses to these anti-drug operations from a representative of the Department of Justice, the media, and an elected public official.

The law was subsequently amended by Republic Act No. 10640, enacted in 2014, which made witnessing optional between a representative of the National Prosecution Service and the media.

NUJP however reported that law enforcement units continue requiring media workers to sign on as witnesses, often as a condition for being allowed to cover operations.

“Worse, there are reports that they are made to sign even if they did not actually witness the operation or the inventory of seized items. Those who decline can find their sources or the normal channels of information no longer accessible,” NUJP said.

The group urged Congress to further amend the law to completely free journalists from the practice.

NUJP said it is willing to dialogue with the Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and Congress to discuss guidelines, ground rules and other procedural issues concerning coverage of their operations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP-Negros identifies Sagay massacre gunmen

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Negros Island identified four suspects in the massacre of nine farmers in Sagay City last October 20.

In a statement, NDFP-Negros spokesperson Frank Fernandez said the killers behind the massacre were Vito Lotrago, Eduardo Linugon, Rexi Robles and a certain Rako, former members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) and active members of the Special Civilian Active Auxiliary (SCAA).

Fernandez said the Roselyn Pelle Command of the New People’s Army (NPA)-Northern Negros Front conducted an exhaustive investigation into the incident and identified the four as the perpetrators.

The NDFP official said the gunmen are under the employ of local politicians, such as the Marañons, specifically Negros Occidental governor Alfredo Jr. and Sagay City mayor Alfredo III.

“It is common knowledge that for decades the Marañon family and their kin (the Tolentinos, Sumbincos, Lumaynos, Zarosas, Javelosas, Jaojocos and Cuevas) have maintained and expanded their land holdings in Sagay City and neighboring towns and cities using violence and brutality by conniving with the AFP/PNP (Armed Forces of the Philippines/Philippine National Police) and employing armed mercenaries like the RPA and SCAA,” Fernandez said.

“I know for a fact that, for the right price, P2,000 or thereabouts, SCAA elements are willing to kill anyone,” he added.

Fernandez, a former priest, is a long-time leader of the revolutionary groups in the island.

Fernandez said the elder Marañon is the “kingpin of big despotic landlords in the province” who colludes with the AFP [and] PNP and other government agencies to downplay the Sagay massacre.

“Marañon continues his vain attempts to divert the public from the real issues of land monopoly, tyranny and exploitation,” he said.

The Marañons and the PNP have yet to reply to Fernandez’s statement.

Earlier, the local police filed multiple murder charges against two National Federation of Sugar Workers officials, alleging Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo recruited the victims into their organization and later killed them as part of the destabilization plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.

Fernandez said the police “script” stinks of deceit and ill motives that is “evidently demented.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Activists call for justice for ‘Sagay 9’

Progressive groups staged a ‘Black Friday Protest’ last October 26 at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) calling for justice for the nine victims of the Sagay City massacre earlier this month.

A candle lightning ceremony was also held to pay tribute to the martyrs of the said massacre.

National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) chairperson Rolando Rillo said that the Rodrigo Duterte government and the military must held accountable for the said massacre.

The landlord Tolentino and Marañon family and their private army are behind the massacre based on the account of the survivors, Rillo added.

NFSW stressed that their land cultivation activities are efforts to alleviate the suffering of farm workers and their families through planting of food to eat especially during dry season.

NFSW said that sugar farm workers only receive a salary of about 300-400 pesos per week and 70 percent of the sugar land earlier awarded to land reform beneficiaries have been leased back to landlords due to the lack of support of the government.

Rillo also scored DAR secretary John Castrisciones for his irresponsible statements justifying the massacre “as self defense” and asked that the secretary be relieved from his post.

The group condemned the Philippine National Police for its attempt to arrest a minor to be used as a witness against the victims and his fellow massacre survivors. # (Video by Joseph Cuevas and Maricon Montajes)

 

Fact-finding mission says paramilitary killed Sagay farmers

A national fact-finding mission on the massacre of nine farmers in Negros Occidental said suspected government agents are behind the bloodbath last October 20 even as the Philippine National Police insists so-called recruiters of the victims are the suspected perpetrators.

The mission said the likely killers are active members of the Special Civilian Auxiliary Army (SCAA) who are “commonly known” to be engaged in protecting haciendas and are under the control of the local government of Sagay City.

Based on the way the victims were brutalized after being killed and their history of killings and harassments, it is likely SCAA gunmen, numbering 10 to 15, killed the farmers, the mission said.

The group also cited earlier red-baiting statements issued by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) leading to the massacre.

The mission was composed of Salinlahi, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, KARAPATAN National Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, Gabriela Women’s Party Congresswoman Arlene Brosas and Atty. Panguban of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.

Hours before the massacre, the victims started a land cultivation activity to plant vegetables to tide them over in between sugarcane cropping activities.

Police story

The Philippine National Police, however, insisted on its story that the victims were killed as part of a plot to destabilize and oust the Rodrigo Duterte government.

PNP Region VI director John Bulalacao said they filed multiple murder charges Friday against Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo, both members of National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), as well as other John Does.

Bulalacao said Saturday that Manlangit and Arquillo deceived the victims by enticing them to join the land cultivation activity in exchange for a parcel of land once Hacienda Nene is distributed to farmers through land reform.

“[They were] persuading innocent people by promising them land not knowing that they become part of a greater force that would generate outrage to the government,” Bulalacao claimed.

Bulalacao claimed the police have eight witnesses, including the 14-year old massacre survivor Sagay police earlier tried to arrest.

The police general said their “complainant-witnesses” voluntarily submitted their respective affidavits, including the statement of the minor as witnessed by the Sagay development and social welfare office.

Upon learning that the boy was about to be arrested by local police, however, his mother Flordeliza Cabahug and mission members claimed custody of the boy.

Red-baiting and killings before the massacre

The fact-finding mission cited that in April, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has accused the NFSW as a legal front of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) and that their land cultivation activities are projects to fund NPA operations.

Last December 21, suspected SCAA members killed and burned the body of NFSW-Sagay chairperson Flora Gemola in Sagay’s Hacienda Susan.

In February 22, NFSW member Ronald Manlanat was shot in the head in Hacienda Joefred, also in Sagay.

The gunmen also shot some Hacienda Nene massacre victims on the head and burned three of them after being killed.

The mission said Hacienda Nene’s leaseholder Allan Simbingco rents 400 hectares of land of different haciendas in Sagay City alone.

“Most of the haciendas that he’s directly involved in are the ones with land disputes, even those already under so-called preliminary activities of Department of Agrarian Reform [prior to being awarded to farmer-beneficiaries],” the mission said.

Simbingco is a close relative of Sagay City mayor Alfredo Marañon III and Negros Occidental governor Alfredo Jr.

The Marañons are known to be actively recruiting former Revolutionary Proletarian Army gunmen to be part of the SCAA, the mission cited.

“In fact, the local housing project in Barangay Bulanon is allotted for SCAA members,” the mission said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP: Sagay massacre child survivor needs protection from police

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines Special Office for the Protection of Children (SOPC) called for the protection of the 14-year old Sagay City massacre survivor the police earlier tried to take into custody.

Coni Ledesma, NDFP Negotiating Panel member and SOPC head said in a statement that the victim needs psycho-social support and the nurture of his family instead of being endangered into being branded a child soldier of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“The last thing the boy needs is to be victimized and traumatized twice over by being treated like a criminal,” Ledesma, also a Negrense, said.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) tried arresting the victim last Wednesday while in the custody of the City Social Work and Development Office of Sagay and said he may be both witness and suspect in the incident last Saturday that killed nine farmers.

Sagay Police Chief Inspector Robert Reyes Mansueto denied arresting the victim and said they only tried to him “for safekeeping.”

The boy was eventually returned to his mother with the help of human rights lawyers.

Ledesma said the minor is among the most vulnerable of the Sagay massacre survivors who needs urgent intervention.

The NDFP SOPC called on human rights, civic and religious organizations and concerned individuals to come to the aid of the child.

“His parents or guardians, his teachers, people from his community must stand up and vouch for him to prevent the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP from further violating his rights,” Ledesma said.

She added that the NDFP-SOPC is willing to provide support and assistance should the boy and his family request it. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lawyer slams resolution keeping Silva and companions in jail

A lawyer for National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Adelberto Silva and his four companions slammed the Laguna Prosecutor’s Office’s decision to keep them in jail and charging them with illegal possession of explosives.

Public Interest Law Center managing counsel Rachel Pastores said Laguna chief prosecutor Maria Victoria Dado’s decision to amend the inquest resolution is part of “underhanded tactics and unforgiveable maneuvers” against her clients.

“While charges for illegal possession of firearms were maintained against only two – Silva and driver Julio N. Lusania – the prosecutor amended the inquest resolution and vacated the earlier release order for Hedda L. Calderon, Ireneo O. Atadero, and Edisel R. Legaspi,” Pastores said in a statement.

“The charges against all being non-bailable, none of them may be released,” she added.

Silva and companions were arrested last October 15 after being blocked by a combined police and military team in Sta. Cruz, Laguna while on their way to a peace consultation.

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group claimed guns, explosives and ammunition were hidden in the car the five rode in.

“Obviously, there are concerted efforts to ensure the five remain behind bars, on fake charges, in wan support of a fake destabilization narrative – all lies and jest,” Pastores said.

Both the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines alleged Silva was part of the so-called “Red October Plot” to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.

Silva denied the allegation.

Silva is vice-chairperson of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms who actively participated in both formal and back channel peace negotiations with the Duterte government since 2016.

The NDFP Negotiating Panel said Silva should be released as a Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees-protected peace consultant. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NPA on the Sagay massacre: RPA, AFP and landlords did it

The New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros Island said the culprits in the massacre of nine farmers in Sagay City Saturday evening are “mercenaries” calling themselves the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) under the command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Special Civilian Active Auxiliary (SCAA) unit stationed in Hacienda Mirasol, Brgy. Baterya, some 2 kilometers from the massacre site.

The Apolinario Gatmaitan Command of the NPA said the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the AFP should  stop its “series of heinous lies” as they only exonerate the landlords and their goons who are behind the massacre.

The NPA said the RPA is a renegade band led by Stephen Paduano alias Lualhati Carapali and other “opportunist traitors” who broke away from the NPA during the 1990s.

“The RPA has since operated simultaneously as armed goons of Negros landlords and politicians and auxiliary force of the AFP,” the group, through its local spokesperson Juanito Magbanua, said.

Hacienda Nene (also known as Hacienda Barbara), the site of the massacre where nine farm workers, including two minors, were killed is part of the vast landholdings under the control of the family of incumbent Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr, and his son, Alfredo Marañon III, incumbent mayor of Sagay City, the NPA said.

Its landlords and leaseholders, the Tolentinos and Sumbincos, are related to the Marañons who control Sagay City for many decades, the Communist guerillas added.

“For many decades, Sagay has been Marañon territory. They have used the RPA and SCAA to terrorize and murder defenseless farmers who stand against their despotic reign,” Magbanua said in a statement, adding the Marañons’ offer of a P500,000-reward for the culprits’s identification is “an outrageously barefaced ploy to cover up their tracks.”

The NPA also scored Police Regional Office-6 Director Chief Supt. John Bulalacao, Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office (NOcPPO) director SSupt. Rodolfo Castil and AFP Spokesperson Edgar Arevalo for what they call obvious attempts to gloss over state culpability.

The massacre was immediately downplayed by Castil as a “selective shooting” incident, pointing to some planted evidence of empty shells from a .38 caliber revolver and live shotgun ammunition to insinuate that an exchange of fire between perpetrators and victims transpired.

In Manila, police director general Oscar Albayalde and newly-appointed presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo echoed the police and military line the NPAs killed the victims.

“This shameless victim-blaming echoes the lies that the military and police fed the public to absolve themselves of the 2004 massacre of farm workers in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac, the biggest sugarcane estate in the country,” the NPA said.

‘Spreading disinformation’

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Negros Island also belied government accusations it was the NPA who attacked the farmers’ campout and pointed to the RPA as the culprits.

In  a statement, NDFP Negros Island spokesperson Frank Fernandez said the people of Negros know very well that the Sagay Massacre was “perpetrated by hired guns, armed by local landlords and emboldened by the climate of impunity and Duterte’s own pronouncements to stifle dissent and kill.”

Fernandez said the public must not be misled into believing that the RPA and the NPA are one and the same.

“The pseudo-revolutionary RPA is now actively integrated as auxiliary force of the AFP since their supposed ‘surrender’ and ‘peace pact’ with the government. The RPA is nothing but a horde of bandits serving as private army to big landlords such as Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco Jr and the Marañon ruling dynasty who have lorded over Sagay City and the whole province of Negros Occidental for generations,” Fernandez said.

The former Catholic priest also condemned the police and the military for spreading disinformation, planting incriminating evidence against the victims and ridiculing their call for genuine land reform.

‘Pet parrot’

Meanwhile, NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili accused Panelo of not only serving as the spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte but as national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.’s “pet parrot” as well.

Reacting to Panelo’s claims the nine victims were killed by the NPA to discredit the Duterte government, Agcaoili said Panelo, like Esperon, has no credibility to accuse the revolutionary movement.

“In 2006, Esperon attempted to put one over on UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston by submitting ‘documentary evidence’ purportedly showing that the Left was responsible for the rampant extrajudicial killings of activists under the Arroyo regime,” Agcaoili recalled.

“Alston dismissed the theory as ‘strikingly unconvincing’ and bearing ‘hallmarks of a fabrication’ which ‘cannot be taken as evidence of anything other than disinformation’,” he added.

“At least Esperon presented some bogus documents to Professor Alston to pass off as proof of his preposterous lies. Parrot Panelo just manages to be preposterous,” Agcaoili said.

‘On the side of the oppressed’

The NPA said the people are aware they are mainly a peasant army waging agrarian revolution to address the fundamental problem of landlessness and various other forms of feudal and semi-feudal exploitation prevailing in the vast Philippine countryside.

“The NPA is the fighting force of the oppressed masses; it does not carry out senseless killings like state troops and its paramilitary forces,” Gatmaitan said.

The NPA added that the massacre of the victims justify the revolution they have been waging for nearly five decades. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)