“Sinasabi po nila (pulis) na itong mga bata (estudyanteng Lumad) ay ni rescue. State terrorism po ito laban sa mga batang Pilipino… Dahil sa track record ng Pamahalaang Duterte, kailanman hindi ito naging kakampi ng kabataang Pilipino. [Kaya naman] hindi po tayo makapapayag na magpatuloy ang ganitong pang-aabuso laban sa karapatan ng mga bata.” — Kim Viznar, Children’s Rehabilitation Center
Media groups condemned government prosecutors and the police for their refusal to free Manila Today editor Lady Ann “Icy” Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago after the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissed charges of illegal possession of arms and explosives against the two.
The executive board of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT)-Philippine chapter said “dark forces” are preventing Salem and Esparago from regaining their freedom.
“[T]here are dark forces, it seems, lurking to keep her (Salem) from returning to the folds of journalism and do what she does best – speaking truth to power,” IAWRT said in a statement.
The group said it had been more than a week since the trumped-up charges against Salem and Esparago had been dropped but both remain in jail after prosecutors from the Mandaluyong City prosecutor’s office and the Mandaluyong police contested the decision.
IAWRT however pointed out that the Court found the search warrant used to enter her home was declared invalid and the evidence against the two accused as inadmissible.
“It stands to reason that she should be freed, following this historic decision,” the group said.
Earlier, Salem’s lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center said the Court’s decision was “based on evidence, and on the merits of the case.” As such, the “issuance of a release order should be automatic and mandatory.”
IAWRT-Philippine Chapter urged the Mandaluyong RTC to look into Salem’s urgent motion for release.
“The planted evidence and trumped-up charges filed against her have been proven false and she deserves no less but freedom and justice to finally be served,” it said.
In a statement issued from London, Violet Gonda, IAWRT International President, said that Salem was arrested for her journalism.
“Journalism is not a crime. No one deserves to be kept behind prison bars for exercising the right to freedom of speech nor deserves persecution for being a journalist.”
Salem is also IAWRT-International communication officer.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also condemned the police and the prosecutors “for cruelly continuing to block freedom for Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago despite the dismissal of the obviously trumped up criminal charges against them.”
The law is meant to protect, not persecute, the people, the NUJP said, urging the prosecutors to respect Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio’s ruling that Salem and Esparago’s arrest violated the Constitution and the Rules of Court.
Quisimbing-Ignacio also scored the police for going on a “fishing expedition” and providing “inconsistent” testimonies.
“If anything, the judgment should be more than enough reason not only to release Icy and Rodrigo but also to hold accountable each and everyone involved in this clear attempt to pervert the law,” the NUJP said in a statement.
The group bewailed that Philippine laws are turned into weapons “by the very people supposedly sworn to uphold it and wielded against those supposed to benefit from it.”
“Yet here we see the city prosecutor and police advocating double jeopardy!” the NUJP said.
Both media groups also called for the immediate resolution of the case involving Eastern Vista executive director Frenchie Mae Cumpio who was arrested on similar charges in Tacloban City last February 7, 2020. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
“Ipinapanawagan ng KMU na ilantad at labanan ng mga manggagawa ang ganitong aktibidad ng rehimeng Duterte at mga ahenteng militar at intelligence nito laban sa kilusang-paggawa. Nananawagan kami sa lahat ng biktima ng ganitong atake na ilahad ang kanilang mga kwento at isiwalat ang modus operandi ng pekeng pagpapasuko ng PNP.” — Elmer Labog, Tagapangulo, Kilusang Mayo Uno
Activists in Aklan province asked local political and church leaders to stop a repeat of mass killings and arrests of civilians by the police.
In an open letter to Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores, Representatives Carlito Marquez and Teodorico Haresco Jr., the Diocese of Kalibo, and the local media as well as to residents, members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Aklan and the Makabayan bloc appealed for the preemption of a repeat of the massacre of nine Tumandok tribespeople and the mass arrest of 16 others last December 30.
“[W]e are conveying our appeal to all of you to take necessary actions so as to preempt the perceived occurrence of a SEMPO (Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations)-like operation in the province of Aklan that might cost lives of civilians,” the activists said in their January 24 letter.
The activists explained they suspect that another SEMPO is about to happen, this time against leaders and members of both BAYAN-AKLAN and the MAKABAYAN Bloc in the province.
Makabayan is a group of progressive political parties that are members of the House of Representatives, including Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Kabataan Youth Party and ACT Teachers Party.
“We are making the public aware that the gale of red-tagging campaign of the NFT-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) is blowing strongly in the province of Aklan amid (the) crisis of COVID19,” they said.
The activists said tarpaulins demonizing their groups abound in Kalibo City while surveillance and monitoring of their activities increased since January 4.
The activists suspect that State forces are behind the harassments.
The 12th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army also increased its harangues against their organizations on its Sunday block time radio program, the activists complained.
The Tumandok had been subjected to the same threats and harassments before the Rizal Day massacre and mass arrests, the letter explained.
“The current red-tagging and subjecting of activists under intense surveillance are incidents that serve as preludes to warrant-less search and arrests, massacre and killings,” the activists said.
The appeal added that local political and church leaders personally know the activists who are engaged with them in dialogues and humanitarian activities for Aklanon’s welfare.
“Yes we are activists, but we are not terrorists,” the letter said.
“[W]e are appealing to the provincial government of Aklan through Governor Florencio T. Miraflores and to the Chairman of the Committee of on Human Rights in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Aklan to immediately take necessary action to protect our civil, constitutional and human rights as your constituents in the province,” the activists said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
Journalists in Sorsogon expressed dismay and disbelief over police claims it was the New People’s Army (NPA) that killed a former radio reporter on September 14 last year.
In a statement, the Sorsogon media condemned allegations made by Sorsogon City police chief Lt. Col. Benito Dipad and Sorsogon provincial police head Col. Arturo Brual that two NPA members killed broadcaster Jobert Bercasio.
The journalists said the police press conference last January 21 failed to merit praises and jubilation from the victim’s family and friends as it lacked credibility and plausibility and was even comical.
“That the police relied on a ‘walk-in’ witness who was not even sure of his role in the conspiracy should be a cause for concern on the credibility of the case,” the statement said.
The journalists expressed further incredulity when Dipad said the victim may have been suspected by the NPA as a government informer.
“Obviously, the police have failed, again, to check, despite its constant stalking, that as early as September 20 of last year, the regional spokesperson of the National Democratic Front-Bicol, Maria Roja Banua, had already made a statement that refutes such theory,” the journalists said.
The reporters revealed that the NPA had been a convenient escape for the PNP to attribute crimes to the NPA whenever they fail to solve them.
“[W]hen police attribute(s) a crime to the NPAs, it’s tantamount to saying they could not solve the case. It’s a subtle admission of utter failure,” they added.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said it shares the dismay and incredulity of its Sorsogon colleagues.
“We commend our Sorsogon colleagues and are one with them in insisting that the investigation into Jobert Bercasio’s murder be credible because what he deserves – as do all of our fallen colleagues – is justice, not made into a pawn for anyone’s agenda or the subject of cheap propaganda,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
Six of the 14 Norzagaray, Bulacan farmers charged with theft for harvesting their own crops have been arrested by the police Monday night, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said.
In an alert, the farmers’ group said Salvacion Abonilla, John Jason Abonilla, Jenny Capa, Marilyn Olpos, Catherine Magdato, and Eden Gualberto were taken to the police station in Norzagaray at past seven o’clock in the evening last January 18.
All are members of the Samahang Magsasaka ng San Mateo (SAMA-SAMA) and are residents of Sitio Compra, Barangay San Mateo.
The farmers were charged with theft after Royal Mollucan Realty Holdings Inc. (RMRHI) guards alleged they chanced on the six and eight others harvesting coconuts and bananas inside a 75.5-hectare disputed property.
The farmers said it could not have been theft if they were harvesting the crops they themselves planted on a property that their elders have tilled when the area was still wilderness.
The KMP denounced the arrests as harassment of the farmers who have a more legitimate claim to the land than the realty company.
It also denounced the Philippine National Police for “abetting a landgrabber” and for violating a court of Appeals decision ordering the Office of the President to award the land to agrarian reform program beneficiaries.
The disputed property had been placed in a Notice of Coverage as well as Compulsory Acquisition under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
“Since the 1950s, peasant families lived and tilled the agricultural lands located in Sitio Compra, Brgy. San Mateo, Norzagaray Bulacan. Around 50 families cultivate the 75-hectare land planted with rice, corn, varieties of vegetables, and other crops,” the KMP said.
The farmers’ ancestors were tenants who paid land rent to the family of former landowner Roman Aquino, the group added.
The KMP revealed that the arrested women farmers were forced to leave their young children unattended at their homes as their husbands are all away for work.
The group also recalled that in February and October 2019, Royal Mollucan demolished a total of 38 houses within the farmers’ community, forcing farmers to leave their farms and look for livelihood outside the fenced agricultural land.
The KMP said the arrested farmers have no money to pay for bail. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
Human rights organizations branded as harassment and political persecution the ongoing intense police surveillance against a prominent Cordilleran activist.
Front Line Defenders (FLD) and the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) said the family and friends of activist Windel Bolinget have been constantly harassed for information on his whereabouts since he had been informed of a warrant of arrest against him last December.
Bolinget and 10 others had been charged with murder by the Office of the Provincial prosecutor of Davao del Norte, at the southern part of the country, for their alleged involvement in the killing of Garito Malibato, a member of a local indigenous peoples’ organization called Karadyawan, in March 2018.
FLD said the murder charge appears to be fabricated as Bolinget has never been to Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte where Malibato was murdered.
The group added that local indigenous organizations pointed to the paramilitary group Alamara as the real perpetrators of the murder.
“Further, a relative of the victim also expressed that Malibato had received several death threats from the same paramilitary group before he was killed,” FLD said.
The group reported that since December, there has been intense physical surveillance on Bolinget at his house and at the CPA office in Baguio City.
“Windel Bolinget’s family and colleagues fear that, if the defender is arrested, he may be subjected to the tokhang-style execution (extrajudicial killing under the pretext of ‘resisting arrest’), which is a common occurrence in the country,” FLD said.
Victim of vilification
It is not the first time that Bolinget had been under threat by State forces, the group revealed, noting that the activist was included in a military hit list, along with other CPA leaders in 2006.
In February 2018, the Department of Justice’s terrorist proscription list also included him but was eventually dropped from the record due to lack of proof.
Bolinget is also a victim of an intense social media vilification campaign since last year branding him as well as his family and colleagues as terrorists.
Last December 10, International Human Rights Day, flyers with Bolinget’s photo alleging he is a recruiter of the New People’s Army were scattered in Baguio City and La Trinidad, Benguet province.
‘Will not be silenced’
In a statement last Thursday, January 14, Bolinget denied the allegations.
“I am not a member of the New Peoples’ Army nor am I a terrorist. I am an unarmed civilian and I believe that continuing the activist tradition of indigenous peoples for human dignity, social justice, land and environment is crucial in our society,” Bolinget said.
“In due time, I will engage the services of lawyers and challenge my case. I will not be silenced by a fabricated charge,” he added.
Earlier, the CPA launched an online appeal to have charges against its leader dropped, saying Bolinget did not commit any murder or physical harm against any individual.
“The trumped-up case is obviously meant to silence him and the CPA from asserting indigenous peoples’ rights and human rights against development aggression (destructive mining and dam projects) and rights violations. It is the latest of a series of attacks against Bolinget,” the group said.
The CPA said the charge against its leader is part of systematic attacks of the Rodrigo Duterte government against political dissenters and human rights activists through the implementation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
A member of the Kankanaey and Bontok indigenous peoples in Mountain Province, Bolinget is a veteran environment defender and human rights activist who had been part of the CPA for 23 years as Education Commission Officer, Secretary General and now Chairperson.
He has long been known as an indigenous activist strongly committed to his work, the CPA said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
Farmers’ homes were demolished in Orion, Bataan by a combined forced of about 200 police officers and a 100-member demolition team in Sitio Bangad, Orion, Bataan last Thursday, January 14, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) reported.
The KMP said former Government Service Insurance Corporation president Federico Pascual ordered the demolition of houses owned by 42 families to give way to a lucrative residential project with Sta. Lucia Realty.
Police officers in full battle gear assisted the demolition team, KMP-supplied photos show.
“The ongoing demolition is the latest in a series of displacement of farmers and residents in the area. In February 2020, the collective resistance of farmers has succeeded in preventing the attempts of Pascual’s men to demolish and displace the farmers and their families,” the KMP said.
Last March 23, 2020, at the height of the coronavirus lockdown and quarantine in Luzon, Pascual ordered the fencing of the disputed land and displaced the farmers from the 33-hectare landholding, KMP said.
The farmer-families said they have been tilling the land with palay, vegetables, and fruit-bearing trees for over two decades as part of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Zaldy Montemayor, leader of local farmers group Samahan ng mga Magbubukid sa Sitio Bangad, said Pascual had been manoeuvring to have the farmers exempted from CARP but the businessperson could not present proper documents issued by the Land Registration Authority.
Aside from being a former GSIS president, Pascual is also the President of the Bataan Peninsula State University, a member of the Bureau of Customs Governing Council, chairperson of the San Antonio Resources Inc, and a shareholder Sinagtala Farm Resort and Retreat Park located in Bataan.
Pascual also owns shares in several other companies, and formerly held corporate leadership posts at the Philippine National Bank, Allied Banking Corp., and Alabang Country Club as well as a director of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
The KMP said Pascual is using his wealth and influence in his actions against the farmers of Sitio Bangad.
The group said the Bataan incident followed the destruction of houses and attacks on farmers at Hacienda Yulo in Calamba City.
Terror at Hacienda Yulo
In Laguna, armed guns and goons of the Yulo-owned San Cristobal Realty demolished two houses while they trained high-powered guns on terrified residents, the KMP reported
Last January 9, the group said goons also attacked a certain Jojo De Leon while ransacking and destroying several houses.
The perpetrators also fired their guns that injured four farmers, the group added.
The Hacienda Yulo incidents were the latest in an ongoing harassment campaign against the farmers that started in July 2020, the KMP said.
“These include the fencing off of farm lots, destruction of crops and burning of houses of the farmers,” KMP said.
WATCH: Terror at Hacienda Yulo
As in Bataan, the Yulo family is trying to drive away farmers to pave the way for a deal between San Cristobal Realty and Ayala Land, Inc., the group said.
“The farmers had been tilling the land since 1911. It was them who developed the land and they have all the right to continue farming and living in it,” KMP added.
Yesterday, KMP also reported that farmers in Norzagaray, Bulacan were charged with theft for harvesting their own coconut and banana crops by another private company, Royal Mollucan Realty Holding Inc.
“Just how heartless the land grabbing families of Villar, Yulo, Ayala, Pascuals, can be? A pandemic, widespread joblessness and bankruptcy, and successive typhoons have already ravaged the lives of poor farmers, and yet these landed haciendero-oligarchs continue to violently eject our food security frontliners,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
The Australian nun deported by the Rodrigo Duterte government condemned the string of assassinations and massacres of indigenous peoples, farmers, and critics during the holiday season.
Sr. Patricia Fox, NDS, deported in April 2018 on allegations she attended a protest rally in Davao City, said the Duterte government rushed to commit more human rights abuses before the year 2020 ended.
Speaking as spokesperson of the Asia-Pacific Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (APCHRP), Sr. Fox said President Duterte took advantage of the Covid-19 lockdowns to orchestrate a crackdown on activists, with many being arrested on dubious charges while several others were killed.
“Two days before the year ended, the Duterte regime’s armed operatives launched simultaneous police and military operations in the islands of Panay and Bohol that resulted in the death of 10 people and the arrest of 17 others,” Sr. Fox said.
The nun cited the massacre of nine Tumandok tribespeople and the arrest of 17 others in Panay Island and the assassination of activist farmer Lorenzo “Dodoy” Paña in Bohol province last December 30.
Sr. Fox echoed reports by local human rights organizations that the simultaneous raids in Tapaz, Capiz province and Calinog, Iloilo province were cold-blooded execution of the victims.
“Family members of Eliseo Gayas, one of the men killed, narrated how they were ordered to go out of their house. When armed operatives entered, they killed Eliseo outright with four gunshots. Two other victims – Mario Aguirre and Roy Giganto – had their houses forcibly entered as operatives shot them dead inside while they were asleep, in the presence of their respective families,” Sr. Fox said.
Paña, like those massacred and arrested in Panay, was a red-tagging victim and no stranger to harassment by State forces, the nun pointed out.
“These senseless murders are a continuation of the string of human rights attacks we have witnessed this year against activists, lawyers, farmers, trade unionists, and even health workers,” Sr. Fox said.
In the same statement, the APCHRP said it strongly condemns the killing of nine Tumandok in Panay Island and the assassination of Dodoy Paña in Bohol.
“We also call for the immediate release of the 17 indigenous activists arrested in the same operation in Panay,” the APCHRP said.
The year 2020 will be forever remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recessions it caused. However, it should also be noted as the apex of the Duterte regime’s barbarity and utter disregard for human rights, the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison denies the order to form and deploy New People’s Army (NPA) urban partisan units came from him.
Asked to react to the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) announcement it is looking at possible charges against him, Sison said the new allegations that he ordered the deployment is a “pure concoction of the butcher (PNP chief Debold) Sinas and his fascist superiors.”
Sison said he is not in any position to give any special order to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) or the NPA to deploy partisans.
Sison said he was among the guests in a recent international webinar on human rights violations of the Rodrigo Duterte government when other speakers and inquirers from the audience brought up the issue of the possible revival of the NPA’s armed city partisan units.
He said he merely acknowledged the fact that there had been such a strong public clamor since 2016 when the mass murder of suspected street-level users of illegal drugs had been perpetrated by the police.
“Although I acknowledged the public clamor during the webinar, I was careful to state that it is the Central Committee of the CPP that decides such questions concerning the nationwide revival of the armed city partisans,” Sison said.
“[A]nd I referred to the publications of the CPP and the statements of Marco Valbuena, CPP spokesman, that the CPP is really concerned about the brutal extrajudical killings being done by the military and police under the direction of the chief butcher Duterte,” he explained.
Sinas announced Monday that the PNP is looking at filing a complaint against Sison after alleging the partisan unit deployment is a standing order from him.
Sinas said he already spoke with PNP legal officers for the possible filing of a complaint against Sison.
“We are looking at its possible effect, if his statement can be used against him for any criminal case. I have already talked to some of our legal officers to ask if there is a case for threat, whatsoever, that could be filed over his pronouncements,” Sinas, in Filipino, told a press briefing.
“Once our legal team determines the case that could be filed, then we will file the case in court,” the police chief added.
A review of the CPP’s 41st anniversary statement however showed that its plan to revive its urban partisan units was announced as early as December 26, 2009.
“We must have a plan to increase the number of Red commanders and fighters, units of the NPA and guerrilla fronts from around 120 to 180 in order to cover the rural congressional districts and gain the ability to deploy armed city partisan units in the urban congressional districts,” part of the statement said.
“The NPA can take the initiative of developing armed city partisan warfare and launching special operations against enemy facilities and anti-people enterprises in order to force the enemy forces to go on guard duty and put more of its troops on the defensive,” it added.
The CPP said the NPA in urban areas must target for arrest and trial violators of human rights and international humanitarian law. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)