NDFP consultant, 3 others arrested in ‘another wave of arbitrary arrests’

6 others ordered arrested; Gov’t designates community doctor a ‘terrorist’

A retired National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel peace consultant was arrested in what a human rights group said is another wave of arbitrary arrests and trumped up charges that involve 10 other activists.

Ruben Saluta, a participant in several formal rounds of peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in 2016 and 2017, was reported arrested in General Santos City last Sunday night.

He was arrested with his wife Presentacion and their companion Yvonee Losaria at Phase 5, Doña Soledad, Barangay Labangal in the said city.

A Manila Bulletin news report said the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police (CIDG-PNP) arrested the three on the strength of a warrant of arrest for rebellion.

Earlier arrested in March 2015 on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, Saluta was released from prison by the Rodrigo Duterte government in October 2016 to enable his participation in the peace negotiations.

In June 2018, Saluta was cleared by the court after finding “serious doubt in the prosecution evidence and in their chain of custody” of the seized firearms.

Saluta has since retired from his post after the GRP walked away from the negotiations in November 2017.

In a separate statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines confirmed that Saluta has long retired from active duty in the revolutionary underground because of his hypertension and chronic pulmonary disease.

“The Party denounces the gross inhumane treatment of the elderly revolutionaries who have lived lives in service of the oppressed and exploited masses,” the CPP added.

Human rights group Karapatan said the guns alleged to have been found with Saluta were planted, adding the elderly former peace negotiator and his wife are suffering from various illnesses.

“Previous charges against Saluta couple have been long dismissed, and it is highly possible that the evidence taken during their arrest were planted, just like in the past case against them,” Karapatan said.

‘No due process’

On Monday, Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) staff Jennifer Awingan was arrested on charges of rebellion despite not having received any subpoena.

Also reportedly included in the arrest order are CPA Chairperson Windell Bolinget, Regional Council member and abduction-torture survivor Steve Tauli, Northern Dispatch journalist Niño Oconer, farmer leader Lourdes Jimenez, and development workers Sarah Abelton and Florence Kang.

WHAT WENT BEFORE: Cordillera activist mauled and abducted

“[The respondents] were unable to be afforded their right to due process during the inquest proceedings,” Karapatan said.

“Karapatan denounces these recent arrests and trumped up charges as part of the renewed attacks against activists and political dissenters through criminalization of their work. We demand the immediate release of Awingan, the Saluta couple and Losaria, as we call for the junking of the charges against them,” the group added.

No respite for community doctor

Meanwhile, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) on Monday designated community doctor and University of the Philippines alumna Natividad Castro as a terrorist, a move both Karapatan and the group Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR) said was arbitrary.

The ATC alleged that Castro remains active in financing revolutionary communist groups and has conducted medical trainings for New People’s Army guerillas.

In a statement, the HAHR questioned the lack of a hearing or even a prior to the designation.

“Dr. Naty had no chance to rebut or even learn of the basis of the designation prior to its publication. She has been condemned as a terrorist by the ATC even before her side was heard. How can she even contest the designation when she has not even informed of the basis of such designation?” the group said.

Castro was arrested at their home in San Juan City last February 18 in a commando-style raid also by the CIDG-PNP. Branch 7 of the Bayugan City RTC in a March 25 resolution ordered her release from the Agusan del Sur provincial jail after finding no probable cause against her.

WHAT WENT BEFORE: Rights group hails Doc Naty’s release

An acknowledged champion of community-based health programs, Castro’s designation as an alleged terrorist puts at risk the lives of thousands of other community health workers and health professionals all over the country, the HAHR said.

“The ATA (Anti-Terrorism Act) and ATC (have) no place in a democratic society. The latest designation by the ATC is nothing more than a with-hunt to silence government critics,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)