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)

Anti-dam activist’s abductors wanted him to turn gov’t spy

Tauli’s colleagues said kidnappers were state security forces

The abductors of anti-dam campaigner Stephen “Steve” Tauli wanted him to turn government spy and tried to force him to confirm fellow activists’ alleged links with underground revolutionary groups.

The Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) on Monday, August 29, said the Kankanaey Igorot activist was also forced to sign a sworn statement admitting he was a leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).

“The whole time, Steve was blindfolded and handcuffed, while being threatened that they could kill him anytime if he would not cooperate,” the groups said.

Tauli, CPA regional council member, was assaulted and abducted by five men at a store near the CPA office in Barangay Appas in Tabuk City, Kalinga province at around 6:45 in the evening.

“As he was leaving, five men suddenly grabbed him, blindfolded and handcuffed him, then mauled him and forced him into a black van while he was desperately struggling and screaming for help,” the groups’ joint statement said.


While inside a black van he was forced into, Tauli was blindfolded, handcuffed and mauled while he desperately struggled and screamed for help, the two organizations reported.

The victim immediately and repeatedly demanded for his captors to identify themselves and their units as well as to bring to either a police station or a military camp, instead of an unknown location. Tauli also told his abductors to file charges against him in court if they thought he had committed a crime, the CPA and the CHRA narrated.

“Here, the men started to lecture Steve about the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the government anti-insurgency program) and its objective of stopping the insurgency problem in the country. They interrogated him about his work and some people he allegedly has links with,” their statement said.

‘Under duress’

After an hour of interrogation, the van drove for another two hours, stopping on what Tauli reportedly thought was a secluded area and where the interrogation continued for several more hours.

“They said that he could help them by neutralizing certain persons they identified as leaders of the CPP-NPA in the Cordillera region,” the groups’ statement said.


The CPA and CHRA said Tauli feared for his life, knowing what had happened to his friend and fellow activist James Balao who was abducted in Baguio City in 2008 and was never surfaced.

After repeated threats to his life and thoughts of distress to his family for suddenly going missing, Tauli agreed to sign a prepared sworn statement. His kidnappers then removed his blindfold to sign the document and read it while being recorded on video.

 “They then threatened him not to report what had happened and to comply with what he had signed, otherwise they would harm him, his family, and his colleagues,” the CPA and CHRA narrated.

Tauli reportedly told the groups his wearing masks the entire time.

Tauli was released by his kidnappers the next evening, August 21, near where he was abducted and was made to walk to the CPA-Kalinga office. His colleagues, who were about to continue to search for him that night, found the victim dazed and in shock, the organizations said.

Red-tagged anti-dam activist

The groups said that Tauli, like fellow CPA leaders and members, were subject to red-tagging, surveillance and harassment before the incident.

Tauli’s abduction came at a time while CPA-Kalinga launched a campaign against the Saltan Dam and right after his group filed a petition for a Writ of Amparo at the Court of Appeals because of the continuing red-tagging and attacks against human rights defenders.

Saltan River as seen from below a Balbalan, Kalinga Bridge. (R. Villanueva)

Saltan River in upper Kalinga province is considered one of the country’s cleanest inland waterway. It is a major tributary of the Chico River system and passes through the famed Balbalasang Balbalan National Park, “the green heart of the Cordillera.”

The Saltan D River Hydroelectric Power Project is listed to be on its pre-development stage and awarded by the government to a company called the JBD Management and Consulting Services, Inc.

“We are of the firm belief that the swift response of family, colleagues and the wider community to immediately search for him, government officials who stood by their mandate to protect their constituents, and the public outcry forced his abductors to release Steve Tauli,” the CPA and CHRA said.

“His was a near-death experience in the hands of his abductors who clearly were part of the State security forces,” they added.

The groups said Tauli and his family are still reeling from the deep trauma caused by his abduction and threats to his life are still continuing. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Abducted activist found, regional human rights group announces

Abducted activist Stephen “Steve” Tauli had been found Sunday evening after a search by his organization, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) announced.

“After the search initiated by [the] CPA (Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance) in Kalinga, including persistent calls made to the local government units, PNP (Philippine National Police), and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), Steve Tauli was found at around 10 pm today,” CHRA said in an update Sunday evening.

The group has yet to disclose exactly where Tauli is and who was responsible in his disappearance for more than 24 hours since he was reportedly beaten up and abducted by five men along five men along Ag-a Road in Tabuk City.

National human rights group Karapatan said CCTV footage showed the abductors entering and leaving the CPA-Kalinga office prior to the assault Saturday evening between 6 to 9 in the evening.

“He is still in shock and needs to recover to be able to state the full accounts of what took place since the assault on him yesterday (Saturday evening), CHRA said.

Tauli is a CPA regional council member and husband to CPA vice chairperson Jill Cariño.

He, along with several other CPA leaders and members, had been victims to red-tagging, surveillance and harassment by government agents, the group added.

Last week, alleged drug personality turned government anti-insurgency spokesperson Jeffry Celis reportedly red-tagged the CPA in a forum at the Kalinga State University, the CHRA said.

A Kankanaey indigenous activist in the Cordilleras, Tauli is a staunch defender of the indigenous people’s right to ancestral domain and self-determination proven by his years of involvement in many land rights campaigns against destructive energy and mining projects, the CHRA said.

Tauli is also connected with farmers’ group Timpuyog Dagiti Mannalon ti Kalinga, the group said.

“At present, Steve is active in the Kalinga peoples’ struggle against the proposed two big hydropower projects of JBD Water Power Inc. (JWPI)- the 49 MW Saltan D and 45 MW Saltan E Dams along the Saltan River,” CHRA said.

Prior to becoming a full-time activist, Tauli graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Forestry degree from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños and was active in the university’s Green Mountain Circle.

The 63-year old activist is also a member of the Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity.

Tauli had been an activist since the Cordillera peoples’ struggle against the Chico Dam project during the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. government and has “persistently campaigned against dams, mines, and other forms of development aggression against the Cordillera peoples,” Karapatan said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Cordillera activist mauled and abducted

Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance council member Steve Tauli remains missing

An activist and indigenous peoples’ leader had been abducted in Tabuk City on August 20 and has since gone missing, an activist organization revealed.

 Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) regional council member Stephen “Steve” Tauli had been abducted after being mauled by five men along Ag-a Road in Tabuk City, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) announced in an urgent alert.

The abductors, also reported to have entered the premises of the CPA office, are believed to be government agents, the CHRA said.

“Prior to this incident, Steve was subjected to red-tagging, surveillance and harassment as has been experienced by CPA leaders and members,” the human rights group added.

A forum at the Kalinga State University in Tabuk City last week again red-tagged the CPA through one of its speakers, alleged drug personality turned government anti-insurgency spokesperson Jeffry Celis, the CHRA said.

The CPA is a regional federation of grassroots-based organizations among indigenous communities in the Cordillera.

Tauli is the husband of CPA vice chairperson Jill Cariño.

The CHRA said it urgently appeals for public support in their search for the missing activist.

“We call [on] the [government for Steve to be immediately and unconditionally surfaced alive,” the CHRA said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)