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)

Groups condemn harassment, surveillance vs Cordilleran activist

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)