Witnesses under Church protection, hounded by state agents

Witnesses to the recent killings of minors have sought refuge with church and human rights groups while being hounded by state agents.

Human rights group Rise Up for Life and for Rights (Rise Up) announced Saturday it is providing protective custody to Thomas Bagcal after he asked them for sanctuary.

Bagcal was identified by the Philippine National Police as the taxi driver who was allegedly held up by 17-year old Carl Angelo Arnaiz who ended up dead in Navotas City last August 19.

Bagcal is a potential witness in the death of Arnaiz, Rise Up said.

Arnaiz’s reported companion, 14-year old Reynaldo de Guzman, was found dead with 30 stab wounds in Gapan City, Nueva Ecija last September 5, nearly three weeks after the two boys went missing.

Rise Up said they affirmatively responded to the Bagcal family’s request and has been keeping him since September 4 amid the public’s queries for his whereabouts.

“[We have] provided sanctuary during the period of Mr Bagcal’s serious discernment, soul-searching, and firm decision-making,” the group said.

“We are moved by the family’s trust and confidence in Rise Up in assisting them in these very trying and challenging times,” it added in a statement.

A source told Kodao that Bagcal would soon make a public statement on the issue.

Rise Up is a network of church people and human rights advocates dedicated to working with poor families affected by drug-related extra-judicial killings under the Duterte administration.

The group said they ensure individuals and families of protection from harm and threat as it provides burial assistance, psychosocial therapy and spiritual formation, rehabilitation, documentation and legal assistance as they seek justice.

 ‘Thieves striking in the night’

Meanwhile, the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) slammed the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) for its late night attempt to take custody of a child witness to the killing of 17-year old Kian delos Santos.

The child and his father sought sanctuary with Caloocan Roman Catholic Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.

The Saturday night standoff at Caloocan’s San Roque Cathedral ended with the father staying with his child at the church, MAT said.

“Attempts by the PAO and CIDG to pressure the father and then badmouthing him on media are signs of their bad faith,” MAT in a statement Sunday said.

“These acts put to doubt the CIDG and PAO’s capacity to conduct an impartial and just investigation of Kian’s case. Neither does it foster trust that they can provide respect and protection for witnesses,” the statement added.

The PAO through its chief Persida Acosta had been actively involved in public wrangling for the custody of witnesses to the killing of Delos Santos in Caloocan City last August 16.

“We thank Bishop David for providing sanctuary to the witness and his family at this challenging time,” MAT said.

“We ask the public to be vigilant. The PAO and CIDG tried doing this at the middle of the night and on a weekend –like thieves striking in the dark,” it added.

MAT has called for a big rally against extrajudicial killings on Sept 21, 40th anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law, at Rizal Park to demand an end to the killings. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)