BY DENNIS ESPADA
When Jaime Fuentes, a witness of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the rebellion charges against six representatives and six other officials of progressive party-lists, removed his disguise, he was immediately recognized by volunteers of Karapatan-ST (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights-Southern Tagalog) as a military asset who harassed them during a fact finding mission.
The hooded witness who surfaced last month to accuse activists, including six progressive party-list legislators, of allegedly plotting a coup against the Arroyo government is a “military asset”. Human rights workers bumped into him during a fact-finding mission in Quezon province.
Based on a notarized affidavit presented to the media last March 30, at least 137 volunteers of Karapatan-ST (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights-Southern Tagalog chapter) identified Jaime Beltran Fuentes as the same person who introduced himself as “Omar”.
Karapatan-ST said that since February 5, the barangays (villages) of Magsaysay, Burgos and Anonang in Mulanay town were subjected to aerial bombings and strafing by the 74th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IB-PA) under the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) as part of a “hot-pursuit” operation against New People’s Army (NPA) rebels. Karapatan-ST also received reports that cases of killings, torture, property burning, illegal searches, arbitrary arrests and manhandling victimizing residents occurred creating fear among the local populace
A human rights team visited Mulanay February 8, the day 50-year-old Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) party-list member Romy Lleobet was found dead with nine gunshot wounds in Sitio Salungkagay in Burgos village. While the team was resting in a church the following morning, a certain Colonel Dulay from the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) harassed and drove them away, the group said.
Karapatan-ST volunteers took another trip to Mulanay from Lucena City February 11 passing through several military checkpoints.
At around 1:30 p.m., the delegation’s vehicles were blocked by soldiers when they reached the 74th IB-PA’s general headquarters situated in barangay Pala Ajos, Catanauan town. Soldiers conducted an illegal search on the volunteers and their vehicles. They also took video footages and photographs of the team.
Consequently, human rights workers said they had a short dialogue with a certain Mariz Panggo of the Civil Relations Service (CRS) in Fort Bonifacio, Makati City. She said she will inform the battalion commander about the group’s purpose. While talks were going on, Fuentes or “Omar” appeared and introduced himself as the “ANAD (Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy) party-list third nominee”.
“Pilit siyang sumisingit sa usapan,” (He tried to join the dialogue.) Karapatan volunteer Ding Fernandez told Bulatlat in an interview. “Nang sinita ko siya, medyo nagalit itong si Omar at sinabing, ‘Hindi n’yo ba ako kilala? Dati akong NPA na biktima ng OPML. Ano’ng gagawin n’yo rito? Tutulungan n’yo ang mga NPA?’ ” (When I asked him not to interfere in the dialogue, Omar became angry and said, “Do you not know me? I was a former NPA rebel who was a victim of OPML. What are you doing here? Are you going to help the NPA?)
Fernandez recalled that “Omar” irately went around hurling “ridiculous” accusations, saying that Karapatan is a “communist front”. The CRS representative later told them not to proceed, which they did to avoid further harassment. Mulanay’s town mayor Prudencio Maxino has as well turned down a permit for the mission to visit the affected villages, the group learned.
Fuentes was presented as a “witness” in the rebellion charges filed by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) against six representatives and six other officials of Bayan Muna (People First), Anakpawis (Toiling Masses), and Gabriela Women’s Party. Fuentes claimed he was a former NPA member and security chief of Vicente Ladlad, a Bayan Muna official.
The veteran activist denied the allegation, saying he did not have any bodyguard or security detail. The six accused party-list congressmen said they did not know Fuentes.