Protests, Int’l Alarm Mark Beltran’s Third Month in Illegal Detention

Exactly three months have passed since Anakpawis (toiling masses) Party List Rep. Crispin Beltran was arbitrarily detained by the Arroyo administration. And the nationwide and international protests over the progressive parliamentarian’s illegal and unconstitutional detention show no signs of abating.

Nationwide Protests

In Metro Manila, protesters gathered in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila Thursday morning to denounce DOJ’s condoning of Beltran’s continuing arbitrary detention and the relentless extra-judicial killings of activists and journalists since 2001.

The Manila police, however, dispersed the rallyists even as they tried to negotiate and regroup along the nearby Taft Avenue and Liwasang Bonifacio. The militants staged a noise barrage at the Welcome Rotonda later in the afternoon in protest against the police’s harassment.

Officers of Anakpawis and the Free Ka Bel Movement (FKBM) are planning to file charges against the Manila police, led by a certain Station Commander Miranda, for “stealing” around P15,000 worth of campaign materials and paraphernalia from the group’s service vehicle during the said dispersals.

Up north, more than a hundred members of the Anakpawis-Baguio Benguet and the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance successfully spearheaded a mass action in Baguio City, capping the protest by releasing balloons with a “Free Ka Bel” streamer, Leonida Tundagui, of the KMU-Cordillera said. Noise barrages were also held by public transport formations in the Southern Tagalog and Ilocos regions.

Protests against DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzales extended to the Visayas region. Activists from Anakpawis brought their rallies to Gonzales’ hometown in Iloilo City, Anakpawis Vice-President for Visayas Nador Malicay said. Noise barrages were also held near Gaisano Metro in Cebu City.

Protests were also held in the cities of Davao, Tagum, Compostela Valley, General Santos and Polomok, with Beltran’s supporters staging a support caravan in Cagayan de Oro City.

Anakpawis vice-president for Mindanao Antonio Flores said Beltran’s continuing detention prevents reforms from being implemented, citing the congressman’s inauguration of numerous pro-poor projects in the region a few weeks before his arrest.

“Arroyo is denying us of our voice in the elite-dominated Congress. Putting Ka Bel in jail means delaying the approval of his pro-poor legislation such as the wage hike bill or House Bill 345,” Flores said.

Growing international support

While Beltran’s legal battle against the rebellion charges filed against him continues, he continues to receive international support from fellow parliamentarians, labor groups, and individuals.

Militants recently challenged Congress leadership and Malacañang to uphold the recommendations of an international organization of parliamentarians to release Beltran on the presumption of innocence. The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) during its 114th Assembly last May 12 in Nairobi, Kenya adopted a resolution urging Philippine authorities to release Beltran from detention, as recommended by the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.

The IPU Governing Council “recalls the principle of presumption on innocence, which implies that pre-trial detention should be the exception and as short as possible” and “consequently urges the authorities to release [me] forthwith, particularly in view of his state of health and the fact that the court ordered his release in March 2006”.

“Article III of the Constitution of the Philippines contains a Bill of Rights which in its Sections 12 to 19 enshrines extensive fair trial guarantees, and that the Philippines is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and thus bound to respect the right to liberty and to fair trial, as enshrined in Articles 9 and 14,” the resolution noted.

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