Soldiers Pounce on Young Negros Artists; CHR Calls Arrest ‘Illegal’

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Negros has described the arrest by government soldiers of a group of 11 theater members as “illegal.” It will investigate the case.

By Karl G. Ombion

BACOLOD City – In these days of politically-motivated abductions and killings, the military arm doesn’t even spare cultural artists.

Last Sept. 13, at around 11 a.m., 11 young members of the cultural group Teatro Obrero (TO) were rehearsing in sitio (sub-village) Batu-Bato, Barangay Tabun-ac, Toboso town when they were arrested by soldiers of the Army’s 11th Infantry Brigade and suspected rebels belonging to the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Buncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB).

The cultural artists were rehearing for a performance commemorating the Escalante massacre to be held Sept. 21. Toboso is 125 kms north of Bacolod.

The arresting unit alleged the eleven as recruits of the “Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA)” in the area.

Lt. Col. Felicisimo Budiongan, Executive Officer 303rd Infantry Brigade said villagers tipped off the young artists as “armed men.”

After several hours of military interrogation, the Teatro Obrero members were turned over to the Toboso police at around 7:30 pm. The group was released two hours later after officers of National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and a delegation of the rights group Karapatan intervened and vouched for their legal identities.

Nona Espinosa, TO secretary general, however denied Budiongan’s allegations. TO is a cultural arm of the NFSW.

In a press conference held Sept. 15 at the NFSW office in this city, Nona said that TO is a legitimate organization of labor-based cultural artists which was founded in the 1980s. It has since been in active in promoting workers’ plight, problems and struggles through community theatres, songs, dances, and dramas.

Nona condemned their arrest as a curtailment of the people’s rights to organize and to free expression.

“The military is just concocting stories to justify their campaign of political repression against progressive organizations,” she said.

She added that this is a proof that the Macapagal-Arroyo regime has tagged all leftists and critics as “enemies of the state” and therefore subject to political harassments and even extra-judicial killings.

“Had our superiors not able to rescue us on time, all or some of us may have been missing already,” she said.

Teatro Obrero will file charges against the 11th IB PA and the RPA-ABB for the unwarranted arrest.

Reacting to the incident, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Sept. 16 that it would investigate the arrest of the TO members.

The local CHR called the arrest as “illegal” since there were no overt actions or violations they committed to justify their arrest. (

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