Benguet Activist Leader Accused of Murder, Jailed

“He is a law-abiding citizen. He has done nothing wrong. He does not deserve to be treated like this. He should be released immediately and unconditionally.” This was the statement of Windel Bolinget of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), a colleague of Jose “Joe” Cawiding who was arrested by police on Oct. 1 for allegedly being involved in an ambush against Army forces in 2003.

BY KIM QUITASOL
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 35, October 7-13, 2007

BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) — “He is a law-abiding citizen. He has done nothing wrong. He does not deserve to be treated like this. He should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

This was the statement of Windel Bolinget of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), a colleague of Jose “Joe” Cawiding who was arrested by police on Oct. 1 for allegedly being involved in an ambush against Army forces in 2003.

Earlier police reports cited pending murder charges against Cawiding as basis for the arrest. The police tagged Cawiding as an intelligence officer of the New People’s Army (NPA) involved in a July 14, 203 ambush on soldiers in Talubin, Mt. Province.

Bolinget said that the cases are “fabricated charges” meant to harass and immobilize Cawiding. He said this arrest is part of a national policy of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration to neutralize legitimate progressive organizations critical of “anti-people programs” of the government.

“This clearly is political persecution,” he said. “This is part of the work of the government’s Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), which is tasked to file charges against members and leaders of people’s organizations to silence critics of the GMA administration.”

Cawiding is the current secretary-general of the Metro-Baguio Tribal Elders Assembly (MBTELA) and an accredited local mediator of the Philippine Mediation Center of the Supreme Court. He is also a former Baguio-Benguet coordinator of Bayan Muna (People First).

Bayan Muna national vice chairperson Many Loste stressed that Cawiding could not possibly be involved in the July 14, 2003 ambush because he was attending a Bayan Muna National Council meeting on the same date at Teacher’s Camp in Baguio City.

(These charges are) bare-face lies,” Loste said. “Joe (Cawiding) and I were both participants of the Bayan Muna council meeting held on the same day the ambush took place. This I can testify to.”

Trumped up charges

Randy Kinaud of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), legal counsel for Cawiding, questioned the authenticity of the charges. He said the charges were based on an affidavit of a certain Rudy Cawili, an alleged rebel returnee.

Cawili in his affidavit claimed he was with Cawiding during the said ambush. He added that Cawiding is a native of Abra.

“As early as 2003 when we learned of the murder charges filed against several John Does and a certain Jose Cawiding, we immediately went to court to verify if the Cawiding listed in the charge sheet is the same as our Cawiding,” Kinaud explained.

Kinaud further said the resolution of the case took very long because the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) failed to produce Cawili. He added that the charges were shelved. “If Rudy Cawili is a real person why is he not appearing in court?” he stressed.

Kinaud said they petitioned for the temporary release of Cawiding.

Cawiding is currently in the custody of the Benguet Provincial Police Office (BPPO) in Camp Bado Dangwa, La Trinidad, Benguet.

Cawiding’s arrest

Jeanette Ribaya-Cawiding of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Cawiding’s wife, said her husband actually submitted himself to the police to finally clear his name. She said the cases were shelved briefly in 2003 but were revived during the 2007 elections.

“When we heard of a floating warrant of arrest against him, he called a police friend and decided to submit himself to, once and for all, put an end to all these,” she explained.

Jeanette said the charges were fabricated to harass and stop her husband from doing his organizing work. She said her husband’s involvement in campaigns on major issues in Baguio-Benguet is the reason he is being accused of these crimes.

“This is very hard for the family. It is very hard to explain it to our children as they are still very young,” she said. “It is also hard to explain it to the rest of the family especially to our parents who are very old and sickly.”

Jeanette also disclosed that after the murder charges against her husband, in 2006 they were subjected to three months of close surveillance by suspected military agents. “This was at the height of political killings in the country,” she added.

“I ask our friends and colleagues to continue supporting us as he faces all these charges in court and to work for finally putting at end to political persecution against all leaders and members of legitimate progressive organizations,” Jeanette ended. Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat

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