April 11, 2010
As the election season again heats up, the continuing illegal detention of an Anakpawis Partylist and Kilusang Mayo Uno officer reminds the Filipino workers and people of how ruthless the Arroyo regime can get in trying to manipulate or sabotage the electoral process to serve its selfish ends.
Vincent “Ka Bebot” Borja was Anakpawis regional coordinator for Eastern Visayas when he was charged with a trumped-up murder case, forcibly arrested, and imprisoned last 2007 elections.
Ka Bebot has been instrumental in establishing Anakpawis chapters in various municipalities and barangays in Leyte and other Eastern Visayas provinces before his arrest. He was also regional representative to the National Council of the KMU at that time, supervising the campaign of the region’s unions to deliver votes for Anakpawis.
It was barely a week before the May 7 elections of 2007 and Ka Bebot just came from a whole-day caravan of Anakpawis, Cong. Teddy Casiño, and other progressive candidates in Ormoc. Ka Bebot, Cong. Casiño and other partylist coordinators then settled in a house of a local official in Brgy. Malinao, Ormoc City, and held a meeting to discuss the electoral campaign.
In the middle of the meeting, at around 9:00 pm, the house’s gate was forced open and around ten armed men in civilian clothes carrying M-16’s and caliber .45’s barged into the house. Outside were two six-by-six trucks, two vans, and several motorcycles with around 40 uniformed soldiers in full battle gear wearing bonnets and without nameplates. They were from the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The armed men, led by the 19th IB commanding officer himself, Lt. Col. Lope Dagoy, immediately took hold of Ka Bebot and forcibly placed the latter’s hand behind his back. When confronted, Col. Dagoy showed a defective warrant of arrest with “Tata Borja” as arestee. The warrant was issued by the military, not the Philippine National Police (PNP) which is the body empowered by law to issue warrants. When questioned about the warrant, Col. Dagoy snapped that he can present other warrants of arrest just to get Ka Bebot, and threatened those who questioned his actions, saying they can be arrested with Ka Bebot for “obstruction of justice.”
Cong. Casino and the partylist coordinators present decided to accompany Ka Bebot to ensure the latter’s safety when he was brought to Camp Downes, Altavista, Ormoc City. There, the military presented a “corrected” warrant bearing Ka Bebot’s name. Ka Bebot’s companions then asserted that he should be turned over to the PNP. Past midnight of May 8, Ka Bebot was brought to PNP-Ormoc City. On the same day, a murder case was filed against him.
Ka Bebot was accused of murdering a certain Marianito Calibo, a military man, on July 8, 2006. Three others were filed with the same murder case, together with Ka Bebot. One of them is Florencio Agunos, who was already dead five months before the date of the said murder.
The other one is “Junie Maningo” – whose name is suspiciously close to that of a KMU union officer in Leyte. And the other is Simeon Cabonegro, also an organizer of the National Federation of Labor Unions-KMU (NAFLU-KMU), who has never encountered the person he is being accused of murdering.
The lone “eyewitness” in the murder, a certain “Tito Lagarit,” has never appeared in court to testify. Activists in the area also know him as a a former military asset.
Due to the weak evidence and the continuous rescheduling of hearings due to the non-appearance of the “witness,” Ka Bebot’s lawyers filed for grant of bail on May 12, 2009. It was only this April 7, however, that the court decided to submit for resolution the motion for bail, and Ka Bebot will still have to wait for 90 days for the court to decide whether to give him temporary freedom or not.
Courage amidst repression
Ka Bebot is suffering from asthma and has had attacks every month since he was jailed. He has also lost considerable weight.
But despite this, Ka Bebot was able to lead a hunger strike in the Ormoc City Jail on August 2008 to protest the inadequate and lousy food served to the prisoners. The strike forced the jail administrators to serve inmates more decent food. Ka Bebot was able to earn high respect from his inmates and the people of Ormoc.
Ka Bebot is 41 years old. He started working as a bus conductor when was still at elementary school. He became a worker of the Philippine National Oil Company-Leyte in 1994. He was a leader in the union when it launched a strike in October 2004. He was among those dismissed because of the strike. Since then, he became a full-time organizer of the NAFLU-KMU.