The military’s star witness finally appeared in court only to say that he does not even know Vincent Borja.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Labor leader Vincent “Bebot” Borja, 41, was at last freed from prison after the lone witness in the “trumped-up charges” leveled against him has finally made an appearance in a court hearing, and admitted under oath that indeed, he does not recognize Borja and he was not involved in the crime the witness was supposed to have seen.
“The military has not just confirmed the innocence of Ka Bebot, but also their malicious intent to invent charges against progressive leaders to jail them and prevent their noble advocacies,” KMU General Secretary Roger Soluta said in a statement.
Vincent “Ka Bebot” Borja (Photo from http://freekabebot.wordpress.com/ )
Borja is KMU National Council Member for Eastern Visayas. At the time of his violent arrest in May 2007, where the military in plain clothes and not the police had come to enforce a “defective warrant of arrest” (it did not match Vincent Borja’s name), Borja was also the regional coordinator of the Anakpawis Partylist. He was also serving as regional chairman of the KMU affiliate National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU).
“Our persistent protests and collective action all over the nation pressured the military and government to finally release Ka Bebot. We celebrate Ka Bebot’s release with joy that he can now serve the people outside jail, and with passion to further expose the military’s lies,” Soluta added.
Trade Union Repression Cum Counter-insurgency Programs
It has taken the government three long years just to present their so-called star witness, who was eventually forced to admit that Borja was innocent, Soluta said, adding that while the labor center is happy over Borja getting freed at last, they fear that with the recent Supreme Court approval of the anti-terror law called Human Security Act, a more intensified repression looms over the progressive people’s movement.
“The HSA will legitimize red-tagging and malicious interpretations of the military on critical actions against the government. The right to protest and to advocate genuine changes is still in danger under (Noynoy) Aquino,” Soluta said.
Borja’s arrest three years ago had been a big military operation. Witnesses recalled that around ten men in civilian clothes and armed with M-16 rifles and caliber .45 handguns had barged into a house where Borja was meeting with party-list leaders, including then visiting Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño. The soldiers forced open the gate. Outside, witnesses said the soldiers parked 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.
When asked why the soldiers and not the police came to serve the arrest warrant, which also happened to be defective, the 19th IB commanding officer Lt. Col. Lope Dagoy himself reportedly told Rep. Casiño that he can present other warrants of arrest just to get hold of Ka Bebot. Dagoy also threatened that they would file charges of “obstruction of justice” to anyone who questioned his actions and their arrest of Ka Bebot.
Barely two months before he was “arrested,” Borja told Bulatlat that the labor movement in the Eastern Visayas had been forced to continue its day-to-day activities “almost in secret, despite unionism being our legitimate right and unions being legal organizations.”
“You are lucky you’re still alive!” the soldiers had reportedly told Borja as they handcuffed and then dragged him to their waiting vehicle on May 2007. Borja’s arrest occurred after other progressive mass leaders in Eastern Visayas, including labor leaders such as those who preceded Borja as chair of KMU Eastern Visayas, were either extra-judicially killed or were hounded by surveillance operations that also “openly threatened us, as if the team conducting the surveillance was just about to pounce on us,” Borja told Bulatlat three years ago.
At the time, Borja admitted that in the light of the military harassments, the progressive KMU in Eastern Visayas might have retained its regional structure but most of its leaders had been forced into hiding or forced to transfer somewhere else. Their services and programs for the workers were either pared down or forced to continue “but almost like in secret.”
The regional chairman Borja replaced, in fact, had been reportedly abducted by the military, tortured for days and freed only “on condition that he would cooperate with the military.”
It was in this dangerous condition of “military attacks against progressive labor,” as Borja himself called it, that he served as KMU National Council Member, Anakpawis and NAFLU coordinator, for Easter Visayas. It is still this condition – with additional threat resulting from the high court approval of the “anti-terror act” – that Borja, now freed, would face as a labor leader.
Eastern Visayas is home to unions of workers in strategic industries such as energy. Borja himself was a leader in the union of workers in Philippine National Oil Company-Leyte since 1994. He was terminated for having participated in a strike here in October 2004. Since then he began serving KMU as full-time labor organizer.
Before he was jailed, Borja was kept busy helping unions in companies drilling oil, steam, gas, among others, to hammer out a better working contract with the Philippine National Oil Company. He said they were also conducting a series of studies on the privatization of PNOC plants in Eastern Visayas.