By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – An 18-year old youth activist was nabbed allegedly by soldiers in Lopez, Quezon and tortured into admitting he is a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), according to human rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog.
Franklin Barrera, district coordinator of Kabataan partylist, was taken by armed men at around 1 p.m. on June 7. Based on Barrera’s handwritten account, a copy of which was sent to Bulatlat.com, somebody hit Barrera’s head from behind while he was walking on his way home on Yumul street, barangay Gomez in Lopez, Quezon. When he regained consciousness, he found himself inside a red van. The armed men immediately blindfolded him. He was taken to a house in barangay San Isidro near the Army’s 85th Infantry Battalion detachment.
In a report by Inquirer.net, Colonel Eduardo Año, commander of the 201st Brigade,of the Philippine Army said that Barrera is an NPA guerrilla. He also claimed, however, that it was the NPA, not the military who abducted and tortured the young activist.
In the same report, Año said Barrera is ready to face the media to reveal “how he was abducted and tortured by his NPA comrades before turning him over to Karapatan in a hospital.” “He was used to serve as ‘props’ on their vilification campaign against the military,” Año was quoted as saying.
Karapatan-Southern Tagalog belied the military’s statement. The group said Barrera, in a handwritten statement, related that he was tortured and subjected to intense interrogation by alleged soldiers.
“They put a rope around my neck and they tied my feet. They asked me about persons I did not know of. When I could not answer them, they made me eat a large quantity of salt. They searched my body and I threw my cellphone. They took it, removed the SIM card and inserted the card in a laptop,” Barrera said in his statement written in Filipino.
Barrera said the men hit his lower limbs and his back and he pretended to lose consciousness. Not long, Barrera managed to untie the rope around his neck and feet. He then kicked the door of the house where he was taken and ran away. When he reached the highway, he took the bus going to Lucena and got off in Atimonan. He was confined in a local hospital until members of Karapatan fetched him there on June 8.
Karapatan-Southern Tagalog said they were also able to interview Barrera on camera. The following is Barrera’s account of what happened in the video.
“They made me take three tablespoons of salt and lots of water. When I started vomiting, they showed me pictures and asked me to identify some persons. When I could not, they hit my nape with a rifle,” Barrera said in Filipino in the video interview.
On June 10, Barrera left the Kabataan partylist office in Lucena City, Quezon without informing any of his colleagues.
Glendhyl Malabanan, secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog said “it is highly possible that Barrera would recant his earlier written statement. “Such dirty tactic of the military is not new,” Malabanan said.
Malabanan said the AFP has no credibility in claiming that the human rights organization is lying. She said Barrera is a convener of the Save Bondoc Peninsula Movement, a campaign network calling for the pullout of military troops operating in South Quezon. Malabanan said many would testify to Barrera’s identity.
Orly Marcellana, spokesman of Save Bondoc Peninsula Movement said Barrera’s case proves that the military “wants to silence them for exposing the real motives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s Oplan Bayanihan.”
The group said the military poses as “private armies of big landlords” in Quezon and “protectors of the mining companies.”
“Franklin [Barrera] is an active anti-mining activist,” Marcellana said.
Data gathered from Mine Geoscience Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources shows that more than 240,000 hectares of land, or around 27 percent of Quezon’s total land area, is under application for mining activities in the province.
Malabanan called on Barrera to stand up for the truth.
Año, then with the Intelligence Service Group of the Philippine Army, is among those charged. Burgos,son of press freedom icon Jose Burgos Jr., remains to this day.