By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Five activists were arrested and two Church members reported being the subject of surveillance a few weeks before President Benigno Aquino III deliver his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA).
On July 16, peasant activist Aristedes Sarmiento, was arrested July 16 in the house of village captain Julianita Abuel Lagaya at 51 Mabini street, barangay 7, Lucban, Quezon by elements of the Lucban Municipal Police Station, Regional Intelligence Police Regional Office-CALABARZON, Military Intelligence Group (MIG4), Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP), 1st Special Forces Company, 201st Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division and Naval Intelligence Security Group (NISG 4).
According to the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyo at Aresto, Sarmiento was arrested for charges of murder. He was brought to Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba, Laguna by a convoy of military vehicles. Lagaya tailed the convoy up to Camp Vicente Lim but was not allowed to enter the camp. Sarmiento was only shown to his family midnight of July 16 and only after the family members asked the camp to issue a certification that Sarmiento is not in their custody. On July 17, Sarmiento was brought to the Gumaca court and was committed to the BJMP Quezon district Jail in Lucena City. The next day, he was transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan on July 18.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) condemned the arrest and red baiting of Sarmiento.
A press release from the Public Information Office of the Philippine National Police – Region IV-A on Wednesday said that “Sarmiento is a political analyst/activist who is also a member of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Secretary of Sub-Regional Military Guerilla Unit 2. He was detained for rebellion in 2006.”
On April 28, 2006, Sarmiento, together with four other peasant activists, were arrested in Tagaytay City, Cavite and charged with rebellion. Two years later, in August 2008, the so-called “Tagaytay 5” were released, the charges against them dismissed by the court.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the Aquino government and its state security forces for the continued vilification and red-baiting campaign against KMP. This is outright malicious and makes KMP members and leaders as easy prey to the military’s campaign of repression,” KMP chairman Rafael Mariano said.
Mariano said Sarmiento is a consultant of KMP and of KMP’s Southern Tagalog chapter, the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan, in their campaign to reclaim the coconut levy funds. Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., the President’s uncle, still holds the 20 percent of coco levy fund shares in San Miguel Corporation being claimed by small coconut farmers.
“His arrest could be linked to the growing clamor of Quezon farmers for the coco levy funds’ cash distribution through social benefits,” Mariano said.
Mariano revealed that Sarmiento was first arrested in 1982 in Gumaca after the latter organized and led small coconut farmers in Quezon in the successful campaign to put a stop to the baseless and arbitrary collection of the coco levy funds.
“Once more, Ka Aris is being persecuted by the Aquino administration due to his unwavering commitment to emancipate small coconut farmers from feudal and semi-feudal exploitation,” Mariano said.
Meanwhile, two farmers and a tricycle driver were abducted by elements of the 24th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army on July 11 in barangay Liyang, Pilar, Bataan, according to human rights group Karapatan.
Farmer Josue Ortiz, 23, was brought to the 24th IBPA headquarters where he was initially kept from his parents and members of the Karapatan quick-reaction team (QRT). After four days in detention, Ortiz was brought to the Bataan provincial court on July 15, and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. As the judge was set to hear all cases for commitment order, July 18, Ortiz was temporarily detained at the Balanga City Jail. Meanwhile, the other farmer, Manuel Pacaira, and the tricycle driver, remain missing as of this date.
During the search, members of Karapatan QRT saw Pacaira in an army truck on its way out of the 24th IBPA camp going toward Pilar, Bataan. He was again seen at the Bataan provincial court premises in Balanga, Bataan on board a truck during Ortiz’s inquest on July 15.
Earlier, on June 28, Juan Pablo Versoza, a member of the Alay Sining UP Diliman, and his wife Grace, were arrested in Marikina City through a warrant containing only aliases. The names of the couple were only inserted in the warrant after they were arrested, Karapatan said.
“This government practice of using alias warrants, illegal arrests through fabricated charges to justify its action against ordinary folks shows its desperation,” Marie-Hilao Enriquez, Karapatan chairwoman, said.
Meanwhile, two priests of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) were subjected to surveillance by alleged state security forces.
In a statement, the Youth of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Yifi) condemned the surveillance on the IFI seminary and the Aglipay Central Theological Seminary (ACTS) and the harassment of its rector, Fr. Terry Revollido and of Bishop Antonio Ablon of the Diocese of Pagadian City.
At around 7:00 p.m. of June 6, four men riding in tandem on two motorcycles were seen roving around the vicinity of ACTS in Urdaneta, Pangasinan. Days after the incident, on the evening of June 15, a seminarian saw a man standing right at the gate of the seminary. The man was seen taking out a rifle from a sack, which he left at the gate in his haste when he noticed that the seminarian is getting near him. The seminarian took the sack to the rector.
“The YIFI is convinced that the incident is rather politically-motivated and is a part of many other harassments and vilification made against the Aglipay Seminary and to its Rector. We believe that Fr. Revollido, who is a staunch human rights advocate, has also been the main target of this harassment,” the youth group said.
On July 12, Bishop Antonio Ablon from the Diocese of Pagadian City discovered his room inside the parish was forcibly opened by unknown persons. At that time, the Bishop was preparing for a solidarity mission to the mining area in Bayog town of Zamboanga del Sur.
“This is not the first time that the IFI experienced such incidents. We remember Fr. William Tadena, Bp. Alberto Ramento, and Benjamin Bayles, who were killed by alleged military elements, after similar cases of harassments, were observed,” the Yifi said.
Tadena and Ramento were staunch supporters of Hacienda Luisita farmers when they were killed. Bayles, meanwhile, was a peasant activist.