There are at least 508 activists and leaders facing 608 trumped-up charges all over Mindanao.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Carmelito Lao, 60, was just released from jail when he decided to join the Mindanao people’s caravan to Manila to demand social justice. Ironically, Lao said, he was “accorded injustice” by the Department of Justice when they were told that the agency is “helpless” in stopping the filing of trumped-up cases against activists.
Lao, a leader of peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, was charged with qualified theft back in 2011, for allegedly stealing coconuts from a nearby farm in the town of Lupon, Davao Oriental. He was arrested on Oct. 7 and released on Nov. 6.
“(The accusations) are not true. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is behind these cases to silence the people’s resistance and struggle for change,” Lao told Bulatlat.com.
Hanimay Suazo, secretary general of Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region, said these cases are part of the strategy and tactics of the military. Among the cases include illegal assembly, alarm and scandal, and public disturbance.
If the dispersal of protest actions turn out to be violent, activists are charged with slight physical injuries. Others who are being labeled as members of the New People’s Army are being charged with murder, illegal possession of firearms and explosives, robbery, and other criminal charges, said Suazo.
Meanwhile, she added, alleged members of the NPA are not charged with rebellion but with criminal cases as well.
“They think they can silence us with these cases. But they are forgetting that we are merely exercising our right to peaceably assemble,” Suazo said.
Manilakbayan said in a letter addressed to Justice secretary Leila de Lima that there are at least 508 activists and leaders who are facing 608 trumped-up charges all over Mindanao. It also cited 83 extrajudicial killings and some 200,000 individuals displaced due to military operations in the communities.
In their letter to De Lima, the Lakbayanis, or participants of the Manilakbayan, said the killings and trumped-up cases against activists are direct results of the militarization in Mindanao, citing that there are four infantry divisions and 45 infantry battalions deployed there.
There are also 20 paramilitary groups, armed by the military and warlord armies that sow terror in these communities, the letter added.
Delegates of the Manilakbayan held a dialogue with Justice undersecretary Jose Justiniano and prosecutor general Claro Arellano.
After the dialogue, Jomorito Guaynon of indigenous peoples group Kalumaran told the protesters that the DOJ said it could do nothing about the cases and issues brought to their attention.
“Maybe they should just resign,” one of the protesters shouted back.
Amirah Au Lidasan of Suara Bangsamoro said they brought to the DOJ’s attention the use of “Jane Does and John Does” in the filing of trumped-up cases against activists.
She said the dialogue was both disappointing and frustrating. “They wash their hands of the issue, but the truth is, the trumped-up charges were filed before the DOJ,” Lidasan said.
Lidasan cited the case of almost 100 Moro people who were arbitrarily arrested in 2001 due to a charge sheet issued by the DOJ. She said that more than a year ago, only 12 of the 97 detainees were accused of being members of the armed group Abu Sayyaf. Until now, however, no one has been released from detention in Camp Bagong Diwa.
“It is frustrating because it seems that that they are telling us to go back to our provinces and settle our concerns in local courts. Our objective is for national officials to look into these cases,” she said.
Gov’t not helpless
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, belied claims of the DOJ that it is helpless as they can easily dismiss these cases. In fact, she added, the DOJ is being utilized to push for Oplan Bayanihan and file trumped-up cases against activists.
“It does not matter who you are, if you look or smell like a member of the NPA, then you are considered as an enemy of the state,” she said during the protest.
There are more than 400 political prisoners in the country nationwide, according to Karapatan. Suazo said there are 35 political prisoners in Southern Mindanao Region alone.