By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
What are they up to?
Are they aiming to deter bigger participation in the anticipated protest actions timed with President Aquino’s final state-of-the-nation address on July 27, as some activists suspect?
Or are they setting the ground for a worse scenario – as a twin petition filed at the Supreme Court seeks to avert – such as mass arrests based on trumped-up charges, or more extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances to cap the government’s six-year counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan?
Since April, men in civilian attire, introducing themselves as “soldiers” or “from the military,” in varying ways have brazenly approached and talked to or sent warning notes to certain leaders of progressive government employees’ unions, youth, labor and other mass organizations, and children’s rights advocacy groups. Invariably they accuse the targeted persons of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
They have a common message: “We know your anti-government activities. Change your ways now and cooperate with us. Call us at this number, or else…”
Nine such messages were given to targeted persons in one day: April 27, 2015. Two of the notes provided the senders’ identities with corresponding cellphone numbers: “Capt. Evangelista, Philippine Army 0932-1092849” and “Cpt. Magdiwang, Phil. Army 0916-5748176.” One simply gave the name “Jay” with phone number “0906-3097399” and another, just a phone number “0999-8367212”.
Since then, these individuals have been making their presence felt as they conduct surveillance of their targeted persons’ residences and work places, stalking some on board public conveyances and in other public places.
On June 8 a group of the targeted persons went to the Commission on Human Rights and filed complaints of harassment and direct threat against their largely unidentified tormentors.
On July 14, as the threats and harassments continued, 22 of the targeted persons, through the National Union of People’s Lawyers, filed a petition at the Supreme Court, urging the issuance in their favor of a writ of amparo and writ of habeas data.
(The writ of amparo – promulgated in September 2007 by the SC, under Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, when cases of extrajudicial killings had run up to 885 – aims to protect persons from being killed or disappeared. The writ of habeas data grants a targeted person the right to be provided copies of all documentary and other alleged evidence gathered against him/her and directs the respondents to rectify or destroy such alleged evidence.)
Twenty of the petitioners (10 of them women) belong to government employees’ unions affiliated with COURAGE (Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees). The other two are leaders of the advocacy groups Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns and Children’s Rehabilitation Center.
The petition asks the SC for two remedies: 1) upon its filing, to issue a Temporary Protection Order for the petitioners and their families; and 2) after hearing and judgment, to issue the two writs.
“Taken together, the threats and surveillance activities portend a pattern: tagging the petitioners as members of either the NPA or the CPP, vilifying them for such alleged membership, and urging them to cooperate with the military in ambiguous terms,” the petition states.
This is the same pattern, it notes, that Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions cited in his report on the Philippines in 2007.And, it’s the same modus operandi observed by Karapatan in recent cases of documented extrajudicial killings. The petition cites 238 such cases under the Aquino administration as of March 2015. However, Karapatan has updated that figure to 362 as of June 30, 2015, not counting the 293 frustrated EJKs to boot.
“Upon observing that the same pattern exists in the cases of petitioners herein,” the petition adds, “no other conclusion can be reached other than that the modus operandi manifest in the cited incidents establishes the participation of state forces, especially that of the military and police establishments.”
The threatening notes, it points out, “constitute violations of the petitioners’ rights to life, liberty and security,” adding: “The probability that this modus operandi may later on result in the abductions or killings of these individuals is not remote in this case. This scenario has happened before and may happen again.”
Here’s an interesting incident after the filing of the petition. One of the women-petitioners, who along with other COURAGE officials had sought legal aid from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, was tailed by state agents, riding in a silver-colored Innova and on three motorcycles, from the Supreme Court to the IBP national office at Ortigas Center in Pasig City.
“(The agents) parked their vehicles within the immediate vicinity of the IBP till the early hours of the morning, some of whom loiter(ed) about with sling bags. The same car had tailed the petitioner and some members of COURAGE in the past days,” says a statement issued by the IBP national president, Rosario T. Setias-Reyes.
In a press conference last Thursday, the IBP condemned the incident as part of a “high-handed crackdown on the progressive sectors of society.” Its statement declares:
“The IBP strongly condemns the harassment and intimidation perpetrated by elements of the military and the police against members of the progressive sectors of our society, particularly political activists and advocates. This high-handed exercise of authority is a throwback to Martial Law and has no place in our democracy.
“Progressive organizations have scored (the) government for its Oplan Bayanihan as a coercive instrument of policy to sow docility into their ranks and dampen their spirit to carry on their advocacy for change. And the IBP cannot help but relate to their sentiment, wrought up with the crackdown by the strong apparat of the state for the past several years.
“The intensity of this operation alarms us enough to take grave concern for the security and safety of cause-oriented activists and advocates, and the IBP hereby denounces in the strongest term this paranoidal actuation of some elements of the security and enforcement agencies of government.”
The IBP urges congressional intervention “to arrest this political slide down in our democratic life from going into a free fall.”
* * *
Published in The Philippine Star
July 18, 2015