“Let us condemn the continuing injustice against peasants, and the PNP’s use of the so-called war against drugs to infringe on the rights of the peasants and delegitimize their struggle for a genuine land reform policy.”
By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – A human rights group is urging President Rodrigo Duterte to look into the arrest and continuing detention of four Bulacan farmer-activists who were arrested for allegedly being members of the New People’s Army, but charged with “false cases” for supposedly violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Act of 2002.
In its urgent alert, Karapatan said the arrested farmers are members of the Karahume Farmers Association (KFA), a local peasant community group that has been at the forefront of resisting the landgrabbing of more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land in Bulacan, a province north of Manila.
Their arrest was “under the guise of the Duterte administration’s war against drugs,” Karapatan said.
Family left traumatized
On Oct. 6, several armed police officers arrived at Purok 6, Sitio Karahume, San Isidro village, San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan and forcibly entered the homes of Myla and Alfredo Ravelo, Rowena Reola, and Segundina Gaitero. At gunpoint, police illegally searched their houses, said Karapatan.
Inside the Ravelos residence, police asked the couple at gunpoint to produce the guns they were allegedly hiding. After they ransacked the house and found nothing but a flag of the progressive Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, one police officer cursed at them, called them as NPA members, and arrested Alfredo.
Their children, who witnessed the entire incident, were traumatized, said Karapatan.
Another set of armed police officers and armed men in plain clothes and ski-masks came to the house of Rowena Reola. Karapatan said the police also ransacked the house, took the family’s cellphones and cash amounting to $2,070. The police told Reola not to ask questions or they would shoot her.
The human rights group said the police took Rowel, Reola’s husband, and forced him inside the vehicle, where they hit his chest with a rifle butt on the way to the police station. Neighbors Randy Sta. Maria and Lito Natural were also arrested.
The home of Reola’s mother, Segundina Gaitero, who is a landed farmer and KFA chairperson, was not spared from the police operation. Armed policemen and armed men wearing ski masks also entered their gated family compound and pointed guns at the people inside.
At gunpoint, police ordered Segundina’s children to lie down on the ground, keep quiet and remain still. When Charlotte, Segundina’s daughter, confronted the police officers and asked for a search warrant, they showed her a charge sheet against her mother.
Police officers later forcibly took Segundina and Mel Grace Gaitero and dragged them into the police mobile. They also arrested Blais Gaitero and Valentin Salceso.
Karapatan said the police also took money from Segundina’s residence amounting to $29,000.
The eight farmers who were arrested without a search warrant were brought to the San Jose del Monte Police Station. Segundina, Mel Grace, Valentin, and Blas were later released without charges but Reola, Ravelo, Natural, and Sta. Maria remained in detention, charged with violating Sec. 5, 11 and 12 of Article 2 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
In its fact-finding report, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said the police allegedly recovered 16 transparent plastic containers containing suspected shabu and drug paraphernalia from the four detained farmers.
First case of ‘Tokhang’ vs. legitimate causes
Police claimed they received an “intelligence report” of an alleged drug peddling in the area. Karapatan said the police supposedly conducted a buy-bust operation on Oct. 6 and that the drugs allegedly purchased there was shabu.
“The KFA and the residents in their village attest to the fact that the farmers detained are not drug peddlers/users, that they do not have possession of illegal drugs and that they are legitimate farmer-activists in the area,” the urgent alert of Karapatan read.
KFA, an affiliate of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan (AMB) and a member organization of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, has been resisting the landgrabbing of more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land by no less than the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), for purposes of land banking and land speculation.
The disputed land was already up for distribution to 59 farmers. However, Karapatan said they were not given their Certificates of Land Ownership Award despite paying their respective real property taxes to the local government. Their claim to the agricultural land was subsequently cancelled and was ordered exempted from distribution by the Department of Agrarian Reform.
In a statement, KMP secretary general Antonio Flores said, “this is the first case where the war on drugs was used against farmers fighting for their legitimate rights to the lands. It is alarming that landowners are exploiting the government’s ‘Operation Tokhang’ to harass and undermine farmers and their assertion to defend the land.”
“Let us condemn the continuing injustice against peasants, and the PNP’s use of the so-called war against drugs to infringe on the rights of the peasants and delegitimize their struggle for a genuine land reform policy,” Karapatan said.