Groups worry that the incident may be a prelude to a crackdown against activists.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Groups today condemned the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for holding a human rights worker and three peasant leaders at a Philippine Army checkpoint in Lasang village, Davao City, practically detaining them for several hours last night, June 28.
Held at a checkpoint of Task Force Davao were: Pedro Arnado, chairman of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-SMR and coordinator of Anakpawis Southern Mindanao Region (Anakpawis-SMR), Gerry Alborme, KMP North Cotabato secretary general, Lito Lao, Unyon ng Manggagawang Agrikultura-SMR spokesperson and Hanimay Suazo, Karapatan-SMR secretary general.
The four were eventually released before midnight upon the arrival of a Karapatan Quick Reaction Team.
Task Force Davao is under the 10th infantry Division of the Philippine Army.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general said the four were on their way to their respective homes from an activity with members of MARBAI (Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries) when they were accosted at the TFD checkpoint. Palabay said they were held because they were “suspicious looking.”
The TFD soldiers wanted to bring them to a nearby military camp, but the four leaders asserted their right against warrantless arrest and illegal search and stayed inside their vehicle until members of Karapatan quick reaction team arrived.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao called the incident a “harassment,” especially against activists who are staunchly calling for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao.
The soldiers also attempted to arrest Lao using a warrant of arrest against a certain Alex Rosete, an alleged New People’s Army leader. Casilao said as peasant leader, Lao has served as a resource person in a hearing of the House Committee on Human Rights investigating the violent shooting of farmers by the guards of Lapanday Foods Corp. in Tagum City.
“This clear harassment against activists, especially those who are calling for the lifting of the martial law declaration in Mindanao, is a cooked up by the mixture of the proclamation, the fascist framework and ignorance of the law of the implementers, and is a violation of the inalienable right of the people to organize, for freedom of speech and expression and peaceful assembly,” Casilao said in a statement.
Since martial law was declared on May 23, Palabay said at least 14 peasant activists in Mindanao were illegally arrested and are still detained. Meanwhile, at least 260 Moro youth were brought to police stations for “questioning” in a day and some 30 Lumad and Christian women were also harassed in a checkpoint.
“It is also worrisome that such acts are done against human rights defenders, who have faced numerous threats from state security forces and trumped-up charges because of the work they do in defense of people’s rights,” said Palabay.
“Proclamation 216 is being used for counter-insurgency purposes, affecting civilians, including activists, who the military arbitrarily tags as ‘enemies of the State,’” said Palabay.
Meanwhile, Danilo Ramos, UMA secretary general said the harassment on the four leaders “can be a prelude to a general crackdown on activists and people’s rights advocates.”
UMA cited other cases, such as five political killings; two frustrated killings; eight strafing incidents; threat, harassment and intimidation against communities affecting 3,417 individuals; 14 cases of destruction of property; 23 victims of illegal arrests; 2,000 individuals forcibly evacuated due to aerial bombing and mortar shelling; and two cases each of killing and frustrated killing due to indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians.
The groups reiterated their call for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao and withdrawal of the suspension of the privilege of writ of habeas corpus.