MANILA – An NGO network condemned the arrest and continued detention of two development workers in Negros island, who have been languishing in jail for a month, as the military tagged them as “Communist Party members.”
In an Urgent Appeal, the Assert Socio Economic Initiatives Network of the Philippines (Ascent) called for the release of its convener and senior consultant Jeremy Ang and his staff Rita Espinoza. Ascent said the two were arrested on Oct. 19 in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).
Within two days after their arrest, police whisked the two back and forth from Kabankalan City to Bacolod City, without informing their lawyers, until they were finally flown to Camp Crame Quezon City on Oct. 21. On Oct. 24, the military presented the two to the media as “high-ranking members” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). They were falsely identified as “Louie Martinez” and “Aurora Cayon.”
The two are detained in Camp Crame.
“The military and police must be held accountable for the human rights atrocities they continually commit against development workers and red-tagging of development projects,” said Ascent spokesperson Renmin Vizconde in a statement.
Vizconde said Ang and Espinoza have been affiliated with Ascent since it was established in June 2016. Ascent is a non-government organization advocating economic, social and cultural rights. It was established to campaign for the defense of socio-economic initiatives of people and its member NGOs, which have come under attack from state security forces.
Based on the fact sheet sent by Karapatan, on Oct. 19, Ang and Espinoza had just attended consultation activities with Ascent’s partner organization, National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in La Carlota City. The two were headed to Dumaguete, but made a stop for lunch at a restaurant in Kabankalan City. As they were coming out, about 10 plain-clothed CIDG and ISAFP men forcibly accosted them. There was no warrant of arrest presented to the two.
They were also subjected to inquest proceedings and brought to Camp Crame, Quezon City from Police Regional Office – Negros Island Region at Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. in Bacolod City without the knowledge of their lawyers.
Ascent said Ang and Espinosa were part of a team formed to assist NFSW in its campaign for higher wages and better working conditions for the sugar plantation workers. The team held consultations with sugar workers on Oct. 14 and 15, followed by post-consultation activities up to Oct. 17. The two, along with another development worker, and were travelling by a car rented by Espinoza.
Arbitrary arrest and detention
According to the fact sheet, the arresting team handcuffed and blindfolded Ang and Espinoza, and forced them to board separate vehicles.
The driver of the car rented by Espinoza sought help from the restaurant management who then reported the incident as kidnapping. Two local police men quickly responded and, on board the car rented by Espinoza, were able to tail the cars of the CIDG and ISAF. But when they reached the Himamaylan police station, the Kabankalan city police men withdrew, after the arresting unit told them “not to interfere because it was a legitimate operation.”
The two were first brought to Camp Montelibano in Bacolod City where they were separately detained inside the CIDG office. Their mugshots and fingerprints were also taken.
“Ang was solitarily confined inside a small cell while Espinoza was handcuffed inside a separate room. All their personal belongings and valuables, including their maintenance medicines were seized and were not returned until after Ang and Ezpinosa’s lawyers insisted,” the fact sheet read.
Both were later charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
The CIDG also alleged that Ang has a warrant of arrest for murder and multiple attempted murder case issued on April 2017 by Retional Trial Court Branch 7 in Agusan del Sur. Espinoza on the other hand was accused of arson and murder.
On Oct. 19, at 7 PM, lawyers Cesar Biloria of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) came to Camp Montelibano, but were denied by police to see the two. It was only on the next day that Biloria, and another NUPL member, Ben Ramos, were allowed to see their clients and were able to speak to them briefly.
On Oct. 21, at 11:00 a.m., Biloria and Karapatan legal counsel Maria Sol Taule visited the victims and asked the CIDG for the copies of the alleged warrants of arrest, butthe CIDG failed to provide any. Before leaving, the two lawyers instructed the CIDG to inform them of the inquest proceedings for the two. However, at 4:00 p.m. on the same day, police brought Ang and Espinoza for the inquest proceedings in Kabankalan city, without the informing their lawyers.
“There, they were subjected to inquest proceedings without the assistance of any lawyer. The two refused to sign papers, insisting that they were not the persons the CIDG and the military alleged them to be and that the .45 caliber and grenade allegedly seized in their car were all planted,” the fact sheet read.
The two were then brought back to Camp Montelibano in Bacolod. At 11:00 p.m., the two were flown to Manila, without any notice to their lawyers. On Oct. 24, PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa presented the two to the media, as “high-ranking CPP-NPA leaders.”
Red-tagging, persecution of development workers
Vizconde said Ang and Espinoza have been lending their expertise for the advancement of socio-economic projects in various regions, where they conduct consultations with member organizations.
“It is ironic that those who opt to help the poor and impoverished through consultative and participatory methods and are not limited to airconditioned offices are the ones whose rights are being blatantly being violated,” Vizconde said.
Featured image by Pinoy Weekly.