“The charges are pathetically not worth the paper they were written on.”
By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – Two months ago, various militant groups conducted a three-day mobilization, simultaneous with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.
Two months later, leaders of these progressive groups received subpoenas on charges filed by members of the Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) contingent, composed of elements from the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB), and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The complainants alleged that the progressive leaders violated Public Assembly Act (Batas Pambansa Blg. 880) for conducting a rally without a permit, Article 148 of the Revised Penal Code on Direct Assault, and Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code on Resistance and Disobedience to a Person in Authority or Agents of Such Person.
Among those who have been charged are Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Chairperson Neri Colmenares, Roberto “Obet” De Castro of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, and Gabriela Secretary General Joms Salvador.
An ‘ironic’ complaint
Armed with nothing but conviction, voices, and cardboards painted with their calls, an estimated 9,000 protesters marched along major roads in Metro Manila to register indignation against existing lopsided economic and political policies implemented and perpetrated by ASEAN.
The protesters were repeatedly met by battalions of riot police, elements of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, and even heavily armed elements of the State. The police tried to effect violent dispersals, using water canons, truncheons and metal shields, and for the first time, a sonic weapon called the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), which left some of the protesters deaf or hard of hearing after it was used.
The complainants, however, alleged that they got wounded and bruised, and one even claimed to have fainted allegedly because of being beaten up by protesters.
Testimonies and media coverage — photos and videos included — refuted their claims.
“It can be remembered that it was the rallyists who were mostly injured when the police truncheoned and blasted them with water. The police even used their sonic weapon or their LRAD against the rallyists injuring them and even bystanders. We in the Makabayan bloc even filed House Resolution 1481 to investigate the violent dispersal, now they even have the gall to charge us,” Zarate said.
“This is police impunity and draconian rule under the Duterte administration,” he criticized.
The subpoena was served on Zarate the day after the preliminary investigation has already taken place.
Attacking the opposition
The cases filed, other than being baseless, are meant only to harass the opposition. On Jan. 27, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to go after the so-called “legal fronts” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
“The Duterte administration has obviously run out of strategies to scare progressive groups, leaders, and the masses. In fact, its tactics are no different from those that other administrations have used — from extrajudicial killings, outright violations of human rights, to trumped-up charges,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said.
The youth legislator added that while the Duterte administration keeps itself preoccupied with harassing the opposition, “their strategies only expose the fascist inclinations and tyrannical character”.
“To the Duterte administration, know that the filing of trumped-up charges do not scare us. The mass movement has survived and fought against each passing dictator until they fall from power. Instead of sowing fear, their strategies only expose the fascist inclinations and tyrannical character of the Duterte regime, thereby strengthening the mass movement and giving us all the more reason to resist and to fight its swift rise to a full-blown dictatorship,” Elago explained.
The NUPL, of which Zarate and Colmenares are members, also denounced the filing of trumped-up charges against progressive leaders.
“The charges are pathetically not worth the paper they were written on. The factual and legal grounds do not hold water,” they said in a statement.
Prior to this, however, the Duterte administration has already launched legal offensives, attacks, and harassment against human rights defenders and activists.
“By ordering such crackdown, he virtually gives the military, the police and state-sanctioned paramilitary groups the green light to run after members of mass organizations from the city and mostly in poor rural areas,” Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao said.