“The more than 30-days lockdown has demonstrated just how bound and determined this administration, not in ‘flattening the curve’ of COVID-19 cases, but at committing human rights violations with impunity along the way.”
By AARON MACARAEG
MANILA — Arrested relief operation volunteers, including former Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao, failed to post bail today, April 21, due to technicalities.
Atty. Luz Perez, lawyer of the arrested volunteers arrived at 1:38 p.m. at the Office of Provincial Prosecutor o post bail but was later informed that courts are only open until 1:30 pm.
Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Chairperson Antonio Flores said that the police and the clerk did not inform them about the court’s availability.
“This is another grave injustice to the seven who would need to stay again at the Norzagaray police station tonight,” Flores said.
The six volunteers of Tulong Anakpawis and Sagip Kanayunan were on their way to distribute relief goods to the communities affected by total lockdown when they were apprehended last Sunday, April 19.
Casilao, now spokesperson of UMA, responded to the arrested volunteers, and was also arrested.
As of the writing, fiscal resolution is yet to be filed.
Charges filed against the volunteers, dubbed as Norzagaray 7, are: violation of section 9 of Republic Act 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, violation of Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) or Resistance and Disobedience to Persons in Authority or Agents of Such Persons, violation of section 4, Presidential Proclamation 992, Series of 2020, and attempted inciting to sedition. Casilao, however, faces charges of usurpation of Authority under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code.
Legal counsels from Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA) maintained that there are “no factual and legal basis” for the arrest and detention of their clients.
In a statement, SENTRA said Presidential Proclamation 992 and other presidential or government issuances or guidelines imposing the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) are not penal laws. “They are not even laws. They could not therefore serve as a basis for arresting anyone,” the lawyers’ group said.
SENTRA further argued that there is no such thing as attempted inciting to sedition. “In the vain attempt to justify the arrest and detention of the group, the police invented an offense which does not exist anywhere else. Inciting to Sedition under Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) could not be divided into different stages – attempted, frustrated or consummated. It could only be consummated.” the group said.
The group also said that the charge of disobdience to persons in authority does not also hold water. “Theere was not even a slightest resistance from the relief workers when they were held at a checkpoint, brought to the police station, and thereafter to the Bulacan Provincial Police Office,” it said.
The charge of ursurpation of authority against Casilao, said SENTRA, has also no legal and factual grounds as Casilao did not present or pretend to be an incumbent member of the House of Representatives.
Government flattening criticisms not pandemic cases
In a separate statement, the National Union of People’s Lawyer (NUPL) said that the COVID-19 crisis and the imposition of lockdown does not equate as a “pass” for rights violations.
The group cited the case of the Norzagaray 7 as the latest attempt to “sow terror and muzzle those who choose to see and expose the grim reality.”
“The more than 30-days lockdown has demonstrated just how bound and determined this administration, not in ‘flattening the curve’ of COVID-19 cases, but at committing human rights violations with impunity along the way,” NUPL said.
The group also pointed out the administration’s glaring “double standards in the implementation of its own lockdown policies.”
Despite practical limitations, NUPL vowed to continue “countering the misinformation, the false narratives, the empty claims, the arrogant threats and will provide people with legal knowledge, competent advice and as prompt aid as possible to protect and defend their rights.”