Groups appeal for international probe on ‘crackdown on activists’

Relatives and friends of the seven human rights defenders arrested on Dec. 10 call for the immediate release of their loved ones in a press conference, Dec. 14 at the Commission on Human Rights. (Photo by RVO/Bulatlat)
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said the domestic remedies are no longer enough, noting the trend of police “planting evidence” with impunity.


MANILA – Colleagues of the seven human rights defenders arrested on Dec. 10 appealed to the international community to look into what they called as “crackdown on activists.”

In a press conference Dec. 14 at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said the domestic remedies are no longer enough, noting the trend of police “planting evidence” with impunity.

Palabay said that 80 percent of the 426 political prisoners arrested under the Duterte administration are slapped with trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Their cases take too long to be resolved, incarcerating the political prisoners for years.

The Karapatan officer called on United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to look into the recent spate of arrests, as the Philippine government, she said, “is speaking bullshit” about human rights.

In the same press conference, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Chairperson Elmer Labog said that an International Labor Organization’s High Level Tripartite Mission is all the more needed now with the recent arrest of six labor organizers last Dec. 10.

Labog said KMU and other workers’ groups already sent a letter to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, urging the latter to accept and welcome the ILO mission, which will probe the trade union and human rights violations in the country.

Arrested during the simultaneous raids on International Human Rights Day were KMU-Manila officers Mark Ryan Cruz, Jaymie Gregorio Jr., and Romina Astudillo, Dennise Velasco of Defend Jobs Philippines, Joel Demate of Solidarity for Labor Rights and Welfare (SOLAR), Rodrigo Esparago of Sandigang Manggagawa ng Quezon City, and Lady Ann Salem, editor of Manila Today.

Questionable warrants

Palabay questioned the search warrants issued by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Quezon City Branch 89, which were used to raid four different residential units last Dec. 10. According to the warrants, three policemen stated they have personal knowledge on the guns and explosives allegedly found during the raids.

Palabay labeled Burgos-Villavert as a factory of “copy-paste’ warrants, which led to the arrests of 57 activists in Negros island and five activists in Metro Manila in 2019. She was also the judge who issued warrants for the arrest of National Democratic Front peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Rey Casambre, Estrelita Suaybaguio, Alexander and Winona Birondo, and Villamor couple.

Thus, Raymond Palatino of Bayan-National Capital Region called on the Supreme Court to review the warrants issued by Burgos-Villavert and investigate the judge’s role in “weaponizing the law against political dissenters.”

A year ago, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) revealed that Burgos-Villavert met with Gen. Debold Sinas on Oct. 30, 2019, the same day she issued the warrants for the raids in Bacolod and Manila.

Not criminals

Relatives and friends of the seven rights defenders, collectively called #HRDay7, maintained the innocence of their loved ones.

Lander Esparago belied police’s claims, recalling how his father berated him when he played with a toy gun when he was still a child.

Ram Penaverde said that he never saw his friend Jaymie Gregorio Jr. carry guns and explosives. “What he usually holds is a pan and a ladle because he loves to cook,” Penaverde said.

Jasma Salem, meanwhile, said her sister Lady Ann or Icy only wanted to write for the poor. “It is not a crime to write what is true and what is just,” Jasma said in Filipino.

They said their loved ones are activists and not criminals.

Diane Zapata said her husband Dennise Velasco grew up in a poor family, making it easy for him to be an activist fighting for the workers. “He is well-loved by the workers,” Zapata said.

Ella Durana said her husband Mark Ryan Cruz could not go home often because of his activities as labor organizer but he would play basketball with their ten-year-old son whenever he had the chance.

Kevin Paul Aguayon said his friend Romina or Sham was a campus journalist who opted to live among the workers.

Carl Justin Demate described his father Joel as a responsible father who managed to send him and two other siblings to college.


Meanwhile, Fides Lim of KAPATID, an organization of relatives and supporters of political prisoners, pressed for a moratorium on political arrests amid pandemic.

“It is sad that the warmongers have ignored the traditional Christmas ceasefire with rebel groups but this should not stop the more level-headed officials from exerting pressure on the highest echelon to exercise compassion and open the prison doors for eight people who were recently dumped with planted firearms and explosives, which is the usual police ploy to lock up activists on baseless charges,” said Lim.

KAPATID reiterated the call for the release of elderly and ailing political prisoners on humanitarian grounds. (

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