“…We are seeing yet again this pattern of non-observance to existing laws and inhumane treatment towards the accused.”
By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Southern Luzon Command (AFP-Solcom) is continuing to deny the families of two arrested in Atimonan, Quezon province last December the right to visit them, according to human rights group Karapatan Southern Tagalog.
On December 26, combined elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Office 4A Regional Intelligence Division, Quezon Police Provincial Office, Regional Mobile Force Battalion and the AFP’s 201st Infantry Battalion, 2nd Military Intelligence Battalion, and 4th Intelligence and Security Unit arrested a certain “Ruel Custodio” and Ruben Istokado in barangay Zone 3 Poblacion, Atimonan.
However, according to Karapatan ST, the man they arrested was not Ruel Custodio but Renante de Leon, peasant organizer. He and Istokado are staff members of Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM).
Police and military still insist that “Custodio” and Istokado are “top New People’s Army officials.” Their assertions, as well as inquest documents from the Regional Trial Court in Lucena, state that Istokado has a September 2014 warrant for double murder and multiple murder, while “Custodo” is charged with kidnapping and illegal possession of firearms.
After inquiring around various military camps in Laguna and Quezon, the paralegal team assisting the de Leon and Istokado families surmised that the two were held in Camp General Nakar in Lucena, Quezon. A letter written by de Leon’s father, Reynaldo, recounts that they arrived at the camp, December 30, to visit, but the information desk denied that the two were detained there and instructed them to go to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) office.
At the CIDG Custodial Facility, the families were held for over half an hour before they were told to return after lunch. On their return, Camp General Nakar was on “lockdown” after a soldier supposedly “tested positive for COVID-19.”
Karapatan ST is suspicious of the claim. “It is already detestable that the families were not immediately notified about their arrest. Now Solcom is using the same strategy they did to Calaca 6 which refused the families to see their relatives. We are seeing yet again this pattern of non-observance to existing laws and inhumane treatment towards the accused,” said Angelo Salgado, the organization’s spokesperson.
Salgado is referring to the six farmers arrested in barangay Coral ni Lopez, Calaca, Batangas, last May 2020 on trumped-up charges. Officials from Camp Vicente Lim, Calamba, Laguna refused families’ requests for visitation on grounds of the pandemic.
De Leon and Istokado’s families fear that the two are being subjected to “physical and mental torture in the hands of their captors,” according to Karapatan ST. Karapatan and the Commission on Human Rights are currently assisting the families in securing a visit for the two.
Local official implicated
Despite the absence of any evidence that either of the arrested are members of the New People’s Army, the Department of Interior and Local Government has demanded an investigation on Rhodora Tan, provincial board member for the 4th district of Quezon. De Leon and Istokador were arrested inside a shelter belonging to Tan.
According to Tan, the house is a shelter for stranded residents of Alabat Island, off the coast of Lopez Bay, and that anybody is “free to stay in the house at any given time.” Interior secretary Eduardo Año, however, is insisting that Tan “coddled” de Leon and Istokado.
Año has gone on to state that Tan might face charges of obstruction of justice and violations of Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standard for Public Officials and Employees, implying that de Leon and Istokado’s stay constitutes a lack of loyalty to the country.