“If human rights defenders are not brutally murdered, they are thrown behind bars over absurd criminal charges based on perjured testimonies and planted evidence, all to concoct the lie that human rights defenders are terrorists or criminals.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan slammed the recent arrests of activists, saying that crackdown on dissent is rapidly escalating.
Karapatan cited the series of arrests of leaders of people’s organizations in Caraga region, a barangay captain in Cagayan Valley and peasant leaders and human rights workers in Bohol.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s secretary general said these arrests were “clearly devilish legal machinations being orchestrated by the rabid sycophants of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).”
In Mindanao region, 72 years old Isaias “Tatay Ising” Genorga, PISTON-Butuan City spokesperson, was arrested on Feb. 5 in barangay Doongan, Butuan City.
On Feb. 6, Gina Tutor, regional coordinator of Gabriela Women’s Partylist (GWP) and Vilma “Nang Vi” Yecyec, 73, were also arrested in their homes in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte and Mainit, Surigao del Norte respectively.
On Feb. 11, Rogelio de Asis of fisherfolk group Pamalakaya was also arrested in his home at barangay Matabao, Buenavista, Agusan del Norte. Agusan del Norte.
Meanwhile in Cagayan, barangay captain Ruben Salvador was arrested in Baggao, Cagayan on Feb. 8.
Palabay said that while vilification of human rights defenders is not a new tactic of the government, the administration of President Duterte used it increasingly “as a convenient cover for the fascist regime’s political persecution and crackdown on dissenters.”
“If human rights defenders are not brutally murdered, they are thrown behind bars over absurd criminal charges based on perjured testimonies and planted evidence, all to concoct the lie that human rights defenders are terrorists or criminals,” Palabay added.
Police alleged that De Asis is a member of the New People’s Army and involved in the killing of Zaldy Acidillo Ybañez, a Lumad, and Datu Bernardino M. Astudillo, tribal chieftain, in sitio Inadan, Barangay Magroyong, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur on March 19, 2020.
The police slapped De Asis of violating section 6 of Republic Act 9851 or Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.
But contrary to the police claims, Pamalakaya said that De Asis is the group’s national auditor and chairman Pamalakaya in Caraga. He is also an active member of the Promotion of Church People’s Response in Agusan del Norte and a small entrepreneur.
“For the record, de Asis was actively coordinating with the national office of Pamalakaya in regards to the potential impacts of the community quarantine to fishing communities in his area of responsibility, at the time that the alleged killing happened. There was no way that he would be present in that incident, as his communication with us was very consistent,” Fernando Hicap, former Anakpawis Party-list represenative and Pamalakaya chairperson, said in a statement.
Hicap also said that De Asis also expressed fear for his safety after the police and military announced its pursuit operations against red-tagged activists.
Meanwhile, Karapatan also documented the arrest of Salvador, a barangay captain in Agaman Norte, Cagayan.
The Cagayan police reportedly raided his residence and supposedly found illegal firearms and explosives as well as “communist” documents, Karapatan said.
The group said the raid was carried out based on a warrant issued by Judge Shiela Gacutan-Labuguen of the Baggao Municipal Trial Court.
Salvador was also red-tagged and accused of harboring communist guerrillas visiting their village.
In the Visayas, Women’s Development Center executive director and former Karapatan – Central Visayas human rights worker Ira Pamat, Raquel Autida, Gabriela – Bohol coordinator, peasant leaders Joemar Pogio and Nelson Lumantas, and farmers Brando Compoc and Alfie Sarsale are also facing murder and attempted murder charges over the death of a soldier named Jerald Villanueva.
The group said the soldier was one of the casualties in an alleged clash between government troops and NPA members on Feb. 29, 2020 in baranagay Cansumbol, Bilar, Bohol.
Palabay said these charges that links community organizers, progressive leaders, and human rights workers to “so-called crimes against humanity, killings, or accusing them of involvement in armed encounters or by planting firearms and explosives in their homes are all based on lies.”
She cited the dismissal of charges against Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and unionist Rodrigo Esparago as well as the recent release of Igorot woman leader Beatrice Belen whose illegal possession of explosives charges was also dismissed by the local court.
Palabay reiterated that these charges, which she said are all based on fabrications, “are undeniably part and parcel of the NTF-ELCAC’s rabid red-tagging rampage, which are even more dangerous now that Duterte’s terror law is in place.”