“How can [the judiciary] distance themselves [from the police action] if they themselves signed the documents used to make the operations seem legitimate?” – Defend Southern Tagalog
By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – Activists and community organizers from all over the Southern Tagalog region are bracing for a different kind of ‘second wave’ following the Supreme Court’s report that there are at least 22 more warrants left to be served in relation to the bloody March 7 killings.
According to a report by Supreme Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez, the Manila Regional Trial Court received 63 applications for search warrants last March 1, all of which were intended to be served across the Calabarzon region.
Of the 63 warrants, 42 were granted, 19 were denied, while two were withdrawn. So far, 24 of those warrants have been ‘used’ last March 7 in simultaneous police operations across the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Rizal, resulting in the death of nine activists and the arrest of six others.
The warrants were mostly signed by Judges Jose Lorenzo Dela Rosa of Manila RTC Branch 4 and Jason Zapanta of Branch 174.
Rights group Defend Southern Tagalog called the report by Marquez “appalling.”
“Just as what happened with [the] farmers in Negros Island, there are waves to these operations,” the group said in a statement. “There is reason to expect more to be arrested and killed using the same tactics.”
Human rights watchdog Karapatan Southern Tagalog meanwhile slammed Marquez’s insistence that the “issuance of search warrants by the judges and their service or implementation of by law enforcers are different acts.” In a statement, the group asserted that it is the “primary duty of the judiciary and of all judges under it to stand for justice and ensure that it is served through due process as mandated by law,” while questioning if the Bloody Sunday killings counted as “deliverance of justice.”
“How can [the judiciary] distance themselves [from the police action] if they themselves signed the documents used to make the operations seem legitimate?” they asked.
The arrests and killings come as the region experiences an upsurge of confirmed COVID-19 cases. According to data available in the Department of Health, there are 105,965 total cases of COVID-19 in the Calabarzon region alone. 8,386 of those are active cases, accounting for 13.5% of all active cases in the country.
Calabarzon has the second highest number of cases of COVID-19 in the country, following the National Capital Region. The provinces of Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal rank 3rd, 4th, and 5th in total number of cases, respectively.
Vaccination programs, however, are moving slowly. As of March 4, Calabarzon received only 7,000 vaccines meant for the region’s health workers; nowhere near enough for the region.
Some groups have found government response woefully inadequate. Regional labor center Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan – Kilusang Mayo Uno (PAMANTIK-KMU), for example, has long called for the Duterte administration to offer “free and quality vaccination” and an increase in the healthcare budget.
Southern Tagalog workers have instead received the opposite of aid during the pandemic. According to Dandy Miguel, PAMANTIK-KMU spokesperson, the Duterte administration has “failed to live up to workers’ demands during the pandemic,” and has instead “continued to attack and harass workers fighting for their rights.”
In a March 15 press conference, Miguel noted that two of the arrested individuals from the Bloody Sunday raids were Steve Mendoza, Executive Vice President of Organized Labor Association in Line Industries and Agriculture (OLALIA-KMU), and Mags Camoral, former president of Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Manggagawa sa F. Tech (NLMF-OLALIA-KMU).
Other labor leaders that also faced similar harassment during the pandemic period are Hermenigildo Marasigan, President of OLALIA-KMU, Efren Arante, an organizer for OLALIA-KMU, who received threats sent to his son through text message, and most recently, Arnedo Lagunias, former Secretary of Lakas ng Manggagawang Nagkakaisa sa Honda (LMNH-OLALIA-KMU) and officer of Alyansa ng Manggagawa sa Engklabo (AMEN), was arrested March 4 on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
The Duterte administration’s track record suggests that it is less interested in combatting the Filipino people’s socio-economic crises and more on militarization and authoritarianism. This is evidenced by Duterte’s repeated proclamations to “end the communist insurgency” by the end of his term.
Recently, National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. has insisted that the operations were “legitimate police operations.” Parlade has since taken to social media to claim that some of the slain victims, such as Abner Esto and Ariel Evangelista, were members of the communist New People’s Army.
Philippine National Police spokesperson Ildebrandi Usana also defended the raids, claiming that the victims were “members of the New People’s Army hiding behind the façade of being activists.”
The Duterte administration has employed ‘red-tagging’ – accusing its victims of having links to the Communist Party of the Philippines – as a means for further harassment. Most of the Bloody Sunday victims have been red-tagged at one point or another.
Defend ST maintains that situations like this raise concerns about the presumption of regularity of the raids. “Nine people cannot avail of the ‘legal remedies’ that [Marquez] has boisterously and almost callously assured us about,” read a statement from the group. “The courts should not prate about ‘regularity’ when continuous fear mongering has impeded people to apply for these remedies.”
Karapatan ST similarly challenged the courts to be independent of law enforcing bodies. Kyle Salgado, their spokesperson, challenged the Supreme Court to “investigate the circumstances of the Bloody Sunday killings and to charge those responsible.”