The mañanita general’s notion of despedida proved to be a series of raids and arrests in Southern Tagalog and Bicol, according to human rights groups.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – With the retirement of Police Chief Gen. Debold Sinas and with his birthday today, May 8, human rights group Karapatan believes that the recent series of arrests of activists is the general’s despedida.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, made this statement after four individuals were arrested on May 6 in the Southern Tagalog region. The day before, Karapatan alerted the public after receiving information that another series of police and military raids in Southern Tagalog is in the offing.
According to information received by Karapatan, on the night of May 5, search warrants were issued against 15 individuals. These search warrants were first denied by the courts prior to the May 7 incident, said Palabay. But these were eventually reapplied in different local courts and may have been approved resulting in the arrest of four people on Southern Tagalog on May 6.
These individuals, according to Palabay, are among the 15 people.
Among those arrested on May 6 were Gary Doroteo, a Dumagat from Tanay, Rizal who is opposing the Kaliwa/Kanan Laiban Dam and was arrested in his home in barangay Sta. Ines, Tanay, Rizal; Benito Lucio, president of the Integrated Association of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries and former president of the Anakpawis chapter in Rodriguez, Rizal, who was arrested together with his wife; and Loreto Balino was also arrested in his home in General Nakar, Quezon.
Prior to this, on May 2, Pastor Dan Balucio, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Bicol, and Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa, Jovenes Anakbayan spokesperson, were also arrested in simultaneous police raids in Bicol region.
According to Karapatan, the police used search warrants issued by Legazpi City Regional Trial Court Vice Executive Judge Edgar Armes on May 1 for the said raids and arrests.
Karapatan said it was 3:30 a.m. on May 2 when combined elements of the police and the military forcibly entered the Shannan Christian Academy in Brgy. San Isidro, Sto. Domingo, Albay, where Balucio, his wife and two children, and a staff of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines were staying. Balucio serves as the administrator of the said school.
The police forcibly brought out all the occupants including Balucio from the house and the police and military operatives went through their belongings inside.
“After 30 to 45 minutes, the barangay captain and a kagawad arrived — it was only then that search warrants were shown to Balucio — and the police and military conducted their so-called search for another 30 minutes after which they allegedly found guns, ammunitions, a grenade, and a red flag,” Karapatan said.
The same happened with the arrest of Sta. Rosa. State agents also forcibly entered her house and the residents were brought outside. Initially the authorities did not present search warrants. The police and the military began the search when barangay officials came after an hour. Afterwards, the authorities alleged they found guns, ammunition, a grenade, a book, a black t-shirt, a green envelope with documents, a wallet and a pack of panty-liners.
Witnesses in these raids assert that the firearms and explosives and other supposed evidence obtained from the search were planted.
The house of Justine Mesias, in Daraga, Albay, a second year Bicol University student and Youth Act Now Against Tyranny – Bicol spokesperson was also raided on the same day at 4:00 a.m. Afterwards a gun and explosives were allegedly found in his house. The group said Mesias was not in the house at the time of the raid.
Nica Ombao of Defend Bicol Stop the Attacks said there is no truth to the allegations made against the three activists. She said their weapon is only a megaphone as they are often present in protest actions held in the region.
Based on initial accounts of witnesses, Karapatan said that the patterns in the police raids are similar to the operations conducted in Negros, Iloilo, Metro Manila, Central Luzon and the Bloody Sunday raids in Southern Tagalog.
DOJ urged to take action
Palabay urged Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, to immediately act on the questionable search warrants leading to imprisonment, or worse the killing of activists.
“Secretary pakibilisan naman po (please hurry) because it is lives and security that are at stake here,” said Palabay.
“Every week and every day that these issues remain unaddressed, a person ends up in jail or being killed. This is not a numbers game. We don’t trifle with lives. We need to take action,” she added.
According to Palabay, they had a dialogue two weeks ago with Guevarra who told them that they are already talking with the Supreme Court on the issue of questionable search warrants.
Charm Maranan, spokesperson of Defend Southern Tagalog also challenged new Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo to side with the people and intervene in what she describes as bulk application of search warrants.
She added that when the Supreme Court or government bodies would not act on the “warrant factories,” lives would be in danger as more activists would be killed or imprisoned based only on “unfounded and baseless allegations.”
Maranan lamented that the issue on the “search warrant” factories is sowing fear among their members.
“It has become a cycle of fearing for your life, of trying to take what will happen next and also worrying about the safety of our colleagues,” she said.
Maranan asserted that they are only activists who are fighting for people’s rights.
“We do not have arms, ammunition or anything. These are baseless allegations and only want to stifle dissent and criticism,” she added.
Maranan explained that the Southern Tagalog region is known to be continuously opposing developmental projects that are impeding people’s rights.
She also added that rights violations are the result of policies such as Executive Order 70, which institutionalizes a whole-of-nation approach in the crackdown against activists.
Palabay meanwhile said that these search warrants being issued against activists is the handiwork of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“This is unacceptable,” Palabay said.