By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
(UPDATED: June 29, 2021; 9:24 A.M.) MANILA – A farmer’s support group expressed concern over a series of arrests in Bohol just after midnight, June 25.
In a statement, Farmers Development Center officer-in-charge Marianne Corazon Tagalo related that at around 1:00 a.m. today, a composite team of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) arrested its program coordinator for Bohol, Carmilo Tabada, at his home in Trinidad, Bohol. His family confirmed his arrest, Tagalo said.
She added that Tabada was arrested over planted firearms and grenade explosives and is currently detained at the Trinidad Police Station.
At 3:00 a.m., United Church of Christ in the Philippines Pastor Nathaniel Vallente was also arrested in Mabini, Bohol for the same reasons.
Tagalo said that the authorities claim to be in possession of a search warrant against Vallente, but they were concerned that the raiding team were not wearing any body camera. She added that barangay officials also did not sign the manifestation of arms and ammunition retrieval.
Tagalo said Vallente is an active council member of the Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa San Jose (NAMASAJO), one of FARDEC’s peasant partners in Bohol.
“FARDEC denounces to the highest degree this series of attacks that harks back to Negros Island’s Synchronized Enhanced Managing of Police Operations (SEMPO) that massacred innocent farmers in 2018 and 2019. Tabada is a barangay councilor and leader of esteemed commitment that greatly helped (in the) implementation of our projects for peasant communities in Bohol,” Tagalo said.
Prior to Tabada’s arrest, he was also red-tagged last March. A group of motorcycle-riders staged a protest in front of his home in time for the New People’s Army’s founding anniversary. Tagalo also said that the repeated red-tagging and surveillance forced him to “scale down” his presence and prioritize his family’s safety.
Tabada has been been with FARDEC since 1998. He later became its coordinator in Bohol in 2002.
“Among the results of Tabada’s efforts and grassroots networks was the rice mill in Trinidad which significantly aided local farmer unions, among them NAMASAJO, in setting rice prices and breaking buyer monopolies before its forced closure in December 2020,” Tagalo said.
‘Tabada Crime Group does not exist’
Tabada’s family meanwhile refuted claims of the authorities that he is involved in gun-running activities or that there is a “Tabada Crime Group”.
In a statement, the family questioned the existence of the alleged victims and buyers of the supposed firearms. They also questioned the legitimacy of the raid.
“The raiding team, led by PLTCOL. Saturnino S. Estigoy, had forced entry into Tabada’s residence, resulting in broken lock and door,” the statement read.
They added that the raiding team also forcibly entered the home of Tabada’s brother, Ret. Navy Officer Wilfredo Tabada, and his neighbor and pointed guns at the family members.
“This is despite the fact that the search warrant stipulated only Carmilo Tabada as respondent,” the family said in the statement.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas provincial chapter Hugpong Mag-uumang Bol-anon (HUMABOL) also asserts that the firearms found in the house where Vallente was arrested were all planted.
According to the group, a witness’s account of the incident revealed that the PNP and CIDG raided and searched the house of Vallente’s sister-in-law, which is beside their house. The authorities ordered those who are inside to come out before they entered the house.
“They believe that it was at that time that the grenade and .45 caliber pistols were planted as they were held outside and prevented from accompanying the police inside the house despite their protestation,” the group said.
They added that based on the witness’ handwritten account, the police “could not even identify Vallente and did not know where his house is.”
“The police were asking about Pastor Dodo and were told that he was in his own house located nearby. That was when they realized that it was not Pastor Dodo’s house but they had already planted the evidence. Some of them then proceeded to his house,” the group said.
Vallente was awakened by the commotion during the raid and went outside to check.
“It was Pastor Dodo who requested the presence of barangay officials to act as witnesses. However the grenade and firearms were already planted in the house of his sister-in-law when the two barangay councilmen arrived to witness the search,” the group added.
‘Release Tabada and Pastor Vallente’
Tagalo said this latest incident of attack against FARDEC staffs impedes their operations “toward truly eradicating poverty and hunger among farmers in Central Visayas.”
She lamented that just a year ago, its Sustainable Agriculture Program coordinator, Elena Tijamo, was abducted from her Bantayan island, Cebu home. Her whereabouts are still unknown.
“We call for the immediate release of both Tabada, Pastor Vallente, and other peasant leaders in Bohol who have been victimized by intense counter-insurgency pretense in recent weeks. This is yet another reflection of the government’s failure to curb the worsening human rights situation in the country,” Tagalo said.