By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Christine Marie Vidaya, community leader of Pinagkaisang Lakas ng Mamamayan (PLM) in Payatas Quezon City was traumatized after she and other members of their group were presented to the public as New People’s Army (NPA) returnees.
She said a former coordinator of PLM told her that they can get aid if they will “surrender.” Last Sept. 12, at around 8:00 a.m., Vidaya and 19 others were fetched from their community and were brought to Caloocan where they were supposed to get aid.
“When we got into the venue in Caloocan, a (police) chief was already there. There were also soldiers and other people, including the media. I was wondering that if we’re only going to get aid (a food pack and rice) why all the fuss?” Vidaya said in Filipino.
She said they had no idea what was going on until they were presented as NPA returnees.
Vidaya said they cannot do anything at that moment.
“We did not know what to do. We did not know what would happen if we didn’t sign the document they made us sign. Would they allow us to leave?” she added.
As a result, Vidaya had been anxious not only for her safety but also for her family and their members. For a week, she said, she had been crying thinking that what had happened has ruined her reputation. “It was really humiliating,” she said.
Vidaya was one of the speakers at the launching of Citizens Rights Watch Network (CWRN) last Nov. 5 at the Commission on Human Rights. The CWRN is a network of individuals and organizations aimed at mobilizing support for Filipinos whose democratic, civil and political rights are under attack.
Vidaya denied that they were members of the NPA. She said she cannot understand why they are being alleged as such. “We only fight for our rights. If only the government is giving us what we need we would not complain,” she said.
Lean Porquia, lead convenor of CRWN, said in a statement that communities and sectors are “being red-tagged for calling out for legitimate demands—just wages and decent jobs, aid, housing, and other social services.”
“Filipinos are being intimidated into silence, especially by the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) and their cohorts. But we say no more,” Porquia said. Porquia is the son of slain Iloilo activist Jory Porquia.
Porquia himself was repeatedly red-tagged by the NTF-ELCAC.
In its manifesto of unity, the network said they gathered together in defense of communities and even virtual spaces in the exercise of their rights and liberties.
“We gather to put a stop to repeated attempts by the NTF-ELCAC and other state agencies to sow terror, confusion, and intimidate our people into silence and inaction. We gather to stand as one with the people in their struggles for democracy, social justice and genuine peace,” the manifesto read.
During the launch, different individuals spoke about their experiences of being linked with the revolutionary groups. Also present to tell their stories were Kilusang Mayo Uno’s international officer Kara Taggaoa; Gabriela’s Ruth Manglalan, whose partner, Elizabeth “Loi” Magbanua is still missing; Rey Valmores, chairperson of LGBTQI group, Bahaghari, and Karapatan Southern Tagalog Interim Officer; and United Church of Christ in the Philippines pastor, Rev. Edwin Egar.
Egar shared that he was visited twice by members of the 59th Infantry Battalion on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. He was told by the soldiers to surrender because he is a “supporter.”
“I asked them who I was supporting. They said they got a document in the Bondoc Peninsula and they suspect that the NPAs are using me. I told them I cannot surrender because why would I surrender?” he said.
Egar also said they received information on Nov. 2 that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police will have a “one time, big time” operation similar to what happened on March 7, 2021, infamously dubbed as Bloody Sunday.
Egar said that there is a climate of fear because of what is happening in Southern Tagalog. That is why, he said, such gatherings will give the people the courage to fight back.
Vidaya said that she has explained to their members that there is no truth to the allegation against them.
“What we have are only placards bearing our calls to the government,” she said.
Lawyer Minerva Lopez of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) reiterated the importance of being united against those who violate the rights of the people.
“If we don’t fight together, nothing will happen,” she said.
Lopez said she believes that one day, perpetrators will be held accountable.
The CRWN convenors and participating organizations include Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos, Fr. Rudy Abao, MSC, Atty. Josh Quising of Alternative Law Group, Karl Suyat of Project Gunita, Sr. Eleanor Llanes, ICM, UP Professor Cynthia Zayas, former political detainee Pol Viuya, Director Kip Oebanda, and the Far Eastern University Legal Aid Bureau, among others.
The network plans to hold community-based human rights training and seminars, stakeholder meetings and dialogues, legal consultations and actions, fact finding and humanitarian missions, information and advocacy campaigns, community mobilizations, and lobbying.