Twenty-seven leaders and members of people’s organizations in Southern Tagalog, including a labor lawyer, were charged with arson, destruction of property and conspiracy to commit rebellion. The activists said this is but part of the ‘legal offensive’ of Malacañang, which is meant to derail the people’s movement in the region.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Twenty-seven leaders and members of people’s organizations in Southern Tagalog, including a labor lawyer, were charged with arson, destruction of property and conspiracy to commit rebellion.
The charges, filed at the Batangas Prosecutor’s Office in Lemery, were related to the burning down of a Globe cell site in Lemery, Batangas on August 2.
Among those charged are regional leaders Noriel Rocafort, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-New Patriotic Alliance)-Batangas Secretary-General, Bayani Cambronero Bayan Muna regional coordinator, Rolando Mingo, National Vice-President of PISTON and Regional Secretary-General of STARTER-PISTON, Atty. Remigio Saladero, founding member of National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL)
Local leaders of groups affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP-Philippine Peasant Movement) and Pambansang Lakas ng Mamamalakaya sa Pilipinas (Pamalakaya or National Unity of Fisherfolk in the Philippines) are also in the list. They are Agaton Bautista, organizer of Samahan ng Magbubukid sa Batangas (SAMBAT or Association of Peasants in Batangas) and Anakpawis-Batangas provincial coordinator; Renato Baybay, chairperson of KAMAGSASAKA-KA (Peasant Association in Cavite) in Cavite, Isabelo Alicay, chairperson of Haligi ng mga Batangueñong Anak ng Dagat (HABAGAT or Association of Fisherfolk in Cavite).
Romeo Lorca Aguilar of Kadamay-Rizal, an organization of urban poor residents in Rizal, and Nestor San Jose, transport organizer in Rizal are also included.
Women activists Amelita Sto. Tomas, Gabriela-Cavite and Dina Capetillo, secretary-general of Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights)-Batangas are also accused of the said crimes. Four more women are also accused.
Of the 27 activists, 11 are from Batangas, six from Cavite, six from Laguna, three from
Rizal and one from Mindoro Oriental. Eight of the respondents are part of the Silang 9 who were allegedly abducted and tortured by elements of the Calabarzon Philippine National Police (PNP) on August 31. They were released two days after the arrest; the PNP failed to file charges against them.
In a press conference held Oct. 4 in Quezon City, seven of the accused belied the charges against them.
Jobert Pahilga, one of the legal counsels of the accused, said the charges were filed August 15 and the preliminary investigation started on Sept. 15. “Those accused were not able to attend the hearings because most of them did not receive any notice,” said Pahilga.
The lawyer suspected that the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) intentionally supplied the wrong addresses of the respondents.
Pahilga said when he checked out the charges, pictures of the respondents were among the files submitted by the Military Intelligence Group, particularly the Special Operating Team 401 operating in Region IV.
He said two witnesses submitted their sworn statements. They are Marlo Timbreza, security guard of the Globe cell site and Arvin Leviste, self-proclaimed deep penetration agent (DPA) of the Philippine Air Force.
Bayan Muna’s Cambronero said it was impossible for Timbreza to be able to identify the names of the perpetrators. “We are leaders and members of people’s organizations. Why would we bother to burn down a cell site?” said Cambronero.
Meanwhile, Leviste alleged in his affidavit that the 27 activists held a meeting on Ausgust 2 somewhere in Calaca, Batangas and agreed to carry out the burning of the Globe cell site in Lemery.
Saladero described the charges as ‘very stupid and incredible.’
He said that during the said incident, he was attending a case conference at the office of the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE).
Saladero said that one of his co-accused, Aguilar, was then at the hospital. “He could not walk. He has diabetes and his toes were almost amputated.” Another accused, San Jose, was also at the hospital, said Saladero. “He was by the bedside of his dying wife who has cancer.”
Saladero retorted, “Are these the result of military intelligence? It is a contradiction in terms; the military has no intelligence at all.”
“Are they saying that I am a lawyer during the day and a member of the NPA [New People’s Army] at night?” Saladero said.
He said they would file their counter-affidavits on October 30 at the Batangas Prosecutor’s Office.