The Arroyo government and its allies have been harassing their critics — political activists, human-rights advocates, journalists, government employees, workers, teachers, environmentalists, lawyers, to name some — with court cases that range from the frivolous to the absurd. Now, these victims of political persecution have banded together to fight back.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada is not the only person who is raging against a form of political persecution through the filing of trumped-up charges by the Arroyo government. Members of the media, government employees, workers, other whistleblowers and activists have also been sued with criminal cases ranging from direct assault to murder.
Lozada, the star witness in the bribery and corruption surrounding the $329 million National Broadband Network deal with ZTE of China, was charged with perjury by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former chief of staff Mike Defensor. Lozada was arrested on April 29 and imprisoned at the Manila City Jail until the Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 26 decided to turn him over to the Senate’s custody last May 7.
The victims of legal harassment and political persecution, Lozada among them, gathered in a meeting sponsored by Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change last May 14 in Manila.
Journalist Cheche Lazaro decried the wiretapping case filed against her by GSIS vice president for communications Ella Valencerina.
The case stemmed from the Nov. 12 episode of Lazaro’s show Probe, titled “Perwisyong Benepisyo” where Lazaro was shown talking to Valencerina on the phone. The GSIS official said Lazaro did not have her consent to record the conversation but the journalist insisted that Valencerina knew that Probe was recording it and the latter did not stop her. The Probe episode tackled the plight of public-school teachers who had not received their retirement pay in full.
“She said she filed it as a private individual and GSIS has nothing to do with it but she’s using GSIS lawyers,” Lazaro said at the meeting.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) branded the suit against Lazaro as “absurd and dangerous.”
Like Lazaro, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) chairperson Antonio Tinio and Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) national president Ferdinand Gaite are also facing charges filed by the GSIS. They have been charged with libel by GSIS president Winston Garcia.
Garcia also filed libel charges against Dan Mariano, columnist, and Rene Bas, editor-in-chief of The Manila Times, Federico Pascual Jr., columnist, and Ramon Lim, opinion editor of The Philippine Star; Raul Valino, Lito Gagni, columnists, and Lyn Resurrection, opinion editor of BusinessMirror.
CMFR’s Vergel Santos, who was also present at the meeting, cited the libel cases filed by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo against more than 40 journalists. Santos said the class suit filed by the journalists against Mike Arroyo is still active.
Also at the meeting, Merly Grafe, chairperson of the Solidarity of Cavite Workers, shared the plight of 33 workers who were sued for direct assault and grave coercion by Korean companies Chong Won Fashion Inc. and PhilsJeon Garments Inc.
Grafe said the workers only defended their picketline during a strike in 2006. Grafe said the police and security guards were the ones who harassed the workers.
Solidarity Philippines’s Father Joe Dizon said the case was meant to paralyze the workers’ unions. He noted that the two companies are inside the Cavite Export Processing Zone.
Glen Malabanan, Karapatan-Southern Tagalog deputy secretary general, also enumerated several cases filed against leaders and members of people’s organizations in Southern Tagalog.
Malabanan said that 27 Southern Tagalog activists were charged with arson and destruction of property in connection with the burning of a Globe tower in Lemery, Batangas, on Aug. 2, 2008, allegedly by the New People’s Army (NPA). The case has been recently dismissed for lack of probable cause.
Malabanan also cited the case of the so-called Southern Tagalog 72. Seventy-two regional leaders, including labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr., were charged with multiple murder and frustrated multiple murder in connection with a raid by the NPA in Calapan City, Mindoro Oriental, in March 2006. Seven of the 72 respondents were detained at the Calapan City District Jail, including Saladero. On Feb. 5, Judge Manuel C. Luna, Jr. of Branch 39 of the Calapan City Regional Trial Court dismissed the case on technical grounds.
Even as the two cases were dismissed, Malabanan said that another murder case has been filed against 62 activists in Southern Tagalog. The case involved the killing of a member of Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) in Rizal, allegedly by elements of the Narciso Antazo Aramil Command of the NPA on July 29, 2008.
Malabanan said that like the Mindoro and the Batangas cases, the Rizal case is “absurd.” She said that an affidavit of a witness stated that one of the 62 respondents killed the Cafgu member and said “Mabuhay ang Partido Komunista ng Philippines!” (“Long live the Communist Party of the Philippines!”) as the 61 others cheered, “Mabuhay!” (“Long live!”)
The Karapatan leader also cited the charges of direct assault and illegal assembly filed against 15 leaders and members of people’s organizations in Batangas.
The respondents were among the protesters who were violently dispersed by the police on Dec. 22, 2008. The protesters staged a rally against the demolition of vendors’ stalls at the Batangas International Port.