By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Two activists based in Iloilo City were harassed by suspected state agents, human rights group Karapatan reported.
In separate incidents, Ma. Geobelyn Lopez-Beraye, 37 and Diogene Primalion, 39 were both warned by suspected state agents of being charged with criminal offenses and/or forcibly disappeared.
On August 15, Primalion, a taxi driver and former staff member and community organizer of Paghugpong sang Mangunguma sa Panay kag Guimaras (Pamanggas) was waiting for passengers at a mall in La Paz, Iloilo City, when a medium-built man got in his taxi and asked to be brought to a business establishment in BS Aquino Avenue, Mandurriao district. Primalion described the passenger to be around 40 years old, with fair complexion and speaking in Tagalog (Hiligaynon is the native language in Panay).
When they reached their destination, Primalion was instructed to drive his taxi close to a “multi-cab.” The passenger suddenly accused Primalion of being a certain “Ka Gomez,” a member of an underground revolutionary group. The passenger then opened the door and another man wearing sunglasses boarded the taxi.
Both men warned Primalion that charges of rebellion and other crimes will be filed against him or he may suffer the same fate as Luisa Dominado and Nilo Arado, who were abducted and forcibly disappeared in April 2007. The men also told Primalion that he is “being watched.”
Before alighting from the taxi, the first passenger handed Primalion a letter signed by a certain Dennis Roy. In the letter Primalion was warned that a warrant of arrest will be issued against him in the following days for charges of rebellion, extortion, arson with robbery and murder.
The letter also read that if Primalion would cooperate with “them,” he would not be arrested and no harm would befall on him.
According to Karapatan, the incident compelled Primalion to stop driving his taxi. He sought refuge away from his home for fear that the men would come after him. He received reports from family members that suspicious-looking men were seen near their house after the incident. For a few weeks, Primalion went from one place to another.
Meanwhile, Beraye, secretary general of Madiaas Ecological Movement and education officer of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) – Panay chapter, received a letter on Sept. 21 signed by a certain Alvin M. Salvador. The envelope bore a return address of Fuentes, Roco and Associates Law Firm in Poblacion, Roxas City, Province of Capiz.
Like Primalion, Beraye was threatened that charges of rebellion and other crimes will be filed against her if she will provide help to “Komiteng Rehiyon – Panay.” (regional committee of Panay) The letter also read that she was putting herself, her husband and children in danger, and that she may also suffer the same fate as Luisa Dominado and Nilo Arado.
A few days before Beraye received the letter, she took part in an Ecumenical Anti-mining Conference for environmental advocates in the Panay island.
Beraye reported the incident to the La Paz police headquarters. She brought her case before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Region 6 on September 30.
Attacks against environmental activists intensify
In a statement, the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and the Task Force – Justice for Environmental Defenders, expressed its solidarity to Beraye.
“We are one with their condemnation of this new approach to cracking down on opposition to mining plunder and other anti-environment activities,” Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of the group, said.?
Dulce said environmental advocates are subjected to various forms of human rights violations including the filing of criminal charges. The group deems these multi-million criminal cases filed by corporations against critics of development aggression as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP).
The Kalikasan PNE also said other environmental activists such as Vince Cinches, former executive director of Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center and Rey Palacio of the Ecowaste Coalition, as well as his wife and 10 year-old daughter, have also been receiving death threats.
According to the group, 42 environmental activists have been killed since 2001, eight of whom were slain under the current Aquino regime. Dulce noted that even the high-profile cases of renowned botanist Leonard Co and Palawan broadcaster Gerry Ortega, remain unresolved.