“It is infuriating that the Duterte government wrongfully convicts activists and human rights advocates while the government forces behind human rights violations are parading free.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Seventy-three-year old Lilia Bucatcat was walking her dog along Marikina River Banks on March 9, 2017 when elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-National Capital Region arrested her without a warrant.
More than two years later, Bucatcat, a former peasant organizer in Samar, was convicted of frustrated homicide. On July 3, the Regional Trial Court, Branch 30 in Basey, Samar sentenced Bucatcat to a minimum of four to a maximum of eight years of imprisonment. Other charges filed against her including frustrated murder and robbery were dismissed.
Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of human rights alliance Karapatan, condemned the decision.
“Time and again, we are confronted with cases that expose the flaws and double standard of the country’s justice system. The elderly are not exempt in the government’s vindictive campaign against activists, even as Bucatcat has already retired from organizing work and was spending time with her family when she was arrested,” Palabay said.
Another political prisoner, Billy Morado, was convicted on June 28 of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Branch 128 of the Regional Trial Court in Caloocan City promulgated its decision in the case of Felimon Tuba, Jr. and Morado. Tuba was acquitted but Morado was sentenced to six years to eight years of imprisonment.
“It is infuriating that the Duterte government wrongfully convicts activists and human rights advocates while the government forces behind human rights violations are parading free,” Palabay said, referring to the recent acquittal of military generals involved in the illegal arrest of the health workers collectively called as the “Morong 43” in 2010.
Palabay said there was also no warrant presented during the arrest of Morado and Tuba. Karapatan said CIDG forced their way inside their residence in search of firearms but found none. The CIDG instead took a handful of belongings, including a motorbike, blood pressure equipment, brand new laptop and watch, cell phones, and cash. All of these were never returned, according to Karapatan.
“If there are criminals worthy of conviction in this scenario, it is none other than the police who violated the rights of both Tuba and Morada, and planted evidence in their belongings,” Palabay said.
“Contrast this with the way this government handled the cases of Imelda Marcos and Gloria Arroyo, and we see a clear picture of injustice and doling out of political favors,” Palabay added.
Data gathered by Karapatan shows there are now a total of 545 political prisoners in the country, of whom 288 were arrested under the Duterte regime.
Early this month, Maoj Maga, a trade unionist was also convicted of illegal possession of firearms.
Karapatan maintained that the arrest and detention of activists are are all part of a systematic policy to jail and silence critics, in line with the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) and government’s counterinsurgency program.
Amid the conviction of political prisoners, Karapatan vowed to continuously demand immediate release of those imprisoned over groundless accusations, planted evidence, perjured testimonies and trumped-up charges.
“There is a structure of impunity that jails the innocent and the critics, and frees the criminals. This government has actively perpetuated a culture of gross impunity. There is no justice for the families and victims of rights violations under Duterte’s leadership, only impunity and continuing injustice,” Palabay added.
The group called on the public to join the relatives of political prisoners along with various groups and human rights advocates on July 22, the fourth State of the Nation Address of President Duterte and call for the release of all political detainees.