Their call pic.twitter.com/JeltxmoYLy
— Bulatlat (@bulatlat) November 3, 2019
“The ultimate objective of EO 70 is a national crackdown. Duterte wants to wipe out the opposition, legal and armed. Wala ng pag-iiba diyan. (No distinction anymore)”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Progressive organizations labeled the Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 series of arrest and detention of 59 activists in Negros and in Manila as “part of government crackdown against critics.”
In a press conference Nov. 3, Ariel Casilao of Defend Negros and Anakpawis Partylist maintained that Duterte administration has upped the ante of repression, noting that the arrests in Negros targeted regional leaders of people’s organizations.
Casilao attributed the recent incidents to Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70, which creates the national task force to end the local communist insurgency (NTF-ELCAC).
“The ultimate objective of EO 70 is a national crackdown,” he said. “Duterte wants to wipe out the opposition, legal and armed. Wala ng pag-iiba diyan. (No distinction anymore)”
The Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division claimed that those arrested in Negros were members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) who were undergoing combat-related training and indoctrination.
The military further claimed that they recovered 32 firearms, 130 rounds of ammunition, and five explosives as well as the subversive documents during the Oct. 31 simultaneous raids in three offices of people’s organizations and residence of Bayan Muna regional coordinator Romulo Bito-on in Negros.
A handgun and two grenades were supposedly recovered from the residence of Gabriela Metro Manila Spokesperson Cora Agovida and her husband Michael Tan Bartolome in Manila on the same day.
On Nov. 1, authorities claimed they recovered three caliber .45 pistols with 17 bullets, seven grenade launcher ammunition, two improvised explosives, three mobile phones, and subversive documents from the homes of Ma. Lindy Perucho and Imelda Sultan.
Leaders of progressive organizations belied the military’s statement, saying the 59 arrested were peasant leaders, trade unionists, human rights defenders, cultural workers, a community journalist, women’s rights activists as well as minors.
Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela, noted that the tactics used in Negros and Manila were the same — one judge issuing the search warrants for Manila and Bacolod City raids and authorities recovering firearms and explosives specifically indicated in the search warrants.
“It is very insulting how we’re being made fools. What they’re saying is simply incredulous,” Salvador said in a mix of English and Filipino during the press conference.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas said it is unthinkable for Agovida and Bartolome to hide grenades in their small residence having with them their two children aged two and ten years old.
Reylan Vergara, Karapatan vice chairperson said that the evidence gathered from the raids were “all planted.”
Vergara swiped at Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar. “Andanar must be delusional to even put supposedly seized illegal firearms and explosives side by side with KMU flags, megaphones, microphones, and ‘subversive’ documents as evidence of their connections to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.”
Both Karapatan and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) raised questions to the warrants issued by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 89.
Katherine Panguban of NUPL noted that Villavert met with Brigadier Gen. Debold Sinas, acting chief of National Capital Region Police Office, on Oct. 30, the same day she issued the warrants for Manila and Bacolod.
Karapatan said Villavert was also the one who issed the search warrants that led to the arrest of other activists such as Vicente Ladlad and Alberto and Virginia Villamor, Rey Casambre, Estrelita Suaybaguio, and Alexander and Winona Birondo.
“…all of which suspiciously yielded the same result: the planting of evidence and an immediate trumped-up case of illegal firearms and explosives. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that the search warrants she issued were merely copy-pasted templates that only needed tweaking every time the State needs to arrest another activist,” Vergara said in a statement.
NUPL, in a statement, called on the Supreme Court to “look into the seemingly irregular issuance of search and arrest warrants essentially based on political designs.”
The NUPL also urged the high court to review the rule on issuance of search warrants in special criminal cases which, the NUPL said, “is or may be abused and weaponized by any branch of government to forum shop to silence dissent and criticism, slow down legitimate advocacies, foment fear and intrigue, and penalize the exercise of basic rights to association, speech, assembly, petitions for redress of grievances, and public participation.”
Resist the crackdown
Former Bayan Muna Teddy Casiño criticized what he called as “criminalization of exercise of rights.” “What is being criminalized is the exercise of the people’s constitutional rights such as the right to free expression, the right to organize, the right to seek redress of grievances,” he said.
“If activists were all arrested, who would oppose Duterte’s anti-people policies?” Casiño said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate likened Duterte to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who resorted to militarist solution in crushing the insurgency. “Duterte’s EO 70 and memorandum order no. 32, instead of ending the insurgency, would only result in the escalation of the armed conflict,” Zarate said in Filipino.
The memorandum no. 32, signed by Duterte in November 2019, orders the deployment of more troops in Negros, Samar and Bicol supposedly to crush “lawless violence.”