By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – Progressive organizations in Quezon province condemned the military’s attempts to intimidate and red-tag human rights defenders.
In a statement, human rights watchdog Karapatan Quezon blames Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) Chief Lt. General Antonio Parlade, Jr. as “solely responsible for the crackdown of citizens not only of Quezon but the entire Southern Tagalog region.”
Karapatan cited multiple incidents of “state attacks against progressive individuals and organizations” starting June this year.
On June 1, members of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division charged Karapatan Quezon Secretary-General Genelyn Dichoso with attempted homicide. She has long been a target of threats and harassment from elements of the military.
Dichoso, and seven others, were later illegally detained by police officers in San Narciso, Quezon.
At that time, Dichoso and her team were on a fact-finding mission to validate reports of children being abducted by elments of the 85th Infantry Battalion following an encounter with the revolutionary New People’s Army. They were later released after progressive organizations and members of the community protested the arrest.
Other progressive organizations and individuals in the province were also targets of harassment. Last September 26, soldiers visited the home of former Bahaghari Quezon member Mena-seh Maloles and accused him of being a recruiter for the NPA. Photographs of Maloles participating in activities organized by the LGBTQ+ rights organization were used as “proof” of the said accusation.
Queer Quezon Chairperson Neal Roxas believes that such harassment is unacceptable, adding that the group will “seek accountability for these violations.”
“This culture of impunity must be stopped and despite the crackdown brought by Solcom, we will still be there to watch this fascist regime crumble to the ground,” Roxas said.
On September 19, Anakbayan Quezon Coordinator Romeo Jara was visited by Solcom officers threatening him with charges under the Anti-Terrorism Law if he joins protests.
Just recently, Parlade issued statements in his Facebook account insinuating that Anakbayan Quezon is responsible for the deaths of children for “recruiting them to Anakbayan, then the underground Kabataang Makabayan (KM), then the NPA.”
“He poses himself as an advocate of free speech, and welcomes dissent, when in reality he is the number one violator of democratic rights in Southern Tagalog,” Anakbayan Quezon said in a statement.
Long history of harassment and red-tagging
Aside from the incidents mentioned in the report by Karapatan, Solcom has been consistent in attacking and threatening farmers, activists, and human rights defenders who try to seek redress for the injustices they have been experiencing.
In February, John Ardy Cacao and Jason Calusin were reported missing, suspected to have been abducted by elements of the 85th IBPA. This happened shortly after the killing of three peasant organizers – Emerito Pinza and Romy Candor in Laguna, and Jay-ar Mercado in Oriental Mindoro – by members of the police and military.
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, harassment instigated by Solcom continued. Elements of the 85th IB figured in reports by Karapatan Quezon in incidents of harassment against farmers in Lopez, Catanauan, Macalelon, Unisan, Agdangan, Padre Burgos, and Atimonan.
In May, Leoben Holeto, who was recovering from an appendicitis operation, was arrested in Lucena City following accusations of being an NPA member.
Parlade’s shameless red-tagging tirade
Quezon province activists believe that Parlade, who was appointed Solcom chief in January this year, is one of the causes of the increasing attacks against activists in the area.
Parlade, as spokesperson of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), shamelessly tags progressive and activist organizations, including church groups and media outfits, baselessly claiming that they are “legal fronts” or “sympathizers” of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
Just recently, he figured in red-tagging actresses Liza Soberano, Angel Locsin, and former Miss Universe Catriona Gray, claiming that they are involved with revolutionary organizations simply because they they spoke in events organized by Gabriela.
Parlade’s anti-communist rhetoric dates back to the Aquino administration, whose false claims on the Morong 43 case led to his dismissal as spokesperson of the Philippine Army.
In July, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate filed a graft complaint against Parlade for his “persistent red-tagging” during the 2019 campaign period.
Meanwhile, Karapatan Quezon and other progressive groups assert that the problem is bigger than Parlade.
“Now more than ever, there is a great need for activists to hold the government accountable for its continued violation of human rights, not to mention its lax response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has entrenched the people in a deep health and economic crisis,” said Dichoso.