Karapatan accuses gov’t of ‘illegally’ arresting rights workers amid Duterte crackdown on activists

November 21, 2017 - 5:11 PM
Peasant organizer Senando Jacutin and human rights worker Rosario Tabanao at the detention center at the Pagadian City Police Station. Photos courtesy of Karapatan.

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights group Karapatan has accused the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines of arresting and detaining 11 human rights workers “illegally”.

In a press release, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay linked the arrest of Peping Sacdalan, 67; Carlos Sanoza, 62; Josefino Castillano, 50; Senando Jacutin, 47; Rosario Tabanao, 47; Jocelyn Cabadin, 44; Leonardo Delos Reyes, 43; Jennelyn Bayani, 30; Orlan Cabadin, 19; Robert Hernandez; and Anthony Bañaga to President Rodrigo Duterte’s “threat” on Saturday to crack down on progressive organizations.

Those arrested had been tagged as members of the New People’s Army. But Palabay said it was “a lie relegated as among the oldest tricks in the PNP and AFP’s ‘how to get away with illegal arrest and human rights violations’ rulebook.”

“Mass arrest of members of an organization is fast becoming a trend in the PNP and AFP’s conduct of illegal arrests. It has become as brazen and as arbitrary,” she added.

She accused the Duterte administration of allegedly conducting a “systematic attack against human rights workers.”

Bañaga, Bayani, Orlan Cabadin, Jocelyn Cabadin, Castillano, Delos Reyes, Hernandez, Sacdalan, and Sanoza were arrested on Monday by members of the PNP and the Philippine Air Force 730th Combat Group in Nasugbu, Batangas.

According to Karapatan, eight of these nine persons were actually members of farmers groups, while the ninth was a jeepney driver. They were on their way to Brgy. Utod in Nasugbu to “monitor human rights violations against civilians amid the ongoing military operations of the PAF against members of the NPA in Nasugbu.”

Karapatan said the group would be brought to a regional trial court in Batangas to undergo inquest proceedings.

On Saturday, meanwhile, Jacutin and Tabanao were arrested by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 9 and the 1st Infantry Tabak Division of the AFP in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur. According to Karapatan, Jacutin is a peasant organizer of Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas, while Tabanao is a staff member of Karapatan Western Mindanao.

Karapatan alleged that firearms and explosives were planted on the two, who are detained at the Pagadian City police station and are set to undergo inquest proceedings Tuesday.

“Karapatan condemns this blatant attack on the people’s right to monitor human rights violations and the brazen arbitrariness and illegality of the recent series of arrests,” Palabay said.

She continued, “How then can human rights and humanitarian organizations function and aid civilians amidst armed conflict when rights of human rights workers are being curtailed? Human rights workers, in the conduct of their work, have already one foot in the grave.”

Palabay also criticized the creation of the Inter-agency Committee on Legal Action (IAOCOLA), which supposedly intensified “political persecution and illegal arrests” against human rights groups and other progressive organizations.

“More increasingly in the Duterte regime, legal processes are subverted and instead directed against the people,” she said.

According to the PNP website, the IACOLA establishes “stronger coordination of ongoing and future efforts of the government in addressing these cases” against threat groups.

The joint resolution creating IACOLA was signed in October by PNP Chief Police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa and then AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año in the hopes of strengthening “the intelligence gathering and cooperation, investigation, prosecution, and monitoring of cases against threat groups.”

On Saturday, Duterte told reporters in Davao City that the government “may take steps” against activists, and added that he believed groups like Bayan were in league with the communist rebels.

“We will study and maybe we will have a crackdown here somewhere,” Duterte said.

In the same press conference, he called the armed wing of the National Democratic Front, the New People’s Army, terrorists.

“Before, we recognized them as legitimate rebels. But with their continued depredations, killing innocent people even an infant four months old, I’ll be issuing a proclamation. I will remove them from the category of a legal entity… placing them – same as America – [in the category of] terrorists.”

Recently, an infant was among eight civilians in a Toyota Fortuner caught in the crossfire when NPA rebels ambushed a police vehicle in Bukidnon. The NPA admitted killing the infant, and even apologized in a statement.

“So beginning from now, wala nang [there’ll be no more charges called] rebellion-rebellion. We will fight terrorism, murder, arson na [now]… because we will consider them criminal already,” the President added.