At least 59 activists arbitrarily arrested in widespread crackdown on people's organizations in Negros and Manila

On October 31, 2019, the offices of Bayan, Bayan Muna, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Karapatan, Gabriela, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and the Negros Island Health Integrated Program were simultaneously raided, along with the residence of local leaders in Bacolod City and Manila. As of this writing, 59 individuals, including minors, were arbitrarily arrested. Interestingly, the raids were executed on the basis of search warrants issued from the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 89, signed by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert. The same judge was reported to be in a meeting with Brig. Gen Debold Sinas, Philippine National Police NCRPO acting regional director, prior to the raids.
"Karapatan strongly condemns this sinister effort to crackdown on activists and legitimate people's organizations, who are among the most tireless campaigners for social justice, people’s rights and civil liberties, on the basis of trumped-up and twisted justifications. The law and the legal process has been weaponized against those who remain critical, done in cahoots with judges who use their positions to foment injustice. Our justice system has been subverted, with state forces partnering with all officials, through their ‘whole of nation approach,’ to silence dissent and undermine democratic space in the country via Executive Order No. 70. At this rate, the Duterte regime's looming dictatorship inches closer to fruition, albeit cloaked in calculated machinations that further corrupt and turn civilian agencies, including courts, against the people," said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

She emphasized that search warrants have enabled the arbitrary arrest and planting of evidence against activists: "This is a new component of their crackdown, increasingly used after the Oplan Sauron operations back in 2018. We emphasize that these organizations have been incessantly red-tagged, and that these raids are an immediate repercussion of such malicious campaigns. With the issuance of search warrants, these targeted operations mask themselves as "legal" or "justified". However, these are indicative of a justice system that is corrupt, prone to the influences of militarists, and instrumental in perpetrating injustice."

Of the 59 individuals, those confirmed to be in police custody in Bacolod City are John Milton Lozande, Secretary General of NFSW; Danny Tabura, NFSW leader; Albert dela Cerna, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) organizer; Noly Rosales, KMU organizer; Romulo Bitoon, Jr., Makabayan coordinator, Bayan Muna partylist leader and former political prisoner; Mermalyn Bitoon, wife of Romulo; Mary Anne Krueger, member of Paghimutad media group; Proceso Quiatchon of Karapatan-Negros, and other members affiliated with Teatro Obrero and Teatro Bungkal cultural group. NFSW leaders Imelda Sultan and Lindy Perocho were arrested on November 1 in Escalante City, after police and military agents raided their office. A total of 57 individuals are currently detained in Negros, after the two-day raids. 

Karapatan also responded to the "pea-brained parrots" who rushed to defend such an "obviously targeted operation against red-tagged groups." Palabay noted that "AFP's Antonio Parlade has once again opened his mouth to grace us with ramblings that have no material relevance to the incident. PCOO's Andanar, on the other hand, is claiming that the targeted groups are out to "destroy the government's reputation." We suggest that Andanar stop blaming progressive organizations for the failures of this government, and instead look at its own policies. What reputation are we talking about? As far as many are concerned, this government is perfectly capable of ruining its own image and reputation - - single-handedly."

The Karapatan official also warned of graver violations targeting other people's organizations. "The crackdown in Negros is a preview of what is to come. The Duterte government, through its National Task Force (NTF) to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and counterinsurgency program, has used Negros as a laboratory to perpetrate human rights violations. We urge for vigilance, unity, and massive condemnation against these operations that blatantly violate the people's right to due process, freedom of association and right to form unions and organizations, and other civil liberties. With a long list of fascist policies, a militarized government and bloodthirsty state forces, the Filipino people are called to strongly resist this curtailment of our rights," she urged.

Palabay also linked the simultaneous raids in Negros to the arrest of two activists in Manila on the same day on October 31, 2019. At around 5am on Thursday, Cora Agovida, Gabriela Metro Manila spokesperson and Mickael Tan Bartolome, Kadamay Metro Manila member, were illegally arrested by operatives who forcefully entered their home. Operatives of the CIDG and the Metro Manila Police District (MPD) allegedly showed a search warrant which was also issued by the same judge who issued the search warrants in Negros -- Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.

"How convenient for the police and the military to have a handy judge who have no qualms about being party to the political persecution of critical voices. These attacks are systematic, manned by the NTF, and subsequently justified through repressive policies, alongside incessant red-tagging of groups and individuals. We name and condemn these judges, alongside these military and police movers who have actively shoved the country into a worsening spiral of human rights violations. We call it for what it is -- State terrorism," added Palabay.

"We remain steadfast, anchored in our advocacy that human rights defense will never be a crime. In fact, in these trying times were militarism and dictatorship permeates all aspect of governance, the defense of people's rights is all the more necessary and urgent. We appeal to all organizations, partners, colleagues - both here and abroad - to stand alongside the communities, individuals and organizations who are at the frontline of this crackdown. We call for the immediate release of all the detained activists in Negros and in Manila," concluded Palabay.