Call for the immediate release of 13 civilians, including a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines

On March 4, 2015, combined elements of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) simultaneously raided three houses in Quezon City and Caloocan City in the guise of implementing “Oplan Paglalansag”, a campaign of the PNP to go after illegally held firearms. The raid ended up with the arrest of 13 civilians, including a duly-accredited peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
 
Arrests in Quezon City: NDFP peace consultant and five others
 
At around 9:45 p.m. on March 4, 2015, 10 men with long firearms and in fatigue uniforms and blue shirts with “CIDG” printed on the back barged inside a rented house in Quezon City and arrested NDFP Consultant Ruben A. Saluta. Arrested with Saluta was his wife Presentacion Saluta whom he was visiting. Also arrested were four other persons—Alexander Raymund Birondo and his wife Winona Birondo, Ruben Rupido and Joseph Cuevas. Cuevas sub-leased the rooms in the house to save on costs of rent.
 
The armed men broke the front and back doors as some 40 other armed men took posts outside. The team, headed by a certain Col. J. A. Daza, went upstairs and pointed guns at the occupants. They repeatedly shouted: “Lie down! Do not look at our faces!” While the Saluta and Birondo couples, and Joseph Cuevas were downstairs, some members of the raiding team were on the second floor.
 
Saluta was bodily searched and seized his sling bag. Inside the bag were his medicines and his JASIG Document of Identification (DI). “Is this real?” the search officer asked. When he answered in the affirmative, the person turned to his superior and said “Sir, this person is a consultant.” Ruben Saluta was questioned in the presence of his wife Presentacion and Alexander Birondo.
 
Winona Birondo and Joseph Cuevas were asked to accompany members of the raiding team, supposedly to witness the search. It was only at that point the men mentioned having a search warrant, which was not however shown to any of the occupants. The search purportedly yielded several firearms and explosives, which surprised the house occupants who had never seen, knew, or possessed said firearms and explosives. They questioned the results of the search and asserted the items did not belong to them, aside from the fact that it had been more than 30 minutes since the raiding team moved freely around the house without any member of the household.
 
Ruben Rupido, another sub-lessee, arrived while the raid was on-going. He was on a street near the house when members of the raiding team accosted him. He was brought inside and saw his housemates held at gunpoint.
The raiding team asked Ruben Saluta to sign two lists of alleged items recovered during the search. He signed the first list with items that truly belonged to them. He however refused to sign the second list that included explosives, a rifle, and a .357 magnum.
 
At around 1:25 a.m. of March 5, Saluta et al were brought to the CIDG office in Camp Crame, Quezon City. Ruben Saluta, Alexander Birondo, Ruben Rupido, and Joseph Cuevas were detained at Anti-Organized Crime Division (AOCD-CIDG) holding cell while Presentacion Saluta and Winona Birondo were detained at the Major-Crimes Investigation Units (MCIU-CIDG) holding cell. At around 1:00-2:00 p.m., their mug shots and fingerprints were taken. All those arrested repeatedly requested for lawyers but were ignored. At around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. they were brought to the Prosecution Office at the Quezon City Hall of Justice for inquest.
 
Arrests in Caloocan City: seven other civilians
 
Those arrested in the two other houses in Caloocan City were: Osias Abad, Emmanuel Bacarra, Rosalia  Reboltar-Bacarra, Roy Baldostamo, Manolito Estrella, Emmanuel Villamor, and Monette Alcantara who had no common link except of being independent sub-lessors and sub-lessees of each other. They all underwent similar experience with that of Saluta’s group
 
Osias Abad, a house caretaker, was watching television when he heard loud banging on the front door. When he opened the door, he saw armed men with guns trained on him shouting, “Lie down! Lie down!” Abad was handcuffed and made to lie down the floor. He was only allowed to sit later when he told the men he has hypertension. He saw several police and soldiers going up and down the stairs.
 
Abad was shown a list of items such as guns, which the men said they were looking for. Abad told them they would not find any guns in the house as there are none. While Abad was being interrogated, the armed men searched the house. The armed men later said they found a gun. Abad said the gun was not his.
 
After an hour, Abad saw the members of the barangay tanod. The police forced Abad and the barangay tanod members to sign the list of items supposedly found during the search. Photographs of the barangay tanod with the guns were taken. Abad was placed under arrest because of the guns and explosives purportedly found in the house. He protested, insisting he had no knowledge of the guns and explosives, and asked that he be accorded his right to call a lawyer. He was brought to the CIDG- Anti-Organized Crime Unit office-Camp Crame.
 
In another house in Solomon St., North Olympus Subdivision, Caloocan City, Emmanuel Bacarra, Rosalia Reboltar-Bacarra, Roy Baldostamo, Manolito Estrella, Emmanuel Villamor, and Monette Alcantara were arrested after a similar raid was conducted by the same unit of police and military.
 
At around 10:00-10:30 p.m. of March 4, 2015, Baldostamo heard commotion outside the house. When he opened the door, uniformed men with long firearms and bonnets on their faces barged in, pointed their guns at him and ordered him to lie face down. His legs were kicked at by a SAF member when he tried to move them.
 
The other armed men proceeded to the second floor and entered the room of the Bacarra couple and another room where Villamor and Alcantara were. One of the armed men directly pointed a gun at Bacarra’s head; while Villamor and Alcantara were told to lie down as their hands were cuffed at their backs with plastic wires. The four were then ordered to go to the ground floor as several armed men remained at the second floor.
 
All five were questioned. Villamor asked the armed men for a search warrant and if barangay officials or the home owners’ association president are with them. He was told the men had a search warrant and that the barangay officials were outside the house.
 
Meanwhile, Estrella was then on his way home when a police vehicle stopped and several armed men accosted him and brought him to the house at around 11:30 p.m.
 
From the time they entered the house, the armed men conducted “search”. After nearly an hour the barangay officials arrived. Reboltar-Bacarra and Alcantara volunteered to accompany them upstairs supposedly for a search. But the two women already saw laptops, cellular phones, compact discs, flashdrives, documents, grenades, guns and explosives allegedly recovered from the search. The armed men directed the barangay officials’ attention to the guns, two grenades and nine explosives devices and blasting caps. The women protested the “planting” of said confiscated items.
 
The six civilians demanded for their right to counsel. They all refused to sign the inventory list of items as many of them were planted. The barangay officials obliged to sign the lists.  
 
At 1 a.m., all six were handcuffed and brought to Camp Crame. They were then detained at a 3x4 meters detention cell at the CIDG-NCR office.  At around 7:00 p.m., Bacarra’s group with Abad was presented before the Office of the City Prosecutor’s Office of Caloocan City for inquest. The group insisted for a lawyer of their choice. Through the help of the Inquest Prosecutor, they contacted the Karapatan National Office, which in turn alerted a lawyer who represented them during inquest. The seven decided to waive their right under Art. 125 and avail the right to preliminary investigation. They were then all brought back to Camp Crame. At around 10:30 p.m., paralegals of Karapatan and a lawyer of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) were able to talk separately to the 13 arrested persons.
 
Planted evidence, false testimony
 
The raiding teams were supposedly armed with a search warrant issued by the Quezon City RTC Branch 78 for illegal firearms. When they did not find any of those fictitious items listed on the warrant, the members of the raiding team ‘planted’ guns and explosives and labeled them ‘evidence’. All three houses were searched and the raiding teams hauled their belongings. The police-AFP operatives also ‘invited’, a euphemism for arrest, the 13 residents of the three houses. To justify the baseless and bungled operation, the police later filed false charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against the 13 arrested, including Saluta.
 
It was the testimony, a ridiculous tall story, of a certain Roger Reyes Rodriguez that linked together the three separate households.
 
Rodriguez claimed he met Saluta in Antique province through his uncle. Saluta supposedly recruited him as gun for hire in Manila. The tale goes: Rodriguez went to Manila, contacted Saluta who gave him a gun he didn’t like. Saluta brought him to the house where the Bacarras were staying and offered him another gun, which Rodriguez again refused. Saluta then brought him to the third house where Osias Abad resided and offered another gun that Rodriguez finally liked. Rodriguez’s incredulous sworn affidavit became the dubious basis of the search warrants improperly issued for the Quezon City and Caloocan houses.  
 
After spending almost a month at a cramped holding area at the CIDG-Anti-Organized Crime Unit in Camp Crame, all 13 were transferred at the Custodial Center-Camp Crame on April 2. Many of those arrested are in their 60’s and suffering from various ailments.
 
These incidents show the continuing violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), with the arrest of another NDFP peace consultant, and the rampant practice of illegal arrest and detention, incriminatory machination, and illegal search and seizure by state security forces in the country. As of December 2014, Karapatan documented 700 victims of illegal arrest and detention under the BS Aquino administration, among them 15 NDFP consultants. ###  
 
Recommended Action:
Send letters, emails or fax messages calling for/on:
1.       The immediate release of the 13 arrested persons.
2.       The end to the practice of illegal arrests and detention, planting of evidence and trumped up criminal charges.
3.       The Philippine government to respect previously signed agreements with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, specifically the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and to honor the rights and immunities of duly-accredited persons; and the immediate resumption of the stalled peace talks.
4.       The Philippine Government to withdraw its counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, which victimizes innocent and unarmed civilians.
5.       The Philippine Government to be reminded that it is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that it is also a party to all the major Human Rights instruments, thus it is bound to observe all of these instruments’ provisions.
You may send your communications to:
H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III
President of the Republic
Malacañang Palace, JP Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila Philippines
Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80
Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968
E-mail: op@president.gov.ph
Sec. Teresita Quintos-Deles
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)
7th Floor Agustin Building I, Emerald Avenue, Pasig City 1605
Voice:+63 (2) 636 0701 to 066
Fax:+63 (2) 638 2216
stqd.papp@opapp.gov.ph
Ret. Lt. Gen. Voltaire T. Gazmin
Secretary, Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Building, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, EDSA, Quezon City
Voice:+63(2) 911-6193 / 911-0488 / 982-5600
Fax:+63(2) 982-5600
Email: osnd@philonline.com, dnd.opla@gmail.com
Atty. Leila De Lima
Secretary, Department of Justice
Padre Faura St., Manila
Direct Line 521-1908 
Trunkline  523-84-81 loc.211/214
Fax: (+632) 523-9548
Email:  lmdelima@doj.gov.ph, lmdelima.doj@gmail.com, lmdelima.doj2@gmail.com
Hon. Loretta Ann P. Rosales
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., UP Complex, Commonwealth Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Sec. Manuel Roxas
Secretary, Department of Interior and Local Government
DILG NAPOLCOM Center, EDSA corner Quezon Avenue, Quezon City
925-0330 / 925-0331
Fax: 5-0332
Email: maia@marroxas.com
INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS (ICRC)
5/F Erechem Building, Rufino corner Salcedo Streets, Legaspi Village, Makati City
ICRC Contact Number(s):
+632 892-8901 to 04, +632 819-5997 (Fax)
Email: manila.man@icrc.org
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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