Karapatan: Crackdown on dissent rapidly escalating with trumped-up charges, arrests of rights defenders

The Duterte regime’s “crackdown on dissent is rapidly escalating with the spate of trumped-up charges and warrants being churned out by courts against human rights defenders, and government critics,” human rights watchdog Karapatan stated, as the group assailed the series of arrests of leaders of people’s organizations in Caraga, a barangay captain in Cagayan Valley, as well as the fabricated charges against peasant leaders and human rights workers in Bohol.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said these were “clearly devilish legal machinations being orchestrated by the rabid sycophants” of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“Fabricating charges to vilify human rights defenders is not a new tactic — but they are being increasingly used as a convenient cover for the fascist Duterte regime’s political persecution and crackdown on dissenters. If human rights defenders are not brutally murdered, they are thrown behind bars over absurd criminal charges based on perjured testimonies and planted evidence, all to concoct the lie that human rights defenders are terrorists or criminals,” Palabay continued.

On February 11, small entrepreneur Rogelio de Asis, an active member of the Promotion of Church People’s Response in Agusan del Norte, was arrested by the Philippine National Police in his home in Brgy. Matabao, Buenavista. His arrest was based on a supposed warrant alleging de Asis was a member of the New People’s Army involved in a March 19, 2020 murder case. De Asis was then in Agusan del Norte campaigning for Anakpawis partylist as its then regional coordinator in Caraga.

De Asis’s arrest followed the arrests of 72-year-old Isaias Ginorga, spokesperson of transport group PISTON in the Caraga region, last February 5, and the of Gina Tutor, coordinator of the Gabriela Women’s Partylist in Agusan del Norte, Greco Regala of Pamalakaya – Agusan del Norte, and 72-year-old church and community health worker Vilma Yecyec on February 6.

Despite her advanced age and various ailments, Yecyec is facing several trumped-up charges, the most recent of which is a murder case in connection with the killing of Garito Malibato in Kapalong, Davao del Norte which also implicated Cordillera Peoples Alliance Chairperson Windel Bolinget.

In Baggao, Cagayan, Ruben Salvador, captain of Brgy. Agaman Norte, was arrested last Monday, February 8, after the Cagayan police raided his residence and supposedly found illegal firearms and explosives as well as “communist” documents. Salvador had been ceaselessly red-tagged and accused of harboring communist rebels visiting the barangay. The raid was carried out based on a warrant issued by Judge Shiela Gacutan-Labuguen of the Baggao Municipal Trial Court.

Women’s Development Center executive director and former Karapatan – Central Visayas human rights worker Ira Pamat, Gabriela – Bohol coordinator Raquel Autida, peasant leaders Joemar Pogio and Nelson Lumantas, and farmers Brando Compoc and Alfie Sarsale are also facing fabricated murder and attempted murder complaints over the death of a soldier Jerald Villanueva, who was one of the casualties in an alleged armed clash between government troops and communist rebels on February 29, 2020 in Brgy. Cansumbol, Bilar, Bohol.

The Karapatan official asserted that “this slew of absurd charges linking community organizers, progressive leaders, and human rights workers to so-called crimes against humanity, killings, or accusing them of involvement in armed encounters or by planting firearms and explosives in their homes are all based on lies as clearly shown by the dismissal of the illegal firearms charges against Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and unionist Rodrigo Esparago, who were arrested along with five other unionists during International Human Rights Day last December, as well as the release of Igorot woman leader Beatrice Belen after the dismissal of the illegal possession of explosives against her.”

“These charges — all based on fabrications — are undeniably part and parcel of the NTF-ELCAC’s rabid red-tagging rampage, which are even more dangerous now that Duterte’s terror law is in place. Duterte and his militarist minions can concoct all the lies they want, but the truth will always prevail. We demand the release the Human Rights Day 7, Rogelio de Asis, Isaias Ginorga, Gina Tutor, Greco Regala, Vilma Yecyec, Ruben Savador and all political prisoners in the Philippines, and to drop all the trumped-up charges against activists and human rights defenders in the country,” she ended.