Karapatan: Duterte frees criminals and murderers while arresting and harassing activists

While murderers and criminals like United States soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton are granted absolute pardon, human rights watchdog Karapatan said that “activists, government critics, and the poor in the country face growing threats and intensifying harassment from the State” as the group decried the arrests in Bicol of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) – Camarines Sur chairperson Nelsy Rodriguez and transport group leader Ramon Rescovilla, Piston vice chairperson, as well as the harassment of Iglesia Filipina Independiente priest Marco Sulayao of the Promotion of Church Peoples’ Response – Panay and the recent trumped-up charge against Bayan - Panay Secretary General Elmer Forro.

“It’s very clear that Rodrigo Duterte is more than willing to pardon criminals while weaponizing the law and State security forces to harass, fabricate charges, and arrest people who work tirelessly in defending people’s rights. It’s very clear that the interests he and his government serve are the interests of the powerful, and it’s no wonder why they are so rabid and desperate in silencing critics and the poor,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Rodriguez, 59, was arrested for a trumped-up murder charge last Sunday evening, September 6, at the office of Bayan – Camarines Sur in Bagumbayan Sur, Naga City. Police who introduced themselves as barangay nurses and health workers served the arrest warrant, which was issued by Judge Arniel Dating of the Labo, Camarines Norte Regional Trial Court Branch 64 on July 20 over a murder that allegedly occurred in the same town. She is currently detained at the Naga City Police Office Police Station 1.

Meanwhile, afternoon of the same day, Fr. Sulayao with his wife and three children were stopped by the police in a checkpoint in Batad, Iloilo as two men in plainclothes, presumably policemen, handed over to him an envelope from their “boss” and instructed him to call their boss’ numbers inside it to clear his name; the envelope contained the numbers 0916 240 3248 and 0951 353 7216, which were the same mobile numbers forcibly given to Iloilo activist Rea Ogoy last May 28, while the second number was also used to call Armie Almero, executive director of the Panay Center for Disaster Response, last July 8 after two men tried to forcibly give her a piece of paper also with mobile numbers.

On Monday, September 7, Rescovilla was arrested at 4 p.m. while he was on his way home in Brgy. Kilicao in Albay based on trumped up charges of murder in a Camarines Norte court. He is currently detained at the police station in Tagas, Daraga, Albay. On August 13, Forro received a subpoena for alleged murder and multiple murder complaints.

All of the cases against the activists charged were filed by soldiers. Previously, Forro and Sulayao’s names and pictures appeared in posters in Iloilo tagging them as “human rights violators,” in what appears to be a hitlist of activists in the said island. Prior to their arrests, Rescovilla and Rodriguez received threats and were villified by State forces in Bicol region.

The Karapatan officer said that the “State forces are playing the game of outright deception in denying their roles in threatening and killing activists, while serving warrants to facilitate arrests and harassing activists in checkpoints and elsewhere and vilifying them with all sorts of baseless accusations and trumped-up criminal charges, inciting violence on them.”

“Karapatan condemns these arrests and continuing cases of targeted harassment against activists, government critics, and the poor. We strongly demand the immediate release of Nelsy Rodriguez and Ramon Escovilla and to drop all the false and baseless charges against them and Elmer Forro. We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to condemn and resist this fascist regime’s blatant efforts to suppress and silence dissent while it protects the interests of criminals, murderers, and plunderers,” she ended.