Karapatan: Arrested Lumad activists in QC are not communist rebels

Lumad activists Julieta Gomez and Niezel Velasco, who were arrested in Quezon City last Friday, July 16, are not communist rebels but leaders of indigenous and humanitarian organizations, human rights alliance Karapatan asserted today, as the group assailed the arrest of the Gomez and Velasco as a “brazen attempt to hinder them from conducting their advocacy work and to vilify their work by arresting them based on planted evidence and trumped-up charges.”

Gomez is a Lumad-Manobo activist who has been at the forefront of defending their ancestral lands from plunder by mining and plantations. She served as a teacher in the Sildap-Sidlakan Lumad School and then as council member of the Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga. From July 2017 to June 2018, she was also the Provincial Focal Person of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, Local Affairs Coordinating and Monitoring Services (NAPC-LACMS) for Agusan del Sur.

Meanwhile, from 2007 until 2017, Velasco was the project coordinator of the Bread for Emergency and Development Inc., a relief and rehabilitation institution in the Caraga region serving victims of calamities. She led the implementation of marine sanctuary protection and livelihood projects for fisherfolks in coordination with the municipal government of General Luna, Surigao del Norte from 2007 until 2014, and from July 2017 to June 2018, she was also the Provincial Focal Person of NAPC-LACMS.

In a press conference, Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar presented several firearms and bullets, a flag of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), as well as several educational documents allegedly confiscated during their arrest. Gen. Felix Brawner, Jr. commander of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division, also released to the media the list of confiscated firearms and ammunitions, along with their supposed ranks in the CPP White Area Committee of the Northeast Mindanao Region.

“At that time of their arrest, Julieta Gomez and Niezel Velasco were in Quezon City to conduct advocacy work on the human rights violations in the Caraga region due to the worsening human rights violations and militarization against Lumad communities. They are not rebels — and certainly not criminals and terrorists. The police’s narrative of supposedly confiscating ‘evidence’ in operations to implicate them is already a tired modus operandi. Have we not heard enough of their tanim-ebidensiya schemes?” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay asked.

At least four trumped-up charges against Gomez and Velasco in Caraga have been dismissed due to lack of evidence. Palabay, however, averred that “Gomez’s and Velasco’s respective work with progressive and humanitarian organizations as well as their engagement with government agencies and local government units belie all the claims that they are armed rebels, more so the multiple fabricated charges that are being lodged against them.”

“These arrests are undoubtedly part of the widespread and worsening crackdown on activists and human rights defenders in the Caraga region, brought about by the bloody counterinsurgency campaign of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and to stop them from doing their advocacy work. We demand for the immediate release of Julieta Gomez and Niezel Velasco and to drop the trumped-up charges against them now,” the Karapatan official ended.