Karapatan calls for release of arrested volunteer worker; decries torture, coercion by police, NTF-ELCAC

Photo by Del Abcede/Pacific Media Center

Rights group Karapatan called for the release of Ma. Lorena Sigua, and decried the psychological torture and coercion against the arrested volunteer worker.

“We demand that Sigua be released. Since her arrest, state forces have repeatedly interrogated, threatened and coerced Sigua, in clear violation of her rights,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

According to Palabay, Sigua’s legal counsel and paralegal said that Sigua was not read her Miranda rights. Police also violated attorney-client privilege, when they required her to put her cellphone on loudspeaker when she talked to her lawyer. The regional unit involved in her arrest also took hold of Sigua’s personal belongings including laptops, flash disks, cellphones, cash and her car, among others. They refused to turn over Sigua’s belongings to her legal counsel and relatives, citing the need for clearances and court orders, despite lack of basis to obtain and confiscate them.

Sigua’s arrest was said to be by virtue of an arrest warrant on a trumped up murder charge issued by Judge Lou A. Nueva of Regional Trial Court Branch 7, Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur. As of this writing, Sigua remains in detention at the San Jose Del Monte Police station.

Sigua was a student of the College of Mass Communications at the University of the Philippines Diliman, and was a member of Concerned Students for Justice & Peace (CSJP). She was also a long-time volunteer of the Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center (AVHRC) from 1999 to 2004. She worked in private companies after that. She volunteered to help the Lumad community schools in the past years.

Karapatan also condemned how Sigua has been interrogated thrice by elements of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and the police intelligence unit of Region 3, from the night of September 19 until the afternoon of September 20 without the presence of her legal counsel. Her interrogators offered Sigua large amounts of money in exchange of information on persons she doesn’t know. She was also threatened that something bad will happen if she does not cooperate with them.

“The interrogation, bribery, coercion and threats, and even how they keep hold of her personal belongings including her car, are systematic harassment and psychological torture against Sigua. The police have also violated Sigua’s right to counsel, by making it difficult for her counsel to get the necessary information on her arrest and in providing legal assistance,” Palabay said.

Palabay also said the NTF-ELCAC has also attempted to use Sigua as bait to turn in another red-tagged and harassed rights defender in the person of Atty. Jobert Pahilga.

Intelligence officers from Camp Crame reportedly said they will return her personal belongings, as long as it is Pahilga who will claim them. A human rights lawyer, Pahilga is also red-tagged and harassed by Jeffrey Celiz, a former activist turned informant and state agent. Celiz reportedly came with elements of the the NTF-ELCAC to interrogate and coerce Sigua.

“Sigua’s whole ordeal is a demonstration of how state forces under the Duterte regime continue to crack down on activists and even volunteer workers like Sigua. We urge a stop to the filing of trumped-up charges in courts, leading to unjust arrest and detention, making almost anyone vulnerable to attacks and threats. As long as Duterte and his minions remain in power, they will also continue to make a mockery of justice and of our rights. This has to end now,” Palabay said.