Karapatan condemns police, military raids vs activists in Bicol

Karapatan condemns the most recent police raids in Bicol region at early morning yesterday, May 2, 2021 resulting in the arbitrary arrests of United Church of Christ of the Philippines Pastor Dan Balucio, 62, spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan - Bicol, and Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa, 20, spokesperson of Jovenes Anakbayan (Anakbayan’s regional chapter in Bicol region).

The police used search warrants issued by Legazpi City Regional Trial Court Vice Executive Judge Edgar Armes on Saturday, May 1, 2021 in the said raids and arrests. Police Regional Office 5 under Police Brig. Gen. Jonnel Estomo, Regional Director, combined elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Bicol headed by Police Col. Bayani Razalan, CIDG National Capital Regional Force Unit led by Police Col. Randy Glenn Silvio, Military Intelligence Group 5, and the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force reportedly conducted the said operations.

The patterns in the police raids based on the initial accounts of witnesses are similar to the operations conducted in Negros, Iloilo, Metro Manila, Central Luzon and the Bloody Sunday raids in Southern Tagalog.

At 3:30 a.m. yesterday, around 30 elements by the police and military forcibly entered the Shannan Christian Academy in Brgy. San Isidro, Sto. Domingo, Albay, where Pastor Dan Balucio, his wife and two children, and a staff of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines were staying. Balucio serves as the administrator of the said school. All occupants, including Pastor Dan, were forcibly brought out of the bungalow house, and the police and military operatives went through their belongings inside the house. After 30 to 45 minutes, the barangay captain and a kagawad arrived — it was only then that search warrants were shown to Balucio — and the police and military conducted their so-called search for another 30 minutes after which they allegedly found guns, ammunitions, a grenade, and a red flag. As of this writing, Pastor Dan is reportedly at the Sto. Domingo Municipal Police Station.

Approximately thirty police and military elements also forcibly entered a house at Lot 8, Block 4, Villa Obiedo Subdivision, in Brgy. Cararayan, Naga City, Camarines Sur where Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa, her sibling, aunt, uncle and cousin were staying. All occupants, including Sasah were reportedly brought out of the said house and no search warrant was shown to them. The police and military likewise occupied the house and went through the belongings of those staying there. After an hour, two barangay kagawad arrived and the police and military conducted their so-called search after which they allegedly found guns, ammunitions, a grenade, a book, a black t-shirt, a green envelop with documents, a wallet and a pack of panty-liners. Sta. Rosa was brought to Police Station 2 in Naga City. Copies of the search warrant obtained later reveal that the address on the warrant is different from the house where Sta. Rosa was staying.

In both incidents, witnesses strongly assert that the guns, ammunitions, grenades and other materials reportedly recovered in the two houses, which are being used as bases of the search warrants and the arrests, are all planted. They also pointed out that the police and military operatives had time and opportunity during their earlier intrusion into the homes of the two to plant these so-called evidence before the local barangay officials arrived and the so-called searches were conducted. Two search warrants each were issued by Judge Armes against Balucio and Sta. Rosa.

In another incident in Daraga, Albay, at 4 a.m. yesterday, in the home of student leader Justine Mesias, second year Bicol University student and Youth Act Now Against Tyranny - Bicol spokesperson, at least 40 operatives from the PNP and CIDG forcibly entered the residence, pointed their guns at Mesias’ family, and went through their belongings for two hours. A gun and explosive were allegedly found by the police and military in the said house. Mesias was not in the house at the time of the raid. We are still obtaining more comprehensive accounts of the witnesses in this incident.

Karapatan deplores this spate of police and military raids, purportedly based on search warrants, as highly questionable operations meant to crackdown on dissent on human rights defenders and social activists — this time, in the Bicol Region. The patterns in these operations have become the new normal for the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in their attempts to harass, threaten, and arbitrarily arrest and detain activists.

We call for the immediate release of Pastor Dan Balucio and Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa. We call on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation on these recent arrests and raids. We call on the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice to immediately act on this disturbing pattern of use of the courts to judicially harass human rights defenders. We call on the public to denounce these blatant attacks against our fundamental freedoms and civil liberties.