Rights group hits recent arrests, threats vs activists, peace consultant

Human rights watchdog Karapatan today sounded the alarm on reports of arrests and threats against activists and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Rafael Baylosis, as it presses for urgent efforts to address the pattern of judicial harassment and harassment of human rights defenders and political dissenters.

Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor said that “these arrests and threats come in the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday incidents and arrest of human rights worker Renalyn Tejero.”

At 4 p.m. on Friday, March 26, urban poor leader Concepcion “Connie” Opalla, former Kadamay leader in Pandi, Bulacan, was arrested by cops while she was tending her store at a local market. She was reportedly brought to the San Rafael Municipal Police Station in Bulacan. Kadamay said that they received reports that there were threats of arrests of their other leaders and members in Pandi.

On the evening of Wednesday, March 24, Anakpawis - Cagayan chairperson Calixto Cabildo, a peasant leader, was arrested purportedly through a search warrant served against him. He is reportedly detained at the police station in Amulung Municipal Police Station in Cagayan. Cabildo has been repeatedly red-tagged in numerous posters placed in public places in the province. In October 2020, police intelligence agents went to Cabildo’s residence twice to convince him to “clear” his name and “surrender.” He then requested for and held a meeting with Amulung Mayor Elpidio Rendon and the town’s chief of police where he explained his work as a peasant leader, that he is not an armed rebel, and that the harassment against him were unwarranted.

Threats of being killed, abducted or arrested of NDFP peace consultant Rafael Baylosis and his daughter, Eleanor de Guzman, who is the secretary on human rights of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), were reported on Thursday, March 25, after elements of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group harassed, intimidated and attempted to bribe a former staff of the KMU National Office.

Meanwhile, posters and tarpaulins in Cebu City and Butuan City red-tagged several leaders and members of cause-oriented groups. On March 25, tarpaulins red-tagging detained Karapatan human rights workers Renalyn Tejero and volunteer Lumad school teacher Chad Booc, Alliance of Concerned Teachers - Caraga secretary general Rosanilla “Lai” Consad, human rights lawyer Jose Begil, among others, were seen in the streets of Butuan City. On March 26, posters red-tagging Cebu-based activists John Ruiz of Bayan Muna, Jaime Pagkalinawan of Bayan, and Kadamay leader Belinda Allere were seen in public places in Cebu City.

“Ginagawang past-time na lang ng ating mga kapulisan at kasundaluhan ang ganitong mga paglabag sa karapatan ng mamamayan (The police and soldiers are committing these human rights violations like these are their hobbies). These arrests and threats have become commonplace occurrences, but we cannot allow the normalization of these incidents and trends,” stated Clamor.

“We cannot let this continue. Efforts to criminalize red-tagging should be fast-tracked because of these acts continue, more lives and the security of various individuals and groups are at great risk. Instead of continuing the counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapanatagan which has victimized civilians, the government should immediately address the worsening economic and social impacts of the pandemic that has been emerging as a question of political leadership in government. We call for an end to these attacks and threats against activists and peace consultants,” he ended.