Senior citizen, pregnant woman in Sorsogon charged under terror law —Karapatan

Amid the postponement of the Supreme Court oral arguments on the petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act until March 2, human rights watchdog Karapatan scored another case of illegal search, arrest, and the filing of charges under the draconian law — this time against two women, one of them eight months pregnant, in Sorsogon.

“After victimizing two Aetas in Zambales, State forces have arrested a senior citizen and a pregnant woman and charged them under the terror law. While debates and discussions on the terror law drag on before the Supreme Court, State forces are increasingly using the law to heighten their fascists attacks and terrorize the people,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

Enriqueta Guelas, 62, and Elizabeth Estilon, 41, were arrested on December 24, 2020 after an alleged raid inside their house in Brgy. Lalod, Bulusan, Sorsogon by some 50 elements of the 31st and 22nd Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army. Guelas was tending their farm that morning when the soldiers came and “searched” their house, which was done the whole day, with children and sickly elders in the household witnessing how soldiers rummaged through all their belongings in almost all parts of the house.  The military continued to tell members of the household to bring out their firearms while accusing them of being members or supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA), which they denied.

The household members pleaded to the soldiers to let them sleep that evening. When they woke up in the morning of December 25, the household members were surprised to see a bag that allegedly contained firearms and explosives. They then took away Guelas and Estilon who they said were identified by alleged rebel returnees. Only on December 27 when their relatives located the two detained at Sorsorgon City Police Substation 2. They were initially charged with fabricated offenses of illegal possession of firearms and explosives — a tactic which has been repeatedly used to file trumped-up charges against activists, human rights defenders, and any individual whom they tag as a communist rebel. They were surprised to learn later that were also facing charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The two women are currently detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology Sorsogon City District Jail since their transfer on January 20 this year. Estilon is due to give birth by the end of March.

Palabay asserted that the arrest of Guelas and Estilon “shows the vile character of the terror law, which targets vulnerable persons and sectors, again on mere allegations and let us not forget, notorious planting of evidence by State forces themselves. We call for the release of Guelas and Estilon, especially Estilon is about to give birth, on just humanitarian grounds, lest the State wants the blood of another Baby River or Baby Carlen upon their hands.”

“Our call to junk Duterte’s terror law is now more urgent than ever. With every day that passes that the Supreme Court does not act on our petitions, more and more people are being victimized and terrorized by this unconstitutional and draconian law. We cannot let the State continue their campaign of State terror and fascism against the people. The terror law must be junked now,” the Karapatan official ended.