Environmental activist abducted and detained in Koronadal City, South Cotabato

On May 3, the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), through its spokesperson Capt. Alberto Caber, released a statement to the media claiming it has captured the “notorious NPA front secretary Felix Armodia who operated in Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Tulunan, North Cotabato.”

On May 3, the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), through its spokesperson Capt. Alberto Caber, released a statement to the media claiming it has captured the “notorious NPA front secretary Felix Armodia who operated in Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Tulunan, North Cotabato.”

Contrary to the claims of the AFP, they illegally arrested and detained 52 year-old Romeo Rivera, an environmental activist who is a co-convenor of the Tampakan Panalipdan (Defend Tampakan), an organization campaigning against large-scale and destructive mining in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Romeo Rivera was falsely charged with slight illegal detention, robbery with violence, murder and murder with frustrated murder. But the name Romeo Rivera does not appear on any arrest warrant presented by the authorities. Said warrants were issued against Armodia. The National Democratic Front in Southern Mindanao also issued a statement saying Rivera and Armodia is not the same person.

On May 2, 2014, at around 1:30 p.m, Romeo Rivera, 52 was taking his nap on a hammock outside their house at Barangay San Roque, Koronadal City when some 20 armed men in plain clothes and bonnets on their faces arrived and surrounded Rivera.

With the guns pointed at him, Rivera was immediately handcuffed and blindfolded. He pleaded that he be allowed to put his shirt on, but the men disregarded his request. The men seized his cellphone and took him inside a car.
Romeo’s son, Arel, was inside the house when he heard screaming and commotion outside. When he looked up, several armed men already entered their house. Arel was ordered to lie on his stomach. He was  hit and ordered to crawl outside the house.

According to witnesses, the armed men fled on board a grey Toyota Tamaraw FX (NIC316) and two Hilux vans with a “For Registration” card instead of a plate number.

Rivera was kept blindfolded and handcuffed inside the vehicle as they drove off to Digos City. The abductors forced Rivera to admit  he is “Felix Armodia,” allegedly the secretary  of a guerrilla front of the New People’s Army. One of his abductors told Rivera that his case would be reduced if he cooperated, while another threatened to kill him.
After hours of travel, Rivera was transferred into another vehicle where the interrogation continued.

At around 7:40 p.m. they reached Digos City. Rivera’s blindfold was removed and he was turned over to the Digos City police by Capt. Anthony Albuera of the 39th Infantry Battalion- Philippine Army (IBPA).
Speaking to a news reporter inside Digos police detention center, Rivera gave names of his relatives who can vouch for his identity, and places where he lived.

Rivera is the third Karapatan-documented case of illegal arrest and false charges, because they were said to be mistaken for NPA leaders.  There was security guard Rolly Panesa who was captured and tortured because he was mistaken to be “Benjamin Mendoza” allegedly a CPP leader in Southern Luzon. Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay also cited the case of farmer Olegario Sevas, 65, who was illegally arrested on December 25, 2011 in Negros Oriental by elements of the AFP and PNP because he was mistaken to be “Filemon Mendrez,” purportedly a leader of the NPA. The warrant of arrest issued against Sevas did not bear his name.

“Benjamin Mendoza” had Php 5.6 million and “Filemon Mendrez” Php 5.25 million on their heads as reward for their capture. The reward system is contained in a hitlist of the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Governments known as Joint Order Number 14-2012.

Karapatan believes that Rivera was targetted because of his work as leader of Tampakan Panalipdan.  On April 22, Tampakan Panalipdan spearheaded a Mindanao-wide forum at Tampakan National High School opposing the Tampakan Project operations of the Sagittarius Mines, Inc. The Tampakan project targets the 15 million tons of copper and 18 million ounces of gold in the area. SMI is largely operated by Anglo-swiss company Glencore-Xstrata and Australian Indophil Resources NL.albu

Karapatan has documented several cases of human rights violations in the Tampakan area including at least 10 victims of extrajudicial killings related to the operations of GlencoreXstrata-SMI. Among those killed are members of the Capion family – Juvy Capion, her two children – who were strafed by soldiers of the 27th IBPA in October 2012. Juvy’s brother-in-law Kitari was killed in January 2013.

Recommended Action:

Send letters, emails or fax messages calling for:

  1. The immediate release of Romeo “Gingging” Rivera from detention, and the dropping of charges against him;
  2. The immediate formation of an independent fact-finding and investigation team composed of representatives from human rights groups, the Church, local government, and the Commission on Human Rights that will look into the arbitrary arrest and detention of Romeo Rivera.
  3. The end to the policy of labeling and targeting of human rights defenders as “members of front organizations of the communists” and “enemies of the state.”
  4. The withdrawal of Oplan Bayanihan, the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency program, that victimizes innnocent and unarmed civilians.
  5. The Philippine Government to observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all the major Human Rights instruments that it is a party and signatory to.

You may send your communications to:

H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III
President of the Republic
Malacañang Palace,
JP Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila Philippines
Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80
Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968
E-mail: op@president.gov.ph

Sec. Teresita Quintos-Deles
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)
7th Floor Agustin Building I
Emerald Avenue
Pasig City 1605
Voice:+63 (2) 636 0701 to 066
Fax:+63 (2) 638 2216

Ret. Lt. Gen. Voltaire T. Gazmin
Secretary, Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Building, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo,
E. de los Santos Avenue, Quezon City
Voice:+63(2) 911-6193 / 911-0488 / 982-5600
Fax:+63(2) 982-5600
Email: osnd@philonline.com, dnd.opla@gmail.com

Atty. Leila De Lima
Secretary, Department of Justice
Padre Faura St., Manila
Direct Line 521-1908
Trunkline 523-84-81 loc.211/214
Fax: (+632) 523-9548
Email: lmdelima@doj.gov.ph, lmdelima.doj@gmail.com, lmdelima.doj2@gmail.com

Hon. Loretta Ann P. Rosales
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., UP Complex
Commonwealth Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Voice: (+632) 928-5655, 926-6188
Fax: (+632) 929 0102
Email: chair.rosales.chr@gmail.com, lorettann@gmail.com


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