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Arrested activist tagged ‘high-value target’

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ACTIVIST Aris Sarmiento in a photo collage posted by poet and fellow activist Axel Pinpin in his Facebook account. COURTESY OF AXEL PINPIN

CAMP VICENTE LIM, Laguna —Political activist Aristides “Aris” Sarmiento, who was arrested by a police and Army team on Tuesday, is considered a “high-value” target by government forces that tagged him as a ranking official of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the Southern Tagalog region.

Sarmiento, 55, has been tagged as secretary of the NPA unit that operates in central and south Quezon, according to Col. Alex Capiña, head of the Army’s 201st Brigade in Quezon.

“He is a high-value (target and his arrest) will result in a leadership vacuum and cause demoralization,” Capiña said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Sarmiento, accused of using the aliases Ka Liling, Nikki and Kaka in the rebel movement, was arrested by a team of Army and police intelligence agents at the house of a village official in Lucban, Quezon.

Sarmiento’s eldest daughter, Roma, said her father left home in Calamba City, Laguna, on Monday to meet a friend and former Lucban Mayor Moises Villaseñor.

From Quezon, Sarmiento was taken to Camp Vicente Lim, the regional police headquarters in Calamba City, on Tuesday. He was taken back to Quezon on Wednesday to appear in court in Gumaca, which had ordered him detained in Lucena City.

The warrant that led to his arrest was issued on May 31 by Judge Napoleon Matienzo of the regional trial court branch 62 in Gumaca, who recommended no bail.

Sarmiento and four others—Felicardo Salamat, Arnold Albarillo, Cecilia Mondia and Amito Aballe—were charged with murder.

A copy of the warrant, however, did not show any more details of the alleged murder, Roma said.

Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) police director Chief Supt. Benito Estipona failed to give further details of the murder charge when pressed by the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Sarmiento studied agriculture in the University of the Philippines Los Baños in the 1970s. He later worked as a consultant to nongovernment organizations and local politicians, according to Roma.

On April 28, 2006, Sarmiento and four other peasant activists were arrested in Tagaytay City, Cavite, and charged with rebellion. They were collectively referred to as “Tagaytay 5,” and were accused of plotting to overthrow the Arroyo administration.

In August 2008, or after 28 months in detention, the celebrated case ended with victory for the Tagaytay 5 when Judge Edwin Larida Jr. dismissed the charges against them and ordered their release.

“We’ve already said before that our father is not an NPA member. They’re again accusing him of being one,” Roma said in a phone interview.

She said the family is worried about her father’s condition in jail.

Axel Pinpin, also one of the Tagaytay 5, condemned Sarmiento’s arrest. He said the Army is using trumped-up charges to link legitimate Left organizations to the underground Left.

The militant Save Bondoc Peninsula Movement (SBPM) condemned the arrest of Sarmiento.

“It is ironic that while an international activity for human rights is taking place, new cases of political persecution are happening,” Pedro “Tata Pido” Gonzales, SBPM spokesperson, said in a statement.

Gonzales demanded the immediate release and dropping of the “fabricated” murder charge against Sarmiento.

Since Monday, SBPM members and representatives of international human rights organizations have been conducting a fact-finding mission and helping victims of human rights violations in Quezon.

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Tags: Activist , Aris Sarmiento , Axel Pinpin , Calabarzon , communist rebels , New People's Army , NPA , political activist , Tagaytay 5

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