Police follow arrests with raps to keep Negros activists in jail
BACOLOD CITY – Police filed charges of illegal gun and explosives possession and human trafficking against 44 activists who were arrested in the cities of Bacolod and Escalante in Negros Occidental province.
The filing of the charges was likely to keep the activists detained. Capt. Cenon Pancito, Army 3rd Infantry Division public affairs officer, said the offenses the activists were charged with were nonbailable.
At least three of the 15 activists were initially thought to be minors but they turned out to be of legal age.
A government task force, formed specifically for counterinsurgency, had claimed that the 55 men and women arrested in Bacolod City were communist rebels operating in the provinces of Negros, Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor.
The task force, Regional Task Force Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict, also claimed that 32 firearms, three grenades, two projectiles for grenade launcher and other bullets were found on the activists.
Last Nov. 1, police also arrested two more activists in Escalante City.
The arrests were met by protests in Cebu City on Monday, Nov. 4, by other activists who are demanding the release of their fellow activists.
John Ruiz, Bayan Muna coordinator in Central Visayas, said the arrests were illegal.
Arresting the activists, he said, was part of a campaign to silence and threaten critics of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Evidence against those arrested was planted, Ruiz said.
He admitted that the arrests had a chilling effect on other activists in Negros and other provinces. But he said progressive groups would continue to protest what Ruiz said were oppressive government policies.
“If they did it in Negros Occidental, they could do it also to us here in Cebu,” Ruiz said.
In the United States, rights activists rallied in front of the Philippine Consulate to protest the mass arrests in Negros Occidental.
Joyous Prim, national officer of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, said the human rights activists were just fighting for the rights of sugar workers and farmers.
“We heard first hand accounts of extra judicial killings and saw the never ending text of death threats our host received,” Prim said.
“Claims that the arrest had to do with rebels entering Bacolod are all lies,” she said.
“These are legal activists who are our friends, who hosted us while we were there and are respected, long time human rights defenders,” she said.
Those arrested were members of the groups National Federation of Sugar Workers, Gabriela, Bayan Muna, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Teatro Obrero and Teatro Bungklal in Bacolod.”/TSB
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.