Bayan Muna condemns arrests on Human Rights Day
MANILA, Philippines — Party-list group Bayan Muna deplored the arrest of seven human rights defenders as the world commemorates the International Human Rights Day itself on Thursday, saying that it is a testament to how the administration treats activists.
According to Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, the Philippine National Police (PNP) would like to paint the arrests as part of its continuous crackdown on loose firearms. Still, he claimed that it is just another way of stifling legitimate dissent.
Reports from PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) showed that seven individuals were arrested in various operations in Quezon City, Manila, and Mandaluyong City — one of the suspects included journalist and Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem.
“This is how the Duterte administration commemorates Human Rights Day by violating more human rights and arresting human rights defenders,” Zarate said in a statement.
“In the guise of going after gangs and loose guns, the [CIDG] targeted and arrested seven human rights defenders namely: Dennise Velasco, Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Astudillo, Jaymie Gregorio Jr., Rodrigo Esparago, Joel Demate, who are trade unionists; and, Lady Ann Salem, a journalist and editor of Manila Today, an online media outlet that was also red-tagged recently,” he added.
All the suspects should be released immediately, Zarate said.
CIDG said that they served five search warrants as part of their intensified campaign against loose firearms and gangs, starting at around 2:00 a.m. on Thursday.
However, the Makabayan lawmaker alleged that the style of arrests largely mimics its tactics in raiding various activists’ offices in Metro Manila and Negros Island last November 2019 — the same series of arrests that landed Reina Mae Nasino in jail. He claimed that the evidence seized was merely planted.
He also noted that the same judge — Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 89 Judge Cecilyn E. Burgos-Villavert — issued the search warrants in the 2019 arrests and the recent operations.
Bayan Muna questioned in 2019 why then National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Gen. Debold Sinas, now PNP chief, held a dialogue with Villavert before the arrests were made in Bacolod. Zarate and party chair Neri Colmenares also asked why a judge in Quezon City was responsible for search warrants in a far area like Negros.
“The CIDG used the same modus it used in illegally arresting the activists of Bayan in Metro Manila in 2019, as well as those in Negros, by apparently planting caches of guns and explosives to make their trumped-up cases non-bailable. The same Judge Villavert also issued the search warrants,” Zarate claimed.
“This is definitely part of the red-tagging and terrorist-tagging evil scheme and intensifying crackdown on dissent by the Duterte administration,” he added.
Police reports showed that from the residence of suspects Cruz, Astudillo, and Gregorio at a condominium along Panay Avenue in Quezon City, they recovered various firearms, even grenades, and other pieces of evidence such as:
five hand fragmentation grenades
three .45 caliber pistols
two 9mm caliber pistols
one .38 caliber revolver
eighteen rounds of .45 caliber ammunition
eighteen rounds of 9mm caliber ammunition
three rounds of .38 caliber ammunition
three MacBook Air laptops
one Apple iPad
fourteen bundles of P1,000 bills amounting to P1.276 million
From Velasco’s residence in Greater Lagro, Quezon City:
MG7 fragmentation grenade
one 5.56 mm caliber M16 rifle
one 9mm caliber pistol
two 9mm caliber
one M16 rifle magazine
20 rounds of 5.56 mm caliber
one .45 caliber pistol
two .45 caliber magazines
84 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition
three .22 caliber pistols
two .22 caliber magazines
144 rounds of .22 caliber ammunition
one MacBook laptop
two USB drives
suspected subversive documents
Demate’s residence in Sta. Ana, Manila:
one .45 caliber pistol
one M16 rifle
one fragmentation grenade
one .45 caliber magazine
one M16 rifle magazine
29 rounds of 5.56 mm caliber ammunition
four identification cards with different names
one Lenovo laptop
From Esparago and Salem’s residence at a condominium on Reliance Street, Mandaluyong:
four .45 caliber pistols
four .45 caliber magazines
29 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition
three assorted laptops
three external hard drives
five sling bags
one USB drive
four assorted identification cards
Earlier, the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) and the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) confirmed that Salem was among the individuals arrested on Thursday.
Salem’s Manila Today is a part of the NUJP, while she is also the communications officer of IAWRT. Recently, Manila Today was tagged as one of the alternative news sites that were part of the Communist Party of the Philippines. [ac]
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