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Human rights workers arrested after visiting jailed MNLF men

/ 09:35 PM December 13, 2013

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Two government special investigators assigned to the Commission on Human Rights  in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and three members of their staff were arrested after visiting suspects in the September attack on Zamboanga City who are locked up in the San Ramon Penal Colony in Zamboanga del Sur province, a CHR regional official said Friday.

Police denied that the human rights workers had been arrested but confirmed they were being questioned for alleged breaches of security that endangered police guarding maximum security prisoners.

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Lawyer Edy Santiago of the CHR-ARMM told the Inquirer the Zamboanga City police,  particularly those assigned to the Ayala Police Station, committed grave abuse and harassed the CHR team.

She identified those arrested as Special Investigator II Al-Ghosaibi M. Jupli, Special Investigator I Umma Omar Edding, administrative aide Nasser Halapto, data enumerator Madzsalman Cifria and driver Hermie Omar.

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Santiago said it was Supt. Rey Dante Soledad, the commander of the Regional Public Safety Battalion 9, who arrested and escorted the human rights team from the San Ramon Penal Colony to the Ayala Police Station on orders from Chief Supt. Juanito Vano, the Western Mindanao police chief.

“We really don’t know why they did that to our team. Worse is they threatened our team by saying that once they returned to San Ramon, ‘We would have a battle’,” Santiago said.

She said the CHR-ARMM team visited the suspects locked up at the prison facility to determine if their rights were being respected.

Vano could not be reached but Soledad called up the Inquirer and denied that the CHR-ARMM team was arrested.

He also denied threatening them in any manner.

Soledad said security had been tightened at the prison facility anew after the authorities intercepted note exchanges between a suspect and a relative, which indicated that the jailed Moro National Liberation Front gunmen were planning an  escape.

He said police authorities were alarmed when visiting the CHR-ARMM team started taking photos of the positions of policemen assigned to the the jail.

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Soledad said he had ordered his men to ask the CHR-ARMM team to refrain from taking photos but they were apparently ignored.

He said he had asked for an Ipad of one of the visiting human rights team and was appalled at what he discovered.

“I inspected the photos of his Ipad and we were alarmed because he took pictures of the main gates of the penal colony, all the entrances and the detention cells where the rebels are detained, they took photos left and right portion of the whole facility,” Soledad said.

He said the CHR-ARMM team had no clearance from Vano.

“I called up our regional director (Vano) and he instructed me to delete those photos, which I did, and he advised me to bring them to the Ayala police station for documentation,” Soledad said.

“They were not detained or arrested, they were just advised to proceed to Ayala police for interrogation. We want to know and put it on record why they were taking photos that would jeopardize our security locations. I told them we belong to one government and they put at risk our security personnel,” Soledad said.

He said he also informed Human Rights Commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag and even facilitated a conversation between Mamauag and the team leader of the CHR-ARMM.

Santiago said the explanation given by Soledad was not acceptable and they were preparing charges against him and other police officers involved.

Retired Judge Jesus Carbon, Zamboanga City legal officer, said the immediate transfer to Manila of the more than 200 jailed suspects was being arranged now.

Commissioner Edilwasif Baddiri of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos said it was initially decided that the transfer would be done on December 17.

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