Progressive groups are bracing for a “full-scale national crackdown” from the government, that they say could lead to more raids and arrests of activists and dissenters.
In a press conference yesterday at the Negros Press Club office in Bacolod City, Makabayan chair Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate, Gabriela party-list Representative Arlene Brosas, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan spokesperson Teddy Casiño, and former Agrarian Reform secretary Rafael Mariano, who is also the chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, demanded that the government stop the attacks and the vilification of cause-oriented groups and the people’s organizations.
They were in Bacolod for two days to conduct a fact-finding probe on the raids in the cities of Bacolod and Escalante that led to the arrest 57 individuals.
Of the 55 arrested persons in Bacolod, 31 were released from detention on Wednesday, while the 13 minors have already been turned over to their parents and guardians early this week.
Eleven others facing charges for illegal possession of firearms and explosives remain in detention.
Casiño said the fact-finding team, organized by the progressive groups, found irregularities in the raids conducted by the local authorities on the offices of leftist party-list Bayan Muna and other progressive organizations last week.
The Army and the police claimed that the compound, where scores of firearms and grenades were supposedly recovered, served as a “training area” for young rebel recruits.
Casiño claimed the warrants used by the authorities came from a “search warrant factory” in Quezon City. He questioned the jurisdiction of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert for issuing the warrants.
“The judge has no idea what is going on in Bacolod. It is prone to abuse and misinformation,” he added.
He also said, “We were able to piece things together, and that judge issued 11 search warrants in one day. Four were served in Bacolod, three in Escalante, and two in Manila. We still have two warrants unaccounted for,” he said.
He said leftist organizations in Manila have opened their offices to the Commission on Human Rights and the barangay to preempt any attempt from the government to attack their offices and plant evidence. He added that they are being vigilant as two more warrants have yet to be served.
In their fact-finding mission, the group also found there was forcible entry during the operation, and that the occupants were escorted out, “meaning anything can happen,” he said.
He claimed the authorities planted evidence such as firearms and grenades. “The firearms and grenades were recovered in tables, cabinets, and in the sink,” he said.
He added that the evidence supposedly recovered from the activists were casually visible in the offices.
They will continue their engagement in Negros to ensure that the crackdown will stop so the rights of activists, people’s organizations, dissenters, and critics will not be trampled on, he said.
He said what happened in Negros Occidental is a cause of concern since this is the first time, after martial law, that there was mass arrest of people’s organizations. “The only time there were mass arrests was during demonstrations and rallies,” he said.
Casiño, a former Bayan Muna party-list representative, said “this is different. Apparently, Negros is a laboratory for the national crackdown...the situation is very urgent.”
Brosas said the minors have exhibited trauma, anxiety, paranoia and appetite loss following the raids. She added that the minors had initially undergone psycho-social intervention.
“We recommended a series of counseling to process their experience,” she said.
Colmenares said he understands what the parents felt when their children were arrested as he was also an activist when he was a teenager.
However, he said that the parents should point their condemnation at the Army and police for their treatment of the activists, and not directly at the organizations and focus on those who treated their children as criminals.
Among those who were arrested were young members of the grassroots cultural group Teatro Obrero.
Colmenares said they are preparing countercharges against those responsible for the raids for blatantly violating the rule of law.
Meanwhile, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza issued a pastoral appeal yesterday, calling for the end of the culture of fear and silence.
He also called for an impartial investigation o n the arrests, for due process and the rule of law to be upheld.*
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