Karapatan demands release of staffer's cousin from military custody

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/16 Nov) —The human rights group Karapatan is demanding the release of a 23-year-old relative of one of its Davao volunteers taken in the custody of the Philippine Army and presented as one of the surrenderees from El Salvador, New Corella town,  Davao del Norte.

Hanimay Suazo, acting deputy secretary-general of Karapatan Southern Mindanao, said Jemuel Tanilon, 23, the cousin of Karapatan volunteer staff Emily Ayagina, has been in the custody of the Philippine Army for more than 36 hours, a detention which she said is illegal.

Karapatan lawyer Carlo Ancla is sending a letter to the 10th Infantry Division for a last and final request for the release of Tanilon. “They need to release him because holding him beyond 36 hours without complaints being filed already constitutes illegal and arbitrary detention,” Suazo said.

On November 12, Tanilon and Emily’s younger sister Analou were invited for questioning by members of the Philippine Army Third Special Force in connection with the July 2010 ambush staged by the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) about a kilometer from their place in El Salvador, New Corella.

Carlita Tanilon, the mother of Jemuel, said the soldiers dropped by Analou’s house in Barangay Magsaysay in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley, and urged them to come to clear their names.

From Magsaysay, Jemuel and Analou were brought to barangay El Salvador in New Corella, where they were made to sleep at the barangay health center, despite their having some relatives near the place.

They were told they will see the mayor of New Corella the following day. But aboard a motorcycle in the morning of November 13, they were brought instead to an Army detachment in sitio Palo, Barangay Limbaan, also in New Corella town.

There, they were allegedly interrogated about their involvement in the July ambush, where six soldiers were killed.

Karapatan also received reports that the Third Special Force’s commanding officer, Capt. Mark Espiritu, informed the New Corella mayor on November 13 about the two NPA surrenderees, referring to Analou and Jemuel.

In a text message, Lt. Col. Medel Aguilar, commander of the 10th Civil Military Operations Battalion and 10ID spokesperson, said that Marcela Akihito, Emily and Analou’s sister, was also in military custody.

He said the soldiers were already about to send a vehicle to bring her home but she refused because she still wanted to see Manny Pacquiao’s fight on TV last Sunday.

Aguilar also said Jemuel and Analou were “not arrested.” “They voluntarily submitted themselves to the authorities to clear their names,” Aguilar said. “They were not detained because their freedom of action was never curtailed.”

“The military even offered to bring them (Analou and her sister Marcela Macahito) home on November 13 but Marcela preferred to stay with the soldiers because she wanted to watch Pacquiao fight live on TV,” Aguilar added.

He said that Jemuel preferred to stay because he, Jemuel, “felt safe with the soldiers.”

Jemuel’s mother Carlita, however, said she was allowed briefly to talk with her son in a visit to the sitio Palo detachment. She said Jemuel told her he was so terrified that he admitted being a member of the NPA, after which they snatched Jemuel away.

Suazo said that the case of Jemuel is only the latest of the harassment cases involving the families and relatives of Karapatan staff in Southern Mindanao. “Human rights defenders are now the target of attacks by state forces,” she said.

Earlier, four cases of murder and frustrated murder charges and theft were earlier filed against Karapatan secretary-general Kelly Delgado, linking him to an October 2009 NPA ambush in New Bataan, Compostela Valley.

Of the 62 human rights cases recorded by Karapatan in the first five months of the Aquino administration, 24 cases involved harassment. The human rights group already registered three cases of extrajudicial killings since President Benigno Simeon Aquino III assumed power in June this year. (Germelina Lacorte / MindaNews)