GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 6 July) – Thirteen human rights workers and leaders of progressive groups accused of being members of the New People’s Army were arrested by police and military personnel in a raid on a retreat center here on Wednesday night.
The arrest happened at the the Mother Francisca Sprituality Center along Arradaza Street in Barangay Lagao where the suspected rebels were said to be holding a program consultation.
Elements from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-12, Army-led Joint Task Force GenSan and the city police showed warrants of arrest for two of the suspects, Francis Madria and Maria Limbaga Unabia, who were tagged as members of the NPA in Northern Mindanao.
The two have standing arrest warrants for murder, attempted murder, frustrated murder and kidnapping with murder issued by Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 8 Judge Isobel Baroso in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon and RTC Branch 23 Judge Vincent Rosales in Cagayan de Oro City.
The 11 others were identified as Teresita Naul of Opol, Misamis Oriental; Aldeem Yanez of Cagayan de Oro City; Vennel Chenfoo of Cagayan de Oro City; Jomorito Guaynon of Bukidnon; Analiza Avenido of Bukidnon; Roger Plana of Balingasag, Misamis Oriental; Kristine Cabardo of Cagayan de Oro City; Virgilio Sanama of Purok 4, Rajah Muda, Barangay Bula, this city; Byron Gabales Porras of Zone 2-C, Barangay Bula, this city; Ireneo Udarbe of Misamis Oriental; and Rosemarie Cantano of Glan, Sarangani Province.
Supt. Aldrin Gonzales, public information officer of the Police Regional Office-12, said two of the 13 were “positive subjects of the arrest warrants.”
He said the 11 other persons were arrested for allegedly “trying to conceal” the identities of the suspected NPA members and resisting the arresting team.
They were charged with violation of Presidential Decree 1829 or “obstruction of justice,” he said.
“As of now we’re still verifying their identities,” he told MindaNews.
But Ryan Amper, spokesperson of Barug Mindanao, said Friday the 13 individuals were attending a program consultation for volunteers and partners of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Visayas-Mindanao Regional Office for Development (IFI-VIMROD) when they were arrested.
The retreat facility belongs to the congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.
Among those arrested were local leaders of cause-oriented groups Kalumbay, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Kabataan partylist, League of Filipino Students and Karapatan, he said.
“They were there to assess the status of a project of VIMROD and discuss various issues and concerns affecting farmers and the lumads (indigenous peoples),” he told MindaNews.
During the raid, Amper said the operating team claimed that two of the participants were NPA members and with the 11 others supposedly “obstructing” their arrest.
Two of those arrested were security guards while another was a volunteer worker of the retreat center.
Amper said the subject persons and their companions did not show any resistance and only questioned the legal basis of the operation.
He said they questioned the arrest warrants showed by operatives were “defective” as they were allegedly not signed by the judges.
The names that appeared in the warrants were different from the two who were tagged as alleged NPA members, he said.
The two suspects were reportedly named Bella Catubay and Emilio Gabales.
“They have different names. None among the participants were named Francis Madria and Maria Unabia,” he said.
After the arrest, Amper said the 13 were initially brought to the city police headquarters at Camp Fermin Lira here.
On Thursday afternoon, 11 of them were subjected to inquest proceedings for charges of obstruction of justice at the city prosecutor’s office after waiving their privilege to preliminary investigation to facilitate their petition for granting of bail.
Their cases are being handled by Lawyers Emilio Paña of the National Union of People’s Lawyers and Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.
They were separately detained on Thursday at the Pendatun or city police station number 01 and the San Isidro or city police station number 04.
“We’re still waiting for the decision of the prosecutor. But we’re facing a major obstacle right now as as the usual bail recommended for it is P36,000,” Amper said.
Zarate condemned the arrest of the church workers and activists, noting it as a clear violation of human rights and in the guise of the continuing martial law in Mindanao.
He specifically cited the supposed ban on visitors, including family members, for the 13 detainees imposed by their police custodians.
Zarate and Paña were eventually allowed to visit them after “pleading that the law affords them visitation rights and be assisted by a lawyer.”
“The serving of the warrants was actually questionable, as far as their statements are concerned, as they lacked pertinent signatures,” he said.
He added that although Mindanao is currently under martial law, the Constitution provides that the rights of the people “should not be set aside or ignored.”
In a statement on Friday, Karapatan decried the arrest, calling it “a testament to the absence of respect for human and people’s rights under Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao.”
“Civilians, including activists and church workers, are being victimized, while government and military officials trumpet their false claims that there are no human rights abuses. Clearly, these lies are being exposed as the Duterte regime’s all-out war rages against the people of Mindanao,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.
Palabay said Karapatan documented “at least 986 victims of illegal arrests in Mindanao, since martial law was imposed last May 23, 2017 up to June 30, 2018. At least 95 have been detained. Majority of them are peasants and Lumad. All of them were charged with fabricated criminal cases.”
“Karapatan demands the immediate release of Karapatan National Council member Teresita Naul and the 12 twelve other rights defenders and development workers, who are now collectively known as GenSan13. Charges against them should be withdrawn or dropped. Their right to conduct human rights and development work, their right to association and against illegal arrest and detention should be upheld. We demand an end to martial law in Mindanao and for the Duterte regime to stop its attacks against defenders and the Filipino people,” she added. (MindaNews)