Five students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) branch in Lopez, Quezon have been slapped with rebellion charges. The Philippine Army’s 76th Infantry Battalion tags them as “infiltrators” from the New People’s Army (NPA) who are deployed in schools “to recruit rebels.” The students say that the accusation is but “a story fabricated by the military” to underpin the charges against them.
BY JEFFREY OCAMPO
Contributed to Bulatlat
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Five students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines branch in Lopez, Quezon Province are currently facing charges of rebellion after a certain “rebel returnee” accused them of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
On Sept. 3, Jerome Obligar, Catherine Rufo and and Eugene Nollas received subpoenas for the charges against them. In an interview, Obligar said the rebel returnee testified of having seen them spending the whole month of March of this year in a rebel camp celebrating with the NPA their 39th founding anniversary.
Further, the 76th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army accuses them of being “infiltrators” tasked by the NPA to “recruit rebels” in the university. The two other students charged with rebellion are Aileen Abiera, former editor-in-chief of Epitome, PUP Lopez’s official student publication, and Ryan Tan, chairman of Quezon Youth Speak.
Since 2006, the students said they have been experiencing military intimidation and receiving death threats from suspected military elements. Out of fear of further military intimidation, the three students sought refuge at the Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) headquarters in Lucena City. On Sept. 12, they headed to PUP’s main campus in Sta. Mesa to seek legal assistance and protection from the university’s president.
Protection from the administration
As bonafide students of the university, the three students believe that PUP President Dante Guevarra should protect them. However, they lamented that none of the two lawyers Guevarra said he sent to Lopez came to give them legal assistance. Their meeting with Guevara was even cancelled due to his ‘speaking engagement’ with a senator.
A dialogue between the Office of Student Regent (SR), Sentrong Konseho ng Mag-aaral (Central Student Council) and the Office of the Vice President for Student Services was held instead to discuss the cases of military presence, alleged military harassment in PUP Sta. Mesa and the particular case of the students from the Lopez branch.
In the dialogue, the three students, with SR Sophia Prado, asked for “full assistance” from PUP administration regarding the rebellion case. The three students expressed their fear of “military harassment, intimidation and threat.”
PUP Vice President Dr. Juan Brion said that the university’s administration “will do its part” in helping the students get through their predicament in a “peaceful way.”
The PUP administration agreed that the security and legal assistance of the university be extended to the students. The administration said they will support a fact-finding mission in Lopez, Quezon to be headed by the Student Regent.
However, due to financial limitations, the resolutions were deferred. Prado said she will push for a memorandum of agreement (MoA) between the PUP’s student leaders and university officials. The MOA, said Prado, will ensure that the same agreements on the dialogue with the Office of Student Services will be implemented and that the PUP administration will assume its responsibility of providing ‘concrete actions’ for the three students ‘unjustly charged with rebellion.’
Commission on Human Rights
On July 16, the three students, along with other students of PUP Sta. Mesa went to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to file complaints against ‘military harassment and red baiting of student activists.’ They were accompanied by TANGGULAN Youth Network for Human Rights and Civil Liberties.
Students and organizations from different schools and universities which have similar complaints were also present. Prado said that the students were “verbally assured” by the CHR that the proper assistance will be extended to them.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines, one of the conveners of TANGGULAN, meanwhile, “call[ed] on [their] constituents to exercise vigilance” on the pressing issue of military presence and harassments in schools and universities.
Military presence and intimidation
Sometime in 2006, the 76th IB of the Philippine Army held a symposium in PUP Lopez. Freshman students undergoing the National Service Training Program (NSTP) were required to attend.
The army’s aim was to ‘expose the front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA) and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).’ Part of the program was a film-showing of the documentary, Knowing the Enemy.
Obligar said the soldiers took photographs of the student leaders and forced them to enumerate student organizations present in the university. Epitome’s then Managing Editor Jericho Blanco was approached by the soldiers and asked from him the names of the student leaders. One of the soldiers who talked to him later revealed that the names they got will be “forwarded to Malacañang.”
PUP Lopez’ Supreme Student Council quickly questioned the military presence in their university citing the Prudencio-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)/ Philippine National Police (PNP) MoA which strictly prohibits military presence within campus premises. The said MoA was an initiative of former PUP President Nemesio Prudente.
They also questioned the ‘unnecessary and intimidating presence’ of a military outpost which the 76th IB set up a few meters away from the gate of the campus.
The students are disheartened by the “seeming complicity of some university officials” of PUP Lopez with regard to the military presence on their campus.
Prado said the students related that while it has become quite common to see armed military men, the sight of them never fails to ‘terrorize’ members of the university.
On July 17, elements of the 76th IB entered the school premises. Ronaldo Bulfa, adviser of the Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), talked to Rufo, one of those charged with rebellion, relating his ‘concern’ regarding the student’s alleged connection with the NPA.
Bulfa, who was Rufo’s adviser when she was in third year, said the military came to speak to her and Obligar. Bulfa told her ,“Mababait naman ang mga taga-76th IB. Buti nga, kinakausap kayo nang maayos… Pwedeng ngang gawan nila kayo ng kunwa-kunwang mga istorya” (Those in the 76th IB are kind. Be thankful, they are talking to you in such a manner… They can just choose to fabricate stories against you.)
Obligar and Rufo decided not to attend the meeting but the former was summoned by his adviser. Around 7 p.m., the two students went to the Director’s Office. Bulfa, University Director Alicia de los Santos, Academic Program Head Rose Marie Danza, and Romeo Oidem of the Office of Student Affairs were there. Elements of the 76th IB, identified only as Lt. Barrera and Lt. Manalo and Police Inspector Jackson came.
Barrera said they recovered a laptop with photographs of Obligar and Rufo holding firearms. The laptop, the soldiers say, was from Cecilia Mondia, former EIC and the founder of the student political party Tunay, Malaya at Representatibong Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral (KAISKWELA.) According to the army, Mondia was captured as a rebel on August 23 in Atimonan, a nearby town separated from Lopez by the town of Dumaca.
Obligar and Rufo were asked to “compromise” and help the military “find solution to communist insurgency” in Quezon.
The next day, July 18, another symposium facilitated by the Philippine Army was held at the university’s gymnasium. In a power point presentation, Obligar’s name was listed along with Mondio’s and other so-called members of the NPA. Freshman students who managed to go out of the gymnasium informed Obligar of his inclusion in the list of alleged communist insurgents. He was,at the library with KAISKWELA members preparing for the election that will be held the next day,.
The following day, KAISKWELA was defeated by the “administration-backed” GABAY Political Party. A day before, a text message spread saying that Obligar is an “infiltrator of the NPA” deployed to the university to recruit rebels.
Life of a “Rebel”
Obligar is a graduating student of Business Administration who hailed from Surigao in Mindanao. After finishing high school, he set off to his relatives’ place in Camarines Norte to find work. He landed on a job in a grocery.
When he heard about the PUP in Lopez, Quezon, he enrolled right away. He is staying in his classmate’s house during schooldays and travels to Camarines Norte during weekends for his job. He said that despite the hardships brought about by his financial limitations, he carries on because of his dream of finishing school.
During his freshman year, Obligar became a staff writer of Epitome. Running under KAISKWELA, he won as Vice President of the Supreme Student Council in his second year. He started joining rallies opposing policies which he believes are not for the benefit of the students and his fellowmen. He was also active in the campaign against militarization of Quezon province.
In his third year, Obligar won the presidency of the student council. He and the student council campaigned vigorously for both local and national issues. Obligar was vocal in his opposition to the economic and political policies implemented by the Arroyo administration.
From then on, he started receiving death threats. These included cellphone messages such as: “Ituga mo na mang mga kasama mo” and “Isusunod kita kay Omar” (referring to an alleged NPA member). Sometimes, during midnight, he would receive text messages saying that the one texting him was just outside his house. From then on, he became paranoid and fearful for his life and for his companions’ Rufo, the current editor-in-chief of Epitome and Nollas, KAISKWELA’s president.
For three weeks now, Obligar, Rufo and Nollas, all of whom are graduating students, have not been able to go to school. On September 16, they went back to Quezon to face the situation, still with fear in their hearts.
Prado said the recent events are “a face of state fascism” foisted against the students. “The state is desperate to silence the students and the people who are critical of its economic and political policies,” she said.
Prado said PUP students have mounted protests to condemn the government neglect. With 60,000 students in its 15 campuses, PUP only received P574 million for 2008.
Maenwhile, TANGGULAN, together with other student organizations, is set to hold activities and protest actions against military presence and harassment. They hold the Arroyo administration directly liable for these human rights violations. (Bulatlat)