Groups warn of renewed ‘witch-hunt’ on gov’t critics with revival of Arroyo-era agency

BULATLAT FILE PHOTO: Speaking at a press conference were some of the activists who are among the “ST 72” who were repeatedly charged with trumped-up criminal cases. (Photo by Ronalyn Olea/Bulatlat)

By BULATLAT

MANILA – Progressive groups denounced the formation this week of the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA), which they likened to the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) of the Arroyo administration which heaped trumped-up criminal charges against activists.

The IACLA was formed on Oct. 9 in an agreement between the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). A report by RMN News said PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and AFP Chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año signed the agreement during the meeting of the AFP-PNP Joint Peace and Security Council Meeting held in Camp Crame, Quezon City. The body reportedly aims to push the legal cases against those who commit “atrocities” against state security forces.

“This means that the Duterte regime is setting in motion the government’s legal mill in targeting and harassing critics through fabricated charges, which will result in wholesale arrests and detention of activists and opposition members,” said Emmi de Jesus, Gabriela Women’s Partylist solon.

The IACLA is the latest measure of the Duterte administration seen to clamp down on growing criticism, amid the martial law in Mindanao and the continued killings in the anti-drug operations. Last week, President Duterte signed the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, which aimed to investigate officials of the judiciary; while the Department of Justice endorsed the Citizen National Guard (CNG), a group which said they aim to “protect” the Duterte presidency.

Arroyo’s IALAG was formed on January 17, 2006, and was abolished on May 15, 2009, two years after United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston recommended its abolition.

Hundreds of progressive leaders and activists were included in criminal cases against members of the New People’s Army (NPA), such as ambushes which resulted to deaths of soldiers and police. Many were arrested and detained for years, until they were acquitted in court. In effect, the legal offensives derailed activists and human rights defenders in their work as organizers, educators and leaders of campaigns on issues affecting the Filipino people.

“This also sets the ground for intensified vilification and extrajudicial killings of activists and even human rights workers,” De Jesus added. “Ang rehimeng gipit, sa papatinding panunupil kumakapit,” (A desperate regime relies on intensifying repression to keep itself in power) she said.

Detention of activists and other government critics

In a press release, Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan) also denounced the creation of the IACLA.

“Even without IALAG or IACLA, Karapatan documented 1,112 victims of illegal arrests from July 2016 to September 2017; 219 of them were detained,” said the Karapatan statement.

The group said it documented 85 new political prisoners under the Duterte administration, bringing the total to “at least 430 political prisoners, all charged with trumped-up criminal offenses.”

Under the Arroyo administration’s Oplan Bantay Laya, Karapatan documented a total of 1,206 victims of extrajudicial killings. Many of them were initially harassed by state security forces and branded as “fronts” of the NPA and Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Among those repeatedly by Arroyo’s IALAG were 72 activists from the Southern Tagalog region, dubbed the “ST 72,” some of whom were arrested and detained for years until the fabricated cases were dismissed in court. The ST 72 were charged with different trumped-up cases three times, which were all junked by the courts.

In 2011, the ST 72 were slapped with charges for the third time, and the late peasant leader Rogelio Galit, who had been dead for a year, was still included among the accused. Galit, who was already bed-ridden when arrested in 2007, spent two years in detention due to the trumped-up cases.

In 2006, following Arroyo’s issuance of Proclamation 1017 which declared a state of national emergency, six progressive lawmakers were among 46 people charged with rebellion: Anakpawis Reps. Crispin Beltran and Rafael Mariano, Bayan Muna partylist Reps. Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño and Joel Virador, and Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Liza Maza.

Beltran was arrested, while the five others, then dubbed “Batasan 5,” stayed under protective custody of the House of Representatives for two months, when they were cleared of the charges.

(Photo courtesy of Kathy Yamzon)

Aside from the UN rapporteur, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights then led by now Senator Leila de Lima also commented on the attacks against activists thru fabricated criminal cases, and called these “disturbing.” De Lima, a staunch critic of Duterte, has been detained since early this year, on charges of drug trafficking, which she says were trumped-up cases.

The filing of trumped-up criminal charges against activists continued even after IALAG was abolished. At present, teachers of Lumad schools, peasant leaders, youth and anti-mining activists were the latest to be slapped with fabricated cases.

“This is another aspect of tyranny under the US-backed Duterte regime. The people should be vigilant and resist political persecution and all forms of repression,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

Reyes said the Duterte administration has “reversed a key recommendation of the UN Special Rapporteur” with the formation of IACLA, and this should be questioned by the international community.

Reyes added that human rights activists should demand a stop to US military aid to the Philippines, given the Duterte administration’s latest moves.

Karapatan also called on everyone to oppose the administration’s strong-arm rule and to call for an end to the persecution of activists, political dissenters, and critics. With a report from Ruth Lumibao (http://bulatlat.com)

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