Upsurge in 'harassment’ cases reported by some churches, labor, rights groups

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Sep 30 2018 10:50 AM | Updated as of Sep 30 2018 11:51 AM

MANILA - Leaders of some churches, labor and human rights organizations on Sunday vowed to continue challenging alleged abuses of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government amid what they claimed to be a sudden upsurge in surveillance and public vilification.

The national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) reported visits by military intelligence agents to homes of trade union leaders as banners and paintings accusing church and opposition groups of ties to communist rebels sprouted in Central Luzon and the Zamboanga peninsula two weeks after Armed Forces generals insisted militants were pursuing a “Red October” campaign to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.

Commuters on Saturday spotted banners attacking the human rights group Karapatan from pedestrian bridges in Baligabo, a commercial district of Angeles City, Pampanga.

“Karapatan terrorist protector” said one banner.

The second, written in the local dialect, directly referred to the alleged ouster plot, hitting rebels, the opposition groups linked to former President Benigno Aquino III and using a derogatory term for clergy: “Sino bang gusto ninyong Pangulo? Ang mga yellowtards? Sila na naman? Mga komunistang NPA? Si Padre Damaso? Yung iilang tao lang? Sige po, kayo nang bahala!!!”

Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general, said the Duterte government concocted Red October “as an underhanded move to justify further repression and rights violations against organizations and personalities considered as critics.”

“Concocting lies and fantastic conspiracy theories is natural for insecure and fascist governments,” said Palabay, adding that nothing will stop human rights workers from serving Filipinos.

NO NEED FOR 'DIVERSION;

The new reports on the “witch hunt” came as Malacanang denied opposition claims that it was sowing fear to divert public attention from inflation problems forecast to get worse as the year ends.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government has nothing to hide as it was rolling out several measures to curb the rise in prices of basic commodities.

In Rizal province, the local spokesman of the National Democratic Front, the umbrella alliance of underground rebel organizations, said an ethnic Chinese businesswoman accused of being part of the “Red October” armed uprising plot was a frequent host to police and military generals.

The statement, signed with the nom de guerre Arman Guerrero, validated the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) claim that the Antipolo farm raid that netted several firearms was about a business rivalry gone deadly and had no links to the alleged “Red October” plot. It also named several colonels and generals known to have visited the businesswoman’s “mansion”.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has ordered the NBI to coordinate with the Armed Forces, which insists the farm was a hideout of a high-ranking NPA officer, and present a report before October.

"I have asked the NBI to submit an initial report to me before October sets in… We take this matter seriously, as ‘Red October’ may actually involve the commission of crimes punishable under our penal laws,” Guevarra said.

CHURCH TARGETS

The attacks were more brazen in Mindanao, according to Bishop Antonio N. Ablon of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI).

Ablon shared with ABS-CBN News several photographs showing church fences and structures along Zamboanga peninsula highways vandalized with blue paint.

Photo courtesy of IFI's Bishop Antonio Ablon

Ablon, who was named in several sites as an alleged supporter of the communist New People’s Army, furnished ABS-CBN News with a list of incidents Friday and Saturday.

Rev. Felix Espra Jr, of the IFI’s Tigbao parish in Zamboanga del Sur said vandals had painted “IFI=NPA” on the cement fence of their chapel along the national highway to Zamboanga City on September 28.

Similar markings were found Saturday along the highway in Barangay Lacupayan, also in Tigbao town.

“Bishop Ablon = NPA” marks were found along the highway boundary of the municipalities of Tigabo and Kumalarang, also in Zamboanga del Sur. Another sign read “IFI=NPA BAYAN,” the last word referring to the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

An IFI probe team dispatched to investigate the harassment said some signs read “BAYAN MUNA = NPA” and “UCCP = NPA’. Bayan Muna is a militant political party in Congress while the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) is a mainstream Christian church that provides sanctuary to Mindanao’s besieged Lumad, or indigenous non-Muslim tribes.

The probe team also spotted signs that read “BM = NPA”, “BISHOP ABLON = NPA”, “LFS = NPA”, referring to the League of Filipino Students, “RMP=NPA”, referring to the Catholic Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

Ablon said the paintings were just across a makeshift structure manned by the Philippine Army’s 53rd and 51st Infantry Battalions. The fact-finding report said paramilitary forces stood guard on a nearby bridge.

The ground commander, identified only as Sgt Carpio, told the IFI team they first saw the paintings in the morning of Sept. 27.

“He denied involvement but when asked what they can do, he said that he cannot and will not dare to erase it as it might be the doing of their higher-ups [that] he might end up suspected to be sympathizing the left (referring to the NPA’s),” said the report signed by Ablon, Rev. Jerson Nazareno, Rev. Felix C. Espra Jr., Rev. Salvador Dacul, Rev. Isidoro Durano Jr., Kaabag Henry Vergas and Jeny Espra.

SOLIDARITY MISSIONS

“This is aimed at silencing me for my continuing human rights and peace advocacy,” Bishop Ablon told ABS-CBN News.

“The lumads, farmers are facing highly militarized conditions and I have been working together with other advocates to defend them and be their voices,” the bishop added. “But this will not stop me.”

Ablon linked the harassment to the series of solidarity mercy missions conducted for Lumad communities from June 19 to 21 this year, by the IFI dioceses of Pagadian, Oroquieta and Ozamiz, the UCCP North-West Mindanao Jurisdiction, the RMP and other sectors.

The mission investigated reports of aerial bombings that forced the Subanen (lumad) community to flee Barangay Saad in Dumingag town.

Ablon said Barangay Saad residents have reported persistent harassment, including public claims by the military of their reported links to the NPA.

After the mission, Army officers visited the IFI bishops and other clergy of the Ozamiz and Pagadian dioceses. Barangay Captain Juanito Caramba of Barangay Mansanas, Josefina town, Zamboanga del Sur, also reported visits from officers of the 97th, 44th and 53rd Infantry Battalions that have also camped out in his village.

LABOR GROUPS

The KMU said Joseph Pausal, national coordinator of contractual workers’ organization Kilos na Manggagawa (KNM) and Neditha Jadie, national secretary of the KMU campaign department, have experienced harassment.

State intelligence agents threatened Pausal at his house in Caloocan City on Saturday morning, said KMU Secretary-General Jerome Adonis.

“According to Pausal, the agents identified themselves as elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and warned him against continuing to organize workers,” Adoniz said. “They also asked him to cooperate with their anti-insurgency campaign.”

In early September, he added, AFP agents looked for Pausal at the Novaliches Diocesan Workers Center: Kalinga ni San Jose, where workers often hold gatherings.

Jadie, meanwhile, was tailed by AFP agents from her house in Manila to Quezon City, where she was tasked to preside over a KMU campaign meeting, Ambion added.

The AFP has pointed to KMU’s “Aklasan”campaign as proof of the “Red October” ouster conspiracy, claiming it would try to arouse ire by bannering issues like high prices of goods and contractualization.

Rival labor groups forged a broad unity in May this year and stepped up their campaign against contractualization and their push for higher wages in July.

“Duterte is grasping at straws by raising the specter of a ‘Red October’ destabilization plot, in order to justify his brutal attacks against the legitimate calls of the united labor sector and the growing people’s movement against him," said Adonis. KMU would move to file appropriate charges against him before the International Labor Organization and other international courts,” he added.

'GRAND SCHEME'

Former AFP chief Eduardo M. Año, now officer-in-charge of the Department of Interior and Local Government, insisted that “front organizations,” including labor groups are involved in “a grand scheme” to stir unrest and agitation among urban poor and peasants communities.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza insisted the ouster plot is true.
“Our troops captured documents in November 2016 after their plenum in Northern Mindanao,” he claimed. “The peace talks with them was ongoing during this period but the CPP-NPA were not confident it would last.”

"I don't understand why the CPP is denying Oplan Red October when they have been trying to topple every administration since 1968," Ano said.

The military initially echoed Duterte’s claim that the conservative opposition coalition Tindig Pilipinas was part of the ouster plot. But Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade, AFP deputy chief of staff for operations, later claimed that Tindig Pilipinas and Magdalo, the political party of Sen. Antonio Trillanes, almost got involved in the plan but backed out after realizing that communists were behind the move.

Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma Sison said, "Duterte's rants against the democratic and religious forces opposing his brutal and corrupt regime in an attempt to deflect attention from its crimes and ruination of the economic and to continue on the path of establishing a fascist dictatorship."

"Duterte appears insane enough not to realize that he is destabilizing his own regime and discrediting himself towards his own total isolation and eventual ouster."

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.