Cebu News

Legitimate arrest, says police: Militant leaders claim abduction

- Flor Z. Perolina, Wenna Berondo -
Two organizers of separate party-list groups claimed they were abducted by members of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines last Thursday, but authorities said the two were arrested in a legitimate operation and later released after the arrest warrant was later found to be "defective".

Hermis Beethoven Avila, an organizer of Kabataan Party-list, said he just disembarked from a ship from Cagayan de Oro City around 10 a.m. last Thursday when military personnel accosted him and brought him to a waiting van.

His companion said he saw armed men handcuff Avila after he boarded the waiting vehicle and it sped away.

Around 3 p.m. military personnel picked up Preciosa Daño, a resident of Mandaue City and the district coordinator of Bayan Muna in Cebu''s Second District, in the vicinity of Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral and brought her inside a waiting vehicle where she was reportedly handcuffed, blindfolded and driven off.

The target of the military was only Avila, who has a standing warrant of arrest for being implicated in an encounter in Tabuelan town last March 2006, but the military decided to include Daño after Avila also a former member of Bayan Muna, said they were to meet later that day after he arrived in Cebu.

Bayan Muna provincial coordinator Arman Perez, who talked to Avila and Daño after they were released last Friday night, said the two did not know they were brought to the same place, which they were later to learn was Camp Sergio Osmeña, because they were blindfolded.

Avila claimed that while he was interrogated last Friday morning, the authorities forced him to admit that he is involved in the rebel movement.

After the interrogation, they were brought to the Toledo City Regional Trial Court. But on Friday night, the authorities released them after the court said that the warrant of arrest against Avila is defective.

Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Jefferson Omandam yesterday said the joint operation between PNP and the military was legitimate after they received an advanced copy of the arrest warrant from a court in Toledo City.

Omandam explained that Avila was implicated in the encounter in Tabuelan town last March 2006 that left Pfc. Rey Venturanza of the Philippine Army and alleged Central Visayas Regional Party Committee Front 2 secretary Jerry Badayos and fellow rebel Guillermo Alburo dead.

He said witnesses can testify that Avila was among the rebels involved in the encounter which was why a case was filed against him in Toledo City.

Omandam said the warrant became defective after they found out later that there was a motion for reconsideration filed in court.

He explained that although the warrant of arrest was only for Avila, but after he told them he was meeting Daño later they decided to arrest her as well.

"Everything was done in good faith nakita nato nga naay diperensya sa warrant of arrest busa atong gipabuhian," Omandam said

But militants quickly condemned the alleged arrest of Avila and Daño, saying it might be part of the Oplan Bantay Laya of the government to go after the members of the progressive groups suspected to be fronts of the rebel movement.

"This is part of the Arroyo administration''s move to harass our members and prevent us from winning in the coming May 14 elections," said Perez.

Perez added that the government is now targeting Cebu because it is threatened by not only the militants but also of the strengthening opposition in Cebu, which is considered as "Arroyo country."

Anakpawis nominee and vice president for the Visayas Jaime Paglinawan described the incident as "a grave indication that the military establishment in Cebu will do everything to paralyze the electoral campaign of progressive party-list groups who are leading both SWS and Pulse Asia surveys."

Like Perez, he believes that the abduction is politically motivated.

"Surely, military apologists and spin doctors would package the Avila''s abduction as a legitimate counter-insurgency operation. But the timing and motive of such cowardly and hideous act will reveal a different story," he said.

As elections draw near, he said they expect harassment by police and military against their members to escalate. -/BRP

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