Arrests mar commemoration of International Human Rights Day

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Arrests mar commemoration of International Human Rights Day
Protesters hold a rally in celebration of International Human Rights day near Malacanang Palace in Manila on December 10,2020.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2,  6:09 p.m.) — Six trade union organizers and a journalist were arrested Thursday as the world commemorated International Human Rights Day.

Human rights advocates and progressive groups in the morning of December 10 marched to Mendiola to commemorate the International Human Rights Day as they called for accountability for alleged violations.

Protests were also held on Osmeña Boulevard in Cebu City on Thursday, The Freeman reported.

In a press release on Thursday afternoon, the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group said the arrests were part of "intensifying police operations against loose firearms and criminal gangs," saying search warrants were implemented simultaneously in Quezon City, Manila, and Mandaluyong City around 2 a.m. on Thursday.

Trade union organizers arrested in Quezon City, Manila

Defend Jobs Philippines reported that Dennise Velasco was arrested at around 3:00 a.m. in his house in Quezon City.

The group said members of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group “raided” their residence, based on a search warrant issued by Quezon City trial court executive judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert. According to the CIDG, the other warrants served in the raids were issued by the same judge.

Villavert is the same judge who issued search warrants that resulted in arrests of dozens of activists in Negros and Manila in 2019.

RELATED: Amid Bacolod arrests, SC reminds justices to 'be prudent' in issuing warrants

“We slam the planting of fake [evidence] such as firearms and explosives on Velasco’s possession as evidence,” Defend Jobs Philippines said in a statement.

It added that the arrest followed reported surveillance of their office on the night of December 3.

The group also said Velasco has been active in their campaign against contractualization and various labor disputes. The arrested trade union organizer also served as lead initiators in disaster relief efforts for typhoon victims in Metro Manila.

CIDG said their arresting team seized a grenade, a rifle, a pistol, and bullets in the raid along with "assorted suspected subversive documents."

Also arrested, according to the CIDG press release, were Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Astudillo, Jaymie Gregorio and Joel Demate. They said police recovered grenades, guns and bullets in searches of their residences in Quezon City and in Manila.

Rights group Karapatan, in a statement on Thursday evening, said they are also trade union organizers and called the arrests "a full mockery of International Human Rights Day."

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Journalist arrested in Mandaluyong City

Just hours later, journalist and Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem was reported arrested by the police in her residence in Mandaluyong.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said that police have yet to release details on charges against Salem.

The journalists' group said Salem is the communications officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television. IAWRT was the first to issue an alert on Salem's arrest.

Manila Today is a member of alternative media network AlterMidya and hosts a chapter of NUJP.

An official of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict recently alleged AlterMidya and its member organizations are part of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ National Propaganda Bureau — an accusation denied by the group and condemned by journalists' groups.

READ: Media groups, journ educators back AlterMidya amid red-tagging

CIDG said in its press release that police officers recovered four grenades, four pistols, and bullets in the raid on Salem's residence, where Rodrigo Esparago was also arrested. Police did not give further details on Esparago but identified Salem as a journalist.

Karapatan identified Esparago as a trade union organizer as well.

"Cases for violations of RA 10591 (Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Law) and RA 9516 (Illegal Possession of Explosives) are being readied for filing against the arrested persons," police said.

Karapatan, which documents alleged human rights violations, said the charges against the seven were fabricated and that the arrests "follow a clear modus operandi ever since the series of police raids and mass arrests in Negros and Manila in October and November last year."

It added that the raids are part of a crackdown on dissent that it said has included trumped-up charges, planted evidence  "or worse, cold-blooded rub-out operations disguised as another 'nanlaban' case." 


Karapatan added that complaints against the seven "will be predictably used by the rabid red-taggers in the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict as so-called proof to discredit and vilify activists as 'criminals' and 'terrorists' — and we assert that these are nothing more than cheap propaganda tactics."

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