2 months since bloody Calabarzon raids, activists' kin still waiting for probe updates

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
2 months since bloody Calabarzon raids, activists' kin still waiting for probe updates
This photo shows a protester holding the photo of couple Chai Lemita at Ariel Evangelista who are among the nine activists killed in the bloody Calabarzon raids on March 7.
Kilusang Mayo Uno / released

MANILA, Philippines — For the families and colleagues of activists killed in the Bloody Calabarzon raids on March 7, the past months have been filled with fear and cautious hope.

But with the slow developments in government-led investigations, their hope for justice remains hanging.

Human rights groups on Friday marked the second month since the Bloody Sunday raids in a virtual press conference to urge the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice to follow through with promises for the victims’ families.

Since the killings, the families met with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on April 21, a development that they described as encouraging. The DOJ chief leads the Administrative Order 35 task force that investigates politically-motivated killings, which now include the probe into the Calabrzon killings.

But fellow activists said the two months of little progess is already too long.

‘What happened to your promises?’

Kilusang Mayo Uno’s Eleanor De Guzman said that, during the meeting with Guevarra, the families cried for help, citing fears for their security. She added there had been a "repeated plea to pull out the military inside their community."

She shared that Rosenda Lemita — her daughter Chai Lemita-Evangelista was among the activists killed in the March raids — reported that the Armed Forces of the Philippines had been going in and out of their community.

Chai’s father, Amando, also reported receiving threats of being arrested. He is a long-time activist and peasant leader in Nasugbu, Batangas.

De Guzman said Guevarra promised them that he would talk to the AFP and the Philippine National Police about the matter. "We have to follow up if he really talked to them about this," she added.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay added this is also a call to Guevarra as he told the United Nations Human Rights Council that domestic mechanisms for victims of extrajudicial killings are working in the country. Victims and witnesses have been saying otherwise.

New chief justice at helm

Progressive groups have also run to the Supreme Court, as they decried the “weaponization of the law” that targets activists through search warrants, often simialr to each other and bearing similar allegations.

The high court, in a rare move in March, addressed this and said they resolved to issue rules on use of body cameras during service of search and arrest warrants.

Charm Maranan of Defend Southern Tagalog challenged recently appointed Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo to “to stand with the people, for the SC to intervene in the bulk applications of search warrants.”

“In the middle of pandemic, the law is being weaponized against activists… Give weight to the attacks on activists because what search warrants does to attack activists and violate the human rights of activists is not something to make light of,” she added in Filipino.

READ: SC urged to be proactive, provide safeguards vs 'templated' warrants

During his interview with the Judicial and Bar Council for the chief justice post, Gesmundo said a judge will have to resolve an application for search warrant based on “his own searching inquiry.”

He added:  “He cannot solely rely on the affidavits of the complainant in the witnesses they produced, because that would be in violation of the constitution, as well as the rules on criminal procedure."

Since the SC issued the statement, arrests of activists during implementation of search warrants have continued.

Rights group reported that four were arrested in Calabarzon region on May 6. They are Garry Doroteo, a Dumagat in Tanay, Rizal who opposes ing the Kaliwa/Kanan and Laiban dam; Benito Lucido, head of the Integrated Association of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, and his wife; and Loreto Balino whose kin are also part of the anti-Kaliwa/Kanan/Laiban dam movement.

In Bicol, BAYAN-Bicol Secretary General Pastor Dan Balucio and Anakbayan spokesperson Sasah Sta. Rosa were arrested. A search warrant was also served in the house of Youth Act Now Against Tyranny Bicol’s Justine Mesias but he was not arrested as he was not at home during the operation.

Cautious optimism and taking the charge

Batangas police conducted an internal affairs probe into the operations where Chai Evangelista and her husband Ariel were killed. The Evangelistas are leaders of progressive fisherfolk group Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan. 

A Rappler report said the Batangas police recommended the filing of administrative raps against cops who led the operation.

But Palabay said they are tempering their optimism with PNP-led investigations delivering justice.

“We’re not fooling ourselves. There has been too many cases that show that PNP do not know perhaps the meaning of accountability within its ranks,” she said.

RELATED: With probe stalled for a year, Jory Porquia's son asks DOJ to look into his murder

The Karapatan secretary general also pointed out that it has been two months since the incident. “This is discouraging as far as we deal with many cases like this,” she added.

Defend ST’s Maranan said they will not pin their hopes on government investigations. She said families of the 'Bloody Sunday' victims will be filing complaints against the cops who implemented the search warrants.

Palabay said the DOJ offered the Witness Protection Program for the families, but there were apprehensions in entering it. The families instead seek sanctuary from other independent institutions like churches and mass organizations.

She stressed: “Trust must be fostered. There are confidence-building measures. Anyone will really have double doubts [in this scenario].”







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