Manila Bay watchdog slams activists' arrests
Multi-sectoral organizations on Oct. 6, 2019 denounced the recent arrest of ten activists in the span of three days, which they said is evidence of ‘de-facto’ or unofficial martial law in the country.
KJ Rosales / File
Manila Bay watchdog slams activists' arrests
Franco Luna ( - November 4, 2019 - 10:13pm

MANILA, Philippines — An independent watchdog for the rehabilitation of the Manila Bay on Tuesday hit what they said was the illegal arrest of Cora Agovida, chairperson of Gabriela-Manila. 

Agovida, her partner and fellow Kadamay member Michael Bartolome, and their two children were in their house in Paco, Manila on October 31 when they were arrested by the Manila Police District and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

According to alternative news site, the two have been charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

"Agovida was just with the secretariat of the Manila Bay Watch the day before she was arrested, planning for the upcoming campaigns for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay that would culminate on World Fisheries Day,” Manila Bay Watch Metro Manila Coordinator Kevin Aguayon said in a statement Monday.

"She can never be involved in any illegal activities contrary to the false accusations against her."

Police Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas, National Capital Region Police Office acting chief, defended the move, saying that the arrest for illegal posession of firearms and explosives was valid. 

The search warrant isued by Quezon City Regional Trial Court executive judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert alleged that the two activists were in posession of a .45 caliber pistol and two grenades.

“We are one with the progressive groups and activists in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Agovita and her companion,” Aguayon said.

'Fabricated evidence'

In their statement, Manila Baywatch said that the arrest was another example of "usual tactics of planting of pieces of evidence among the progressive individuals, organizations, and even offices to criminalize [targets.]"

The arrest was preceded by simultaneous raids on the offices of Gabriela, Bayan Muna and the National Federation of Sugar Workers that led to the arrests of some 56 activists in Bacolod City.

“We call for the immediate release of those arrested in the raids conducted in Manila and Bacolod," Gabriela said in a statement released shortly after the arrests. 

"We vehemently condemn the use of spurious search warrants to orchestrate raids and mass arrests based on fabricated evidences against members and leaders of legitimate people’s organizations."

Activist groups have said that police and military aggression towards activists and progressives contribute to an undeclared martial law, although authorities reject this assertion.

Figures from human rights group Karapatan showed that there were at least 1,850 cases of illegal arrest without detention recorded between July 2016 and July 2019, among many other instances of what they said were mass violations of civil and political rights under the Duterte administration.

Opposition to reclamation projects in Manila Bay

Manila Baywatch is an alliance of fisherfolk, urban poor, environmentalists, students, academic and church groups that formed in February to monitor the administration's rehabilitation of the bay and the reclamation programs surrounding it.  

At the group's launch, Manila Baywatch spokesperson Leon Dulce decried Duterte's Administrative Order 16, which formed the inter-agency Manila Bay Task Force to begin implementing the bay's long-overdue rehabilitation program.

Dulce said the AO was focused on relocating communities and had “little to no plan” protecting ecosystems. The Manila Baywatch statement said that Agovida was one member among many who "staunchly [oppose] the reclamation that will further destroy its ecosystem."

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