31 Negros activists freed, 11 charged
Gilbert Bayoran (The Philippine Star) - November 8, 2019 - 12:00am

BACOLOD CITY , Philippines —Thirty-one of the 44 people arrested in simultaneous raids on the offices of militant organizations in this city on Oct. 31 were released on Wednesday.

The city prosecutor’s office said there was no sufficient evidence to indict the 31.

Twenty-one of those freed are terminated workers of bus company Vallacar Transit Inc.

The 14 minors rescued in the raids were turned over to their parents.

Those who remain under police custody were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Among those charged were Romulo Bitoon, Bayan Muna party-list leader; his wife Mermalyn, organizer of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas-Negros Occidental chapter; Albert de la Cerna also of KMP, Kilusang Mayo Uno spokesman Noli Rosales, Karapatan-Negros regional coordinator Proceso Quiatchon, Cheryl Catalogo and Karina de la Cerna.

Also charged were Mary Anne Krueger, alternative media Paghimutad correspondent and organizer of Business Process Outsourcing Industry Employees Network; John Milton Lozande, secretary general of the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers, and NFSW leaders Roberto Lachica and Danilo Tabura.

Capt. Cenon Pancito, 3rd Infantry Division spokesman, said qualified human trafficking charges were also filed against Catalogo, Albert, Dela Cerna, Lozande, Rosales and Quiatchon.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate and Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, lawyer Neri Colmenares and activist Teddy Casiño arrived here on Wednesday to conduct a fact-finding mission.

House probe

Zarate and Brosas filed a resolution on Tuesday directing the House committee on human rights to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation on the arrest of leaders of progressive organizations and activists in Negros amid claims that the recovered guns and explosives were planted.

The military had earlier said those arrested are members of the New People’s Army (NPA)’s Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros-Cebu-Siquijor-Bohol.

‘Underground houses’

Brig. Gen. Eric Vinoya, Joint Task Force Negros commander, said the raided offices are “underground houses” of the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA.

KMP chairman emeritus Rafael Mariano attributed the release of the 31 to a two-day national solidarity mission initiated by various progressive organizations.

At least 59 international organizations also called on the Philippine government to release the activists. – With Rhodina Villanueva

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