CHR to look into San Roque residents' reports of harassment by cops, military

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
CHR to look into San Roque residents' reports of harassment by cops, military
Photo shows community leaders and volunteers in the Save San Roque alliance outside the Commission on Human Rights office in Quezon City.

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights said it will investigate claims by the urban poor community of Sitio San Roque in Barangay Bagong Pag-asa, Quezon City  of "state intervention in its lifeways" that has vilified community organizing and community-led initiatives.

In a statement sent to reporters late Tuesday night, the Save San Roque alliance disclosed that this came as a result of the community's dialogue with CHR-National Capital Region earlier that day.

The commission also confirmed this to Philstar.com in a text message saying: "Yes, our CHR-NCR will investigate the matter."

Residents of the urban poor community have been the slapped with cases from police and military personnel since the coronavirus pandemic began. Throughout the community quarantine, eviction attempts and warrantless arrests have been reported in urban poor communities depsite a supposed moratorium on these.

"Police and military are there almost daily, conducting counter-insurgency operations and spreading red-tagging propaganda. It's become normal for residents to be disturbed by the police," Save San Roque told Philstar.com in an online exchange in an earlier story. The Quezon City Police District has denied this despite video documenting tension between residents and police.

RELATED: How community-led projects kept the urban poor afloat amid COVID-19

At the dialogue, the community, represented by community leader Estrelieta Bagasbas and volunteers working with the Save San Roque Alliance, discussed the complaints of the community including: 

  1. National Housing Authority's demolition threat in the Palochina area of Sitio San Roque despite a DILG memorandum ordering the postponement of any eviction-related activities amid the coronavirus pandemic
  2. the coercion and red-tagging committed by agents and auxiliary elements from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police on the community leaders, residents, and officers of people's organizations;
  3. the red-tagging and suspected surveillance on Save San Roque Alliance volunteers; and
  4. the impeding of community-led initiatives of Sitio San Roque.

READ: Why Kadamay and the urban poor are easy targets for government and the rest of us

"Sitio San Roque launched community-initiated self-help programs such as Kusinang Bayan, Tanimang Bayan, Eskuwela Maralita, and the Vendors' Alternative Development Plan. However, community leaders, residents, and volunteers working together for these programs have since been on the receiving end of the national government's counterinsurgency efforts," the community's statement read.

A report by SSR and the Agham Vendors Association alleges that community-initiated projects inside Sitio San Roque, including a tree analysis workshop and a solidarity huddle, were attended by police officers in plainclothes. 

"At least five members from the Philippine National Police were seen 'attending' the workshop, lurking and asking questions from both vendors and Volunteers inevitably disturbing the activity and intimidating those present," the report read. 

In another workshop, they said, PNP personnel were also seen in a van parked "adjacent to where the vendors were seated. They were seen video recording the activity, the facilitators as well as the participants from the inside of their service vehicle."

Dialogue with city government sought

CHR, the community said, also committed to urging the Quezon City government to conduct its own dialogue with the community to address these issues on the LGU level.

"We can see that you're really able to help. You have good goals, and we cannot deny that you are human rights defenders. We hear you. We'll call the attention of the [police] and the [military] and verify these claims since what we want is for them to keep away,” Terresa Diola, a lawyer with the commission, was quoted as telling the group in the statement in mixed Filipino and English.

Diola added that free human rights training on how to approach instances of military or police interventions can also be conducted in the event that the community's residents request it.

City PLEB willing to meet with residents 

In a phone call with Philstar.com, Quezon City People's Law Enforcement Board Executive Director Ralph Calinisan, a lawyer, said that the PLEB would be happy to hold a dialogue with the community's residents. 

The PLEB is the city government's court and complaint desk to hear out grievances on erring policemen. 

"We pledge that any case brought to this office will be acted upon immediately...people have a right to free speech. Just because the poor are calling for aid and commenting on public issues doesn't mean they're being subversive," Calinisan said in mixed Filipino and English.

"That's not a reason to harass them and subject them to inhumane treatment," he also said.

Calinisan said the PLEB would first need a complainant to file a case before the board can investigate. He said that the CHR itself could file a formal complaint. 

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"The police are our partners in nation-building, however, we sincerely hope as the watchdogs of the policemen that they always uphold the rights of the common Filipino...We remind all police officers to always be circumspect in their actions. At the end of the day, we should serve and protect the people, especially the residents of Sitio San Roque," Calinisan said. 

"If they clamor for better services, then so be it. We should be more receptive to their needs, not be critical [about them] asking for government help...We should ask ourselves if their demands for the government are valid. If yes, then we should listen."

Disclosure: Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte is a shareholder of Philstar Global Corp., which operates digital news outlet Philstar.com. 









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