Police arrest officer of anti-trafficking NGO over 2006 rebellion case

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Police arrest officer of anti-trafficking NGO over 2006 rebellion case
Photo shows rights activist Maria Salome Crisostomo-Ujano, the national coordinator of Philippines Against Child Trafficking.
Karla Ujano on Facebook

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:04 p.m., November 16) — Police have arrested a 64-year-old child rights advocate in Malolos, Bulacan over a 15-year-old rebellion case. 

Maria Salome Crisostomo-Ujano, the national coordinator of Philippines Against Child Trafficking, was arrested Sunday morning when she got back home from her usual jog, her daughter said in a Facebook post. 

According to her daughter, Ujano and her family were presented with a warrant of arrest for a rebellion case dated June 28, 2006.

Family: How could she have been in hiding?

The Police Regional Office 3 in a statement of its own called the arrest a "manhunt operation," referring to Ujano as one of the "country's top most wanted" persons. 

Police Brig. Gen. Matthew Baccay, PRO-3 Director, claimed Ujano "had eluded the arms of the law for more than 15 years before she was arrested in Bulacan."

PACT in a statement challenged this claim, saying Ujano was a well-respected NGO leader who served as its coordinator since 2018.

"Sally has always been in the public eye for her work on protecting children and women from human trafficking and domestic violence for the last three decades, and these trumped-up charges are ridiculous," it said. 

The group shared a video of Ujano giving a public talk at a ceremony attended by Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, a former military general. 

Child rights activist red-tagged by PNP

According to Ujano's daughter Karla, the arresting officers were accompanied by people in civilian clothes.

"She asked for the IDs of the civilians but they did not show them. Even the arresting officer could not release the information," Karla wrote in Filipino. 

She added that Ujano had not received any court summons or information on the charges of any kind before being arrested.

Newly-minted PNP chief, Police Gen. Dionardo Carlos, confirmed the arrest at a press conference on Monday morning. 

He claimed that "police records" identified Ujano as a technical staff member of the New People's Army who "allegedly participated in the execution of NPA members suspected to be government spies."

"Let me emphasize that this arrest is, foremost, the result of a lawful implementation of a Warrant of Arrest issued by judicial authorities, and her affiliation with the CPP-NPA-NDF may have been incidental to the criminal case she is accused of," he said. 

"Considering her senior age, [Ujano] has been provided the services of a personal nurse who will closely monitor her health condition and safety from potential risks of COVID-19 exposure," Carlos also said. 

Rights groups: Arrest shows continuing risk for rights defenders

In a statement later Monday, human rights watchdog Karapatan called for the immediate release of Crisostomo-Ujano, as the group condemned her arrest as "an attack on women and children's rights advocates under a regime that spent its whole term endangering rights defenders, wrongfully tagging them as criminals and terrorists."

Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said that "the Duterte administration and its state forces continue to make this country a dangerous place for dissenters and rights defenders, including women's and child rights advocates."

"Nothing is more audacious than the PNP commending themselves for the unjust arrest of Ujano by reviving an old baseless charge, and labelling her as a most wanted person who has eluded arrest for 15 years," Palabay said.

"In fact, various organizations that she has worked for the last two decades attest that she has been active and present in the public eye all these years. The PNP is making an utter lie to justify her unjust arrest."

Ujano has worked with different organizations advocating women and children's rights and was also former executive director of the Women's Crisis Center. 

According to Karapatan, she was also a political prisoner during the Martial Law years, and is one of the members of the Hawaii class suit against the Marcoses.

"Her arrest points to absurdity of the PNP's operations against perceived enemies of the state," Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela party-list) said in a statement.

"We call on all women and children's rights advocates to support the campaign to free Sally Ujano and to drop the ridiculous charges filed against her."



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