Planting guns as ‘evidence’an old AFP-PNP trick

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

On the night of Oct. 31, joint AFP-PNP security forces simultaneously raided the offices of progressive organizations in Bacolod City, including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Bayan Muna, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Karapatan, Gabriela, and National Federation of Sugar Workers. They arrested 57 individuals – peasant leaders, trade unionists, human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, cultural workers, a community journalist, and others including 14 minors. The next day they arrested two women activists in Escalante City.

At 5 a.m. that same day, the police raided the home of an activist couple in Paco, Manila and arrested the couple. Then at 1 a.m. on Nov. 5, the police raided the Bayan-Manila chapter office and arrested three more activists.

Last Wednesday the Bacolod City prosecutor’s office ordered the release of 31 of the 43 arrested on Oct. 31 (minus the 14 minors returned to their parents) for lack of evidence against them. The prosecutor charged the rest with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.  

In these simultaneous operations, the security forces claimed to have found and seized firearms, ammunitions, and explosives, which they presented as “evidence” in filing the charges at the prosecutor’s office.

Karapatan, Bayan, and various organizations have denounced the security forces for having planted the weapons during their supposed searches in the raided offices and homes. 

Fact: All these raids and arrests were carried out based on search warrants issued by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Regional Trial Court Branch 89 in Quezon City.

Fact: Joint AFP-PNP security forces had previously launched three military operations in Negros Oriental – on Dec. 27, 2018-Jan. 15, 2019; March 30, 2019; and July 21, 2019. At least 48 persons, among them farmer-leaders and a human rights lawyer, were killed and several others arrested. All the operations were covered by about 100 search warrants issued by just one judge: RTC-7 Branch 10 Judge Soliver Peras in Cebu City.

Fact: When the Negros Oriental raids and killings happened, Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas was the PNP regional director in Central Visayas. Now the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief, he reportedly conferred with Judge Burgos-Villavert before she issued the search warrants.  

It wasn’t surprising that strong protests and denunciations have been issued by human rights groups, lawyers, and others concerned over how the raids, searches, and arrests were conducted. At least 59 international organizations, the Philippine STAR has reported, called on the Philippine government to release the 57 persons arrested in Negros Occidental.

Reacting to these protests, Gen. Sinas and PNP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac both defended the propriety of the operations, particularly saying that these were covered by search warrants. But more explanation is needed about the reason, as mentioned by Sinas, why the police requested the issuance of search warrants.

A PhilSTAR report on Nov. 6 says: “Sinas said they are applying for search warrants to arrest leaders of the communist New People’s Army who are in Metro Manila since ‘we do not know what their plans are’ [emphasis mine].”

If so, did the NCRPO chief identify to Judge Burgos-Villavert the alleged leaders of the NPA whom they targeted for arrest in Metro Manila? And why arrest these people when Sinas himself acknowledged “we do not know what their plans are”?

As it turned out, the five arrested in the two Manila raids had been performing legal/public functions in their respective organizations: Cora Agovida, Gabriela-Metro Manila spokesperson; her husband, Michael Tan Bartolome, Kadamay-MM campaign officer; Ram Carlo Bautista, Bayan-Manila campaign director; Alma Moran, member, Manila Workers Unity secretariat; and Ina Nacino, Kadamay-Manila coordinator. Does Sinas now accuse them of being NPA leaders?

The police-military crackdown on progressive people’s organizations, human rights defenders, and socio-economic, environmental, and cultural advocacy groups is part of the implementation of Executive Order 70, signed by President Duterte on Dec. 4, 2018. It created a “National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC),” with Duterte as chairman. Applying the US-designed “whole-of-nation approach,” the task force aims to attain its objective by 2022.

In this regard, it’s helpful to review what Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año (who oversees the PNP and is a ranking NTF-ELCAC member) said about insurgency in October 2018:

“Insurgency is rooted in poverty, inequality, and grievances that could be addressed by respective mandates of various government institutions.  We have all the mechanisms to face these issues but all government agencies have to perform our roles in a concerted manner.”

Año stressed that insurgency isn’t primarily a military or police problem but a governance problem, claiming, “In fact, we are winning the battle in the mountains.” However, he admitted: “It’s in the propaganda war and parliamentary battle that we are losing… Communists are using as propaganda the inefficacies of the government to advance their aspiration of toppling democracy.” The NTF-ELCAC, he added, “will ensure that other government agencies will help the DND and the DILG in this effort.”

Going by the above-cited operations in Negros and in Manila so far, the NTF-ELCAC is apparently instrumentalizing particular RTC judges to aid the AFP and PNP in cracking down on the progressive organizations it perceives to be thrashing the Duterte government in a “propaganda war” and parliamentary battle. The game plan: utilize the search warrants issued by the courts to plant guns and explosives that would be used to link the activists to the NPA, arrest, detain and charge them in court – and vilify, discredit their legal organizations.  

This game plan, veritably a foul play, has been used by the security forces against activists for over 30 years now, under supposedly liberal-democratic administrations. A considerable number, if not the majority, of the current 602 political prisoners are in jail because of it. The “Morong 43,” health workers who were arrested while attending a seminar in early 2010, were victimized by both a defective search warrant and planted evidence. After 10 months of restrictive detention and persistent national and international campaigns to release them, President P-Noy ordered the justice department to withdraw the spurious charges filed against them (illegal possession of firearms and explosives).

Way back in 1989, under the Cory Aquino government, my wife and I were charged with two cases of illegal possession of firearms in separate courts. After three years of hearings on our petition for bail, the courts cleared us of the false charges. Two other trumped-up cases filed against us – murder and kidnapping with serious illegal detention – were similarly dismissed for lack of evidence.

Why insist on using the same old trick if, as Año bragged, the government has “all the mechanisms” to address the roots of insurgency?

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Email: [email protected]

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