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BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – A fact-finding team organized by progressive groups and led by two members of the House of Representatives was barred from entering Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr, headquarters of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, here on Wednesday, November 6.
They were here to visit the 55 individuals, including 13 minors, who were arrested during the simultaneous raids by law enforcers of the offices of leftist party-list Bayan Muna and other progressive groups last week.
The team was led by Makabayan chair Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate, Gabriella party-list Representative Arlene Brosas, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan spokesperson Teddy Casiño, and former Agrarian Reform secretary Rafael Mariano.
Upon arrival at the provincial police headquarters, Zarate, Brosas, Casiño, and Mariano were stopped at the guard house by the gates.
Zarate negotiated with the police manning the gates. The congressman insisted that they be allowed to the detainees.
Colmenares, who arrived minutes later, was stopped at the gate. He demanded to see Colonel Romeo Baleros, director of the provincial police, saying it was illegal for the police to stop them from seeing the detainees.
Families of the detainees, as well as reporters, were also barred from entering the premises of the provincial police.
The police at the gate said they were only following orders.
Two hours later, a few minutes until the end of visitation hours at 5 pm, Zarate, Colmenares, and Brosas were allowed to meet with the detainees.
Zarate said they were able to enter the headquarters because they asserted that they should be allowed to visit the activists, “I contacted the higher ups, because this is a flagrant violation of the rights of the detainees to be visited. They have no reason, except for the order of the police director,” he added.
“This is very whimsical and I’m extremely disappointed… there’s a basic courtesy among us employees in the government. If a fellow official visits, basic courtesy demands you have to accord,” said the congressman.
“Eventually, he (Baleros) relented. Perhaps, he was contacted by his superiors. He apparently conceded, but not on his own volition,” Zarate said.
He slammed Baleros for the way they were treated, “as if we were criminals, as if we were afflicted with communicable diseases that they don’t want to meet with us,” he added.
He said they intend to pursue accountability mechanisms “for this kind of official who can’t even afford basic courtesy.”
Zarate, who traces his roots to Negros Occidental, said they immediately conducted a solidarity mission “to break that atmosphere of fear,” as authorities want “to sow terror and fear among people.”
“We want to express our solidarity to our fellow activists, the detainees and their families because they are suffering because of this unwarranted, uncalled for, baseless charges,” the solon said. He added that activism is not a crime.
He also said they want to gather more information on the cases for legal and other purposes as they are expecting there will be “full blown legal skirmishes” in the coming days because they stand by the belief that all the recovered evidence were planted.
It was on October 31 that the 42 suspects, along with the 13 minors, were arrested during the simultaneous raids in the offices of the progressive organizations accused by the army and the police of being “legal fronts” of the rebel movement.
Also among those arrested were the 21 laid off workers of the Ceres Bus line who were there to consult with Kilusang Mayo Uno and 10 members of grassroots cultural group Teatro Obrero who were there for rehearsal.
The 21 terminated workers and the 10 cultural group members were ordered released on Wednesday, November 6, by the Bacolod City Prosecutor’s Office for lack of probable cause to indict them.
Colmenares, a Negrense himself, said the release of the 31 detainees proved their point that the charges were trumped-up. “It was not really a strong case. There’s no evidence,” he said.
He added they would assert this in the court once it goes to trial.
Eleven activists were still detained, 7 of them were charged for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, a non-bailable offense, while the other 4 were facing charges for possession of firearms, a bailable offense. – Rappler.com