human rights

Ex-political prisoner in Laoag fears for safety after repeated surveillance

Lian Buan
Ex-political prisoner in Laoag fears for safety after repeated surveillance

HARASSED. Former political prisoner Lenville Salvador (right) with Laoag City Bishop Renato Mayugba during a press conference in the city on February 26, 2021.

Photo courtesy of Reverend Noel Pagdilao

(UPDATED) A former detainee of the Marcos government says he and his wife got 3 visits in February from men claiming to be with the military

A 62-year-old former political prisoner in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, has gone public with his and his wife’s experience of repeated surveillance by men who claimed to be from the military, expressing hope that putting it out in the open would be their best protection.

“It’s good that the public should know about this because I have been surveilled for so long by intelligence and the military. This is a clear case of harassment,” Lenville Salvador said in Ilocano in a press conference in Laoag City with Bishop Renato Mayugba on Friday, February 26.

Salvador was a political prisoner in Laoag City nearly 40 years ago – from 1983 to 1986. As a college student, he was president of the University of the Philippines-Namnama, an Ilocano organization established in 1974 to fight the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos, himself an Ilocano born in Batac.

“I just want to live a quiet life, for my family to live a quiet life. I want this harassment to stop, not just against me, but against other people. And to stop accusing people without basis,” Salvador told local reporters.

Salvador said he has long retired and is now just taking care of his grandchildren. He said his recent activities include volunteering for the barangay’s coronavirus response.

Soldiers?

Salvador recalled that on February 14, a man who introduced himself as Dennis Sibayan from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process paid him a visit.

“He was connecting me to the rebel movement. I told him that I am living a peaceful life and his accusation is not true. I also told him that he was harassing me with his accusation,” said Salvador in a written account the family provided to Rappler.

He said the man took a photo of him and told him to “cooperate with them.”

Salvador was again visited on February 17 by two men who identified themselves as Technical Sergeants Franco Gomez and Rod de Guzman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Gomez and De Guzman stated their purpose: to talk to me because my name appears in the PSR (Periodic Status Report). When I asked them to elaborate, they said that they want to talk to me in private,” said Salvador, adding he had called a barangay chairman to their home when the men arrived.

“I told them that if the content of the PSR is something to associate me with the rebels, they are wrong,” said Salvador. The men took again his photo.

On February 23, Salvador’s wife Fortunata was asked to go to the day care center of the barangay to pick up their grandson’s module, even though it was an unusual request since their grandson’s teacher usually dropped them off at home.

Upon arriving at the center, two men who identified themselves as Captain Edward Salvador and Jerome dela Cruz, and who claimed to be with the Department of National Defense, greeted her.

Salvador said his wife was told to convince him to cooperate “before anything bad happens to him.” It seemed the men had tracked his affiliations with progressive groups such as Bayan Muna and Anakpawis. “I argued that this is a basic human right and these organizations are legally recognized anyway,” said Fortunata Salvador in a separate incident report.

Crackdown on activists

This comes as the Duterte government intensified its campaign against activists. Just recently, police in the neighboring Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) issued a resolution ordering local government units to seek out who among their constituents are “known left-leaning personalities in the government, media and other entities.”

Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee-CAR Resolution No. 04 states that the drug war’s Oplan Tokhang strategy must be used on activists, “by visiting/knocking on their respective residences” to “dissuade them from further supporting, or being active members of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front) or any of its known front organizations.”

Representatives of various government agencies in CAR also signed the resolution. But Commission on Human Rights CAR Regional Director Romel Daguimol later withdrew his signature.

“We continue to condemn terrorism, as well as the use of armed struggle to topple the government. But we continue to stand that activism is not a crime,” Daguimol said in a statement.

“Our people should be free to express legitimate dissent and grievances for the government to act on.”

Many other activists have been surveilled in the time of Duterte, and some of them were even included in a terror list by the Department of Justice, which the department later withdrew because it was unverified. ([PODCAST] Law of Duterte Land: A State of terror)

At least 318 individuals have been killed since 2016, according to rights group Karapatan, as the Duterte government wages war on dissent – a war upped further by the enactment of the feared anti-terror law.

Negros activist Zara Alvarez was heavily surveilled before she was shot dead in August 2020. She died even before the Supreme Court could act on her petition asking for a protection order.

“I have been red-tagged even in social media, and it’s not just me, even farmers, even bishops are red-tagged. This is really the climate now,” Salvador said. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.