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Fact-finding team finds irregularities in Negros mass arrests

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The fact-finding team organized by progressive groups found irregularities in the simultaneous raids conducted by government authorities in Negros Occidental that led to the arrest of 57 individuals, including 13 minors.

In a press conference at the Negros Press Club office here Thursday, November 7, Teddy Casiño, a part of the fact-finding team and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan spokesperson said they found out that there was forcible entry of the venues raided during the operations, and that the occupants were escorted out of the offices, “meaning anything can happen.”

He said authorities planted the firearms and the grenades to implicate the arrested individuals – 55 in Bacolod and two in Escalante City. He added the evidence supposedly recovered from the activists was casually visible in the offices.

“The firearms and grenades were recovered in the tables, cabinets, and the sink,” he added.

Aside from Casiño, the other members of the "solidarity mission" were Makabayan chair Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate, Gabriela party-list Representative Arlene Brosas, and former Agrarian Reform secretary Rafael Mariano, who is also the chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

The group demanded that the government stop the attacks and the vilification of cause-oriented groups and the people’s organizations.

Of the 55 arrested persons in Bacolod, 31 were released from detention on Wednesday, November 6, while the 13 minors were already turned over to their parents and guardians early this week.

This was because there was no probable cause to indict the 31 individuals. These were the 21 terminated workers of a bus company and the 10 young members of grassroots cultural group Teatro Obrero.

Meanwhile, the remaining 11 activists were still in detention after charges for illegal possession of firearms and explosives were filed against them.

Casiño also said the warrants used by the authorities came from a “search warrant factory” in Quezon City. He questioned the jurisdiction of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert for issuing the said warrants.

“The judge has no idea what is going on in Bacolod. It’s prone to abuse and misinformation,” he added.

He also said, “we were able to piece together, and that judge issued 11 search warrants in one day. Four were served in Bacolod, three in Escalante, and two in Manila. We still have two unaccounted warrants,” he said.

He said leftist organizations in Manila have opened its offices to Commission on Human Rights and the barangay to preempt any attempt from the government to attack their offices and plant evidence.

He added they are bracing for a “full-scale national crackdown” from the government, which could lead to more raids and arrests of activists and dissenters, as two more warrants have yet to be served.

He said they would continue their engagement in Negros to ensure that the crackdown would stop here so the rights of activists, people’s organizations, dissenters, and critics would not be trampled upon.

He said what happened in Negros Occidental is a cause of concern since this is the first time after martial law that there was a mass arrest of people’s organizations. “The only time there were mass arrests was during demonstrations and rallies,” he said.

“But this is different. Apparently, Negros is a laboratory for the national crackdown... the situation is very urgent,” Casiño, a former Bayan Muna party-list representative, stressed.

For her part, Brosas said the minors were now suffering from trauma, anxiety, paranoia and appetite loss following the raids. She added the minors have initially undergone psycho-social intervention.

“We recommended there should be a series of counseling to process their experience,” she said.

Meanwhile, Colmenares said they would file countercharges against those responsible for the raids as they blatantly violated the rule of law. – Rappler.com