activist groups in PH

Activists plead SC for action as mistrust grows against government probers

Lian Buan
Activists plead SC for action as mistrust grows against government probers

Human rights activists stage a symbolic die-in protest in front of the Commission of Human Rights headquarters in Quezon City on Wednesday March 10. 2021.

Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

Doubts rise that government investigations will ever hold state agents accountable, so activists plead the judiciary for reforms that will prevent the raids in the first place

Even as they participate in the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the Bloody Sunday raids that killed 9 last March 7, activists still largely distrust any probe that involve state agents, driving them to their last resort – the Supreme Court.

On Friday, May 7, the second month since the March 7 raids, activists slammed the slow pace of investigation which they feel is dragging on despite the fact that there is no dispute as to the identities of the policemen and that they killed 9 activists while serving search warrants.

“We’re not fooling ourselves, there has been too many cases already that show that the Philippine National Police do not know the meaning of accountability,” said Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of rights group Karapatan.

Palabay was referring to an initial conclusion of the provincial internal affairs service (IAS) of the Batangas police recommending administrative complaints be brought against the arresting agents who killed activists Ariel and Ana Mariz “Chai” Evangelista, two of the 9 killed on Bloody Sunday.

A provincial IAS recommendation needs to pass through the leadership of PNP before an actual complaint is filed, prompting Palabay to express her doubts. The families of the Evangelista couple, Palabay said, had in fact chosen not to attend the invitation of the provincial IAS for a procedural hearing.

Palabay said Chai’s father, also an activist, had been feeling harassed recently, saying their community in Nasugbu is still heavily militarized.

“Labas pasok ang AFP, hinaharass sila, tinatanong kung anong mga organisasyon sila kabilang (Military men come and go, they harass them, they ask them what organizations they belong to),” said Charm Maranan of Defend Southern Tagalog.

Chai’s parents, and other relatives of the 9 killed activists, recently met with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to move the DOJ’s AO 35 task force investigation along. AO 35 is a special task force to look into political killings.

Palabay said Guevarra offered to put the relatives under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) but the families decided they would rather have other forms of protection, like church sanctuaries.

And who can blame them, said Palabay, when WPP is manned by state agents – the very same people they fear.

“It’s understandable, as Secretary Guevarra himself said, trust must be fostered, so unless there are confidence-building measures to show to the witnesses and families, there would always be compounding doubts to enter those kinds of programs,” said Palabay.

Palabay said the DOJ should first ask the police and military – members of the AO 35 task force – to “let up” in alleged continued harassments of the witnesses.

Asked for a reaction, Guevarra deferred to Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay, but Sugay has not responded as of writing.

‘Stand with the people, CJ Gesmundo’

Palabay said they have reliable information that Chai’s father Armando is among the activists that may be subject of new search warrants being applied for, or warrants that may have already been granted by other local courts.

The groups are on high alert this month, fearful of the possibilities of the days and weeks ahead.

It’s why they are calling on the Supreme Court to intervene through wide reforms to prevent the raids and further abuses of judicial processes like search warrants.

They hammered on the need to review the rules on search warrants, seeing that newly-appointed Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said in his Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) interview that he believes a judge must be very thorough in examining search warrant applications.

For the Bloody Sunday raids, Supreme Court records show as many as 63 applications for search warrants were filed in single day at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC), of which 42 were granted, raising questions on how thorough the judges were to be able to grant warrants in bulk.

“We have a new chief justice in office, we’re challenging Chief Justice Gesmundo to stand with the people. For the Supreme Court to intervene in these bulk applications of search warrants,” said Charm Maranan of the group Defend Southern Tagalog.

The Supreme Court committed to a new rule requiring policemen to wear body cameras in operations, but that has not been finalized yet.

Every day lacking concrete action can cost one more life, one more freedom, said Palabay.

Maranan faces the grim reality that she and her colleagues could be next.

“Kahit ako natatakot ako para sa buhay ko, natatakot ako kung ano ang puwedeng gawin sa akin, ano ang puwedeng mangyari sa akin. Sa mga nanunuod po, sa mga kasama natin sa media, kung meron man pong mangyayari sa mga aktibista ng Timog Katagalugan, alam natin kung sino ang may motibong gumawa,” said Maranan.

(Even I am scared for my life, I am scared of what they can do to me, what can happen to me. So to those who are watching, to our colleagues in the media, if something happens to the activists of Southern Tagalog, you know who has the motive to do so.) – 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.