DOJ starts probe: Is recruitment to progressive groups a crime?

Lian Buan

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DOJ starts probe: Is recruitment to progressive groups a crime?
The DOJ hearing is another step taken by the government in its crackdown on what it says is the 'brainwashing' of students through progressive groups

MANILA, Philippines – Where is the crime in students being recruited to progressive groups?

That is at the heart of a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation that began Tuesday, August 27, on complaints of kidnapping, child trafficking and child abuse against leftist lawmakers and personalities for recruiting minor students to progressive groups.

Neither activism, nor communism, is a crime in the Philippines.

But the police complaint against progressive groups gained flesh when Relissa Lucena claimed that her daughter Alicia was kidnapped by progressive group Anakbayan. The accusation paved the way for complaints of kidnapping, child trafficking and child abuse.

But 18-year-old Alicia, a student of the Far Eastern University (FEU), already faced the media on August 14 to attest that she was a voluntary member of Anakbayan. She was not kidnapped, she said, and added that it was a family issue being exploited by the police and the military.

Relissa’s affidavit says Alicia joined the group in July 2018, when she was only 17 years old, or a minor.

Where is the crime? 

Aside from Anakbayan leaders, the complaint tagged as respondents Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago and former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares, both of whom ran in the 2019 midterm elections.

The affidavit said the minor campaigned for Elago and Colmenares.

“Charges kay Cong Elago basically nag-kakampanya siya sa Congress. ‘Yun lang ,why is that a crime,” said Elago’s lawyer, constitutional law professor Tony La Viña.

(The charges against Congresswoman Elago is basically campaigning for Congress. That’s it. Why is that a crime?)

“Ako nga nadamay nga ako ni wala akong mention sa affidavit except na nabanggit na yung mga estudyante nagcampaign for me. So that does not [make a kidnapping case], that does not [make a trafficking case],” Colmenares said.

(I was dragged to this complaint although there was no mention of me in the affidavit, except that some of the students supposedly campaigned for me.)

Former Akbayan representative Tom Villarin attended the hearing as he was also named as respondent. But Villarin is not from Anakbayan, but Akbayan. Akbayan and Anakbayan come from two factions of the Philippine Left and have had a nasty public feud.


The complaint alleged that since Alicia was recruited, her behavior changed drastically. Relissa said on Tuesday that Alicia has blocked her on communication channels.

Radicalization of students is the recent focus of the police and the military, reaching even the Senate for investigations led by former police chief Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a retired military general who had a prolific record in the Philippine Army of hunting down communist rebels, is pushing for the restoration of the Anti-Subversion Law which would make mere membership in the communist party a crime. (READ: CREATING A MARCOS? Reviving the anti-subversion law under Duterte)

The prosecutorial panel said it was given authority only to handle complaints of child abuse and child trafficking. The kidnapping complaint would have to be referred to another panel, unless additional authority is issued by the National Prosecution Service (NPS).

“Team effort ito ng PNP-CIDG, Office of the Solicitor General, PNP Legal Department, so this is a joint effort by the government para mawala na itong pag-brainwash sa mga minors. (… to remove this brainwashing of minors.)  It’s alarming,” said Ferdinand Topacio, Relissa’s lawyer.

Another hearing is scheduled on  September 10. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.