Negros, venue of NUPL National Congress, a “laboratory for trumped-up charges”
BACOLOD CITY – Human rights defenders called Negros Island the “laboratory” of the military’s tactic of swamping activists and human rights defenders with trumped-up charges, which they brand as “continuing harassment and intimidation” to silence protests.
At the press briefing here at the Third National Congress of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) on November 30-December 1, 2013 in Bacolod City, they said they will “bring the fight to the military” by countering with charges of their own, while their supporters in the Lower House vow to hold congressional inquiries.
“We will not back out from this fight. We will stand by our clients,” declared Atty. Edre Olalia, secretary-general of the NUPL, the largest nationwide organization of human rights lawyers. “We will also file charges against them administratively and criminally.”
Further, they vowed to bring international attention to the matter. Advocate Jo Deremaeker, of the Progressive Lawyers’ Network, Belgium, expressed “the grave concern of the European lawyers” on this new attack on human rights workers. She said: “I came here to express solidarity with fellow lawyers and activists who opted to join the victims of injustice and the poor. I and my colleagues in Europe are very worried about the filing of trumped-up charges against activists.”
Two Bayan Muna representatives in the lower House, both NUPL members, announced they would be filing resolutions in Congress for an inquiry on the growing trend of the military slapping critics trumped-up charges, with Negros as the military’s “laboratory”.
Reps. Neri Javier Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate said they will summon during the investigation not only military and police officers, jail warden, false witnesses, but also public prosecutors and even members of the judiciary “to explain to us on their role in the prosecution and trial of these trump-up charges.:
“The trumped-up charges merely intend to silence militant organizations and individuals and stop them from exposing abuses and corruption in government,” said Colmenares, who is also NUPL president.
The military in Negros slapped murder charges against eight activists and human rights advocates.
Two of them are in detention, namely: Zara Alvarez, member of the Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA), who has been in prison for one year. The other, Alizar Nabas, a peasant, was slapped with arson and jailed for three years.
The court has acquitted Nabas but he still languishes in detention after the military slapped him with murder, another unbailable offense.
Zarate, a former NUPL vice president for Mindanao, recalled they saw military men in civilian attire standing by at Alvarez’s detention cell.
“I asked the jailors why they allowed military men to roam around inside the detention center, and they answered me that Alvarez was a ‘high risk’ prisoner,” Zarate recalled. “I just wonder, Alvarez is diminutive, even handcuffs slide down her wrists on their own; the military men were in civilians and unarmed, their presence there is calculated to intimidate and scare her.”
“Nothing has changed under the administration of Pres. Benigno Aquino III,” noted Marie Hilao Enriquez, chair of the human rights group Karapatan. “Human rights violations continue: since Aquino came to power, 159 cases of extra-judicial execution and 16 enforced disappearances”
In the period recorded there are now 449 political prisoners that included 35 women, 12 elderly and 3 minors aside from 28 sickly ones.
NUPL, counsels for the two detainees, also represents the other accused for murder who fear they might also be thrown in jail, namely:
- Ronald Ian Evidente, spokesman of the militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno(KMU);
- Christian Tuayon, secretary-general of Bayan;
- Clarizza Singson, chair of Gabriela;
- Fred Cana, secretary-general of Karapatan;
- Gualberto Dajao, chair of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT); and
- Bernardino Patigas, secretary-general of NNAHRA
“This trend is happening elsewhere but it is in Negros where the military is most assiduous in filing trumped-up charges,” said Colmenares.
Trumped-up charges have been also filed in other parts of the country; the venues of the congressional inquiries will be in places where they happen, they said.
Rep. Neri J. Colmenares
Atty. Edre U. Olalia
NUPL Secretary General
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
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