By ERWIN MASCARIÑAS
THE activists and church workers were armed with nothing but their laptops, pens and pieces of paper. Yet all 13 of them were arrested and hauled off to Camp Fermin Lira, the regional headquarters of the National Police in General Santos City, on Wednesday night.
The Movement Against Tyranny in northern Mindanao and the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan yesterday decried the arrest of unarmed activists and volunteers of the Iglesia Filipina Indepediente during a meeting on Lumad issues at the Mother Francisca Spirituality Center in Radasa St., Barangay Lagao in General Santos City.
Some of those arrested are prominent activists in Cagayan de Oro.
The human rights watchdog Karapatan also sounded alarm bells over the arrest of whom it called human rights defenders and church development worker even as it demanded that the 13 be released.
Karapatan said charges of obstruction of justice were filed against 11 of those arrested in the inquest proceedings while charges against two others are still unknown.
“These individuals were arrested with no weapon on them but their laptops, pens, and papers. The government is scared of them because they bring what the state fears most – genuine change,” reads a joint statement by the Movement Against Tyranny and Bayan in northern Mindanao.
Among those arrested were Karapatan national council member for northern Mindanao Teresita Naul, Aldeem Yanez of the IFI, Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization chairman Jomorito Guaynon, Ireneo Udarbe of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Vennel Chenfoo of the Kabataan partylist, League of Filipino Students’ Kristine Cabardo, and Roger Plana of IFI.
Karapatan said the women were detained at the Police Station 4 in Nuñez St., City Heights while the men were detained at the Police Station 1 in Pendatun Ave. in Dadiangas North in General Santos.
Ana Naul, a daughter of one of the women arrested, said her mother Teresita was not given the chance to call her family and allow her to talk with them on the phone.
“My father hasn’t talked to my mother yet. I know that they are supposed to be allowed a phone call or communicate with their families. Their basic rights have been denied,” said Naul, adding that her mother is not a criminal.
Naul added: “We are frustrated as well as scared for my mother… My mother is not a criminal. Neither has she been convicted of any crime. She has not done anything illegal. She is an outstanding citizen and she has helped a lot of people with her work.”
Wenefrida Udarbe, whose husband Ireneo is with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and KMU in northern Mindanao, asked: “Why did they arrest my husband? He’s work is centered on the farmers and helping those oppressed. He has not done anything illegal; he is not a bad person. Is it wrong to defend our farmers in their struggle for land reform and to have their own land to cultivate? He is not doing this for his own interest but for the interest of the many.”
IFI Deacon Allan Khen Apus, convener of the Movement Against Tyranny, and Wildon Barros of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan called on the Duterte administration to “end government attacks against its critics.”
Apus and Barros noted that those arrested were volunteers of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Visayas-Mindanao Regional Office for Development (IFI-Vimrod) while others are members of organizations under Bayan.
They said the government tactic is to accuse it critics of either being members or supporters of the Maoist New People’s Army.
Barros said the arrests in General Santos happened on the same day that six women members of the Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa (Ogyon) from Pangantucan, Bukidnon, were also arrested.
He said Ogyon similarly criticized the Duterte administration’s “failure to deliver its promise of economic relief to the suffering farm workers,” and “blatant endorsement of plantations that have been displacing farmers from their lands, making slaves of the tilling families who could barely make ends meet with their small wages.”
The statement released by Apus and Barros continued: “Duterte promised a change in the way he would run the government when he was a presidential candidate. This was the only promise he fulfilled – not even halfway through his presidency, he has turned the Philippines into a bloody arena. His only solution for all the social and economic problems is to kill, jail, crush whoever dares complain.”
IFI-Vimrod said those arrested were headed by representatives of an IFI diocese who were there to assess a project.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said agents of the police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and military barged in and told the group that they were serving an arrest warrant for three people.
Palabay said none of the participants knew who the people whose names were mentioned by the authorities.
“The police alleged that the participants were the ones named in the said warrant, so they brought all of them to the PNP Regional Headquarters,” Palabay said.
Palabay said, “This recent arrest of rights defenders and development workers in Mindanao is a testament to the absence of respect for human and people’s rights under Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao. Civilians, including activists and church workers, are being victimized, while government and military officials trumpet their false claims that there are no human rights abuses. Clearly, these lies are being exposed as the Duterte regime’s all-out war rages against the people of Mindanao.”
Dulphing Ogan, secretary general of Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran), also joined those condemning the arrests in General Santos, calling it a clear “harassment.”
Plana, one of those arrested, is the deputy secretary general of Kalumaran.
“No amount of harassment will defeat our collective struggle to defend our indigenous rights to our ancestral lands and our right to self-determination,” said Ogan. (with reports from herbie gomez)