Activists claim ‘victory’ in release of 31 civilians arrested in Bacolod raid

Members of the Makabayan Bloc and leaders of some progressive groups hold a press briefing at the Negros Press Club in Bacolod City Thursday, following the release of 31 civilians who were arrested in series of raids at the offices of three militant groups in the city last week. (Glazyl Y. Masculino)

By: Glazyl Y. Masculino

BACOLOD City – The national fact-finding team composed of members of the Makabayan Bloc and some progressive groups claimed victory in the release of 31 civilians who were arrested in a series of raids on offices of militant groups here last week.

The team is composed of Representatives Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna Partylist, Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Party, and former representatives Teddy Casiño and Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna Partylist and Ariel Casilao of Anak Pawis Partylist.

They made the statement along with leaders of some militant groups in a press briefing held at the Negros Press Club here yesterday.

Two days after two criminal complaints for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and illegal possession of explosives were filed against 42 civilians believed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA), 31 were released by the City Prosecutor’s Office for lack of probable cause.

The prosecutor said the presence of these individuals at the premises of the militant groups offices were only “incidental.”

Last October 31, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) -6, Army, and local policemen raided the offices of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Gabriela, National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), and a house here by virtue of search warrants issued by Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.

Casilao said the attacks of state forces on their colleagues did not paralyze their organization.

Tagumpay dahil nais naming irehistro at ipaalam sa mga tao sa likod ng panggigipit na ito, that we will not let this pass without a fight,” Casilao said.

“We will hold them accountable. Mananagot po sila. Gagawa kami ng mga paraan para panagutin ang judge na naging factory ng defective search warrants, lahat ng opisyal ng military na namakyaw ng paltik na baril para itanim sa iba’t-ibang lugar sa Negros, at mga kapulisan na imbis na to serve and protect ang mandate nila, ay sila mismo ang nag-violate ng dapat ay protektahan nila. This only showed how dumb and weak the government is for attacking us,” he added.

11 other persons are still in police custody for the same offenses, and only four of them were allowed to post bail.

The fact-finding team insisted that 32 civilians were freed, but according to the Army, only 31 were charged and freed because the other person who was initially considered minor was later found out to be 18 years old. But he was not charged and was also allowed to go home.

Casilao said that legally, they are very confident that the remaining 11 militant leaders will be set free by their lawyers who have the legal upper hand in proving to the public and the court that they were illegally arrested.

“Our act of defiance against the tyranny of President Rodrigo Duterte will continue. Hindi po kami titigil sa harap ng matinding atake sa aming hanay, lalo pa na alam naming nasa panig kami ng katotohanan at katarungan,” he added.

Colmenares, who served as one of their legal counsels, said the cases filed against these individuals were “weak” because they considered the implementation of the search warrants “irregular.”

Kabahol sang script. This means victory for us because of the support of the people. And we will file counter charges against those responsible behind this attack,” he said.

In response, Brig. General Arevalo, 303rd Infantry Brigade in Negros Island, said the release of the 31 persons was a victory of the rule of law.

“The victory of the rule of law is the victory of the government forces. Hindi mahina ang kaso dahil ito po ang batas. Kinilala namin at sumunod kami sa batas. Hindi namin pinairal ang batas-militar,” Arevalo added.

Captain Cenon Pancito III, spokesperson of Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (ID), said from the very start, they have made their efforts within the legal boundaries.

“Any decision that the prosecutor has rendered is respected as it is the rightful office rested with the authority to determine if indeed there is a probably cause,” he added.

Pancito also said that the case was never weakened with the dismissal of the charges, because the prosecutor’s ruling was that these people are incidental to the commission of the crime.

“The fact still remains that there was a crime committed (illegal possession of firearms and explosives). The challenge is still there, why was a crime being committed at the said premises or location?” he said.

Pancito also slammed the groups’ accusations that the evidence were planted, stressing that their allegation was not given merit by the legal body, as the 11 people are now facing charges before a competent court.

“We alleged on the basis of the evidence recovered and we hope that they will show their little intelligence that by their accusation of planning evidence, they are bound substantiate their allegation otherwise they are no different with the other criminals who after having caught will just rebut the allegation of illogical accusation,” he said.

Pancito said they welcome the charges that the progressive groups will be filing against state law enforcers as this will likewise give chance for them to present their side to the proper court.

“We hope these groups will follow the same of facing the charges in proper body.”

For her part, Brosas urged the authorities to stop the vilification and red-tagging of activists.

Brosas said the minors included in the raid need to undergo psycho-intervention because they were allegedly traumatized for witnessing the operation of the raiding units.

Pancito, on the other hand, said they will never back down with their efforts of fulfilling their promise to the people of liberating Negros from insurgency.

“As long as a crime is being committed, we will do our task of maintaining peace and order in the area,” he said.