Lawmaker tells gov’t: Stop targeting activists

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 6) – An opposition lawmaker defended activists on Wednesday after the recent arrests of members of various leftist organizations, saying they should not be targeted for demanding accountability from government.

“Activists are ordinary citizens who actively engage the state to fulfill its duty to the people. They actively exercise their right to demand public service and accountability,” Senator Francis Pangilinan said in a statement.

The legislator also chided the government for the way it handles its critics.

"A responsible government does not respond to these engagements and demands with force, violence, or even criminal acts," he said.

"The state exists to uphold and protect the rights of its citizens, not to destroy them," he added.

Authorities from the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Manila Police District nabbed three activists in Tondo, Manila on Tuesday for alleged illegal possession of arms, ammunition and explosives, renewing fears of a crackdown on dissenters of the current administration.

This comes after the arrest of 57 individuals in simultaneous police operations in Bacolod on October 31. Of the total, Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office accused 44 activists of illegally possessing arms. On the same day, an activist couple from Manila was nabbed in Manila. Law enforcers reportedly claimed to have seized firearms and explosives in the home of Cora Agovida, Gabriela-Metro Manila spokesperson and Mickael Tan Bartolome, Kadamay Metro Manila member.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, House deputy minority leader, said that with the latest arrest of critics in Manila, it seems as though "creeping martial rule of the Duterte administration has now reached the National Capital Region."

Bayan Chairperson Carol Araullo slammed the arrests of her group’s affiliated organizations, saying the charges against those apprehended are "fabricated" and "preposterous."

Former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño noted the same judge from the Quezon City court issued the search warrants used as basis to justify the raids in Bacolod and Manila. He questioned the validity of the orders since both areas are outside her jurisdiction.

Casiño asked in a post he shared on Twitter: "Ano ito (What is this?) Mass produced warrants for Duterte's crackdown on critics and dissenters?"

He also warned against more arrests of activists, citing the numbering of search warrants.

Karapatan earlier noted that aside from Mindanao, which is under military control, Negros and Metro Manila are becoming hotspots for human rights violations. In 2018, Duterte signed Memorandum Order No. 32, directing the deployment of more soldiers and police to the Bicol region and the provinces of Samar, Negros Oriental, and Negros Occidental to "suppress lawless violence and acts of terror." In 2019, the Metro Manila police and the Joint Task Force-NCR of the Armed of the Philippines signed a memorandum of agreement to implement initiatives to end insurgency in the region.

The PNP, for its part, said that the arrests are indicative that the rule of law and the criminal justice system are working.

“The series of arrests of activist leaders and members shows the rule of law and criminal justice system at work,” PNP spokesman Bernard Banac said in a statement.