Days after they were arrested last International Human Rights Day, December 10, labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) joined the collective call for the release of the HR Day 7 by slamming one particular judge.
They consisted of Dennise Velasco, Rodrigo Esparago, Romina Astudillo, Joel Demate, Jaymie Gregorio Jr. and Mark Ryan Cruz, six trade union organizers, and Lady Ann “Icy” Salem, an editor for alternative media arm Manila Today. The seven were arrested after separate raids that happened on that day, with Quezon City-based executive judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert being linked to the incident, after it was reported that Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and known quarantine violator Debold Sinas came to the judge’s office.
Velasco was first arrested in Fairview, Quezon, at 3 AM, with fellow activist and his partner Diane Zapata claiming that the police instead planted items such as weapons and ammunition to make the arrests, which the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) claimed to have uncovered.
Salem would later find her house raided that morning in Mandaluyong City, with Esparago also being arrested in the same city. Then, Cruz, Astodillo, and Gregorio were arrested in Panay, Quezon City, followed by Demate in his Sta. Ana, Manila home. The narrative of weapons and ammunition being recovered at the crime scene persisted all throughout.
According to a report from College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), the seven individuals were arrested by force of CIDG and PNP in the entire Metro Manila.
Meanwhile, progressive party-list Anakpawis has strongly condemned the said attacks against the human right defenders. Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao said that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte suppresses the democratic rights by conducting an illegal arrest and coinciding it with the commemoration day of International Human Rights.
“This is a dangerous precedent and should cause an alarm, as this is not exclusive to activists who are labelled national democrats and usually red-tagged, but a plain and simple absolutist rule of Duterte where dissent is nipped in the bud via mass arrests on planted evidence and fabricated charges, and worst, outright murder,” Casilao said.
Days after the arrests, KMU took to social media and conducted a physical demonstration to slam “Search Warrant Factory Queen” Villavert for providing the warrants that lead to the seven’s arrest.
In a statement, KMU explained that Villavert was included in a short list of Court of Appeals Associate Justice last 2019, adding that a particular raid of October and November respectively might have helped her secure that slot.
“Kaya pala kating-kati at hayok na hayok si Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert sa pagpapakulong sa mga itinuturing na kalaban ng naghaharing pangkating Duterte. Naghihintay pala siyang makaupo sa mas mataas na posisyon sa hudikatura,” KMU secretary-general Jerome Adonis said in the statement.
The Negros raid involved the mass arrests of 57 progressive individuals, including 15 minors, after the offices of Anakpawis, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Gabriela, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), and the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers (NFSW) in Bacolod were raided by state agents. 21 workers from the Ceres Bus line were also among those arrested.
Yet again, weapons and ammunition were allegedly uncovered.
Villavert was also behind the issuance search warrant that led to arrest Reina Mae Nasino, a political prisoner whose baby daughter River’s death while being away from the mother, including the perceived unfair treatment of the unarmed Nasino during Baby River’s funeral, led to massive public outcry. Anakpawis believed that Villavert has a strong connection with Sinas
“The series of arrests today were part of a comprehensive and systematic political crackdown, and not mere anti-crime operations. The arrests bear the trademark of the notorious tandem of Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert and PNP Chief Major Gen. Debold Sinas,” Casilao said.
Adonis went further by warning of the dangers of having Villavert seated in the Court of Appeals.
“Kapag naupo ‘yan sa Court of Appeals, mas matinding kabalbalan at mas masaklaw na pagsasalaula sa batas at karapatan ang gagawin niya. Kaya dapat wasakin ng taumbayan ang maitim niyang pangarap ngayon pa lang,” he persuaded.
And then they were seven
“This is Romina Astudillo, we call her Sham. She’s one of the 7 activists arrested yesterday for trumped up charges of Illegal possession of firearms and explosives,” Lean Porquia, the son of slain BAYAN Muna leader Jory Porquia, said in a Facebook post which he crafted in support of his friend.
He described Astudillo, deputy secretary general of KMU Metro Manila and a former member of College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), as a “soft-spoken” woman who raises great points.
“She works as a community organizer, choosing the life [sic] in the real essence of serving the people. She had every opportunity to build a colorful career in journalism, mind you she writes very well. But she chose to organize urban poor communities against demolitions and empowering them how to collectively assert their right for a decent home,” Porquia said.
This was only one of the many posts on social media that were made in support of the seven.
Salem herself received plenty, including a network of avid supporters forming the “Free Lady Ann Salem Network,” who are also calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners by signing a petition conducted by her supporters.
“Icy’s arrest is proof that this administration is hell-bent on silencing the independent and critical Philippine media so it can manipulate the flow of information to the detriment of our people and our democracy. Salem’s abduction, along with the recent is proof of the dangers of red-tagging. Being a critic and an advocate of people’s rights and welfare is not a criminal should not be grounds for officers of the law to violate our rights,“ the network wrote for Manila Today.
Salem was also recognized as a selfless, principled journalist and a paragon in all aspects after showing her courage to defend the marginalized sectors through the media.
Recently, CEGP reported that Salem had tested negative for COVID-19, according to Atty. Kristina Conti, Salem’s legal counsel. Conti also confirmed that Salem was transferred to CIDG-NCR around late noon and hasn’t yet been released.
Meanwhile, Anakbayan called for the release of longtime members Cruz and Gregorio. The group described Gregorio as dependable and hard-working.
“Matiyaga, masipag, maaasahan sa lahat ng bagay, maligalig kausap, at komedyante–iilan lamang sa mga katangian ni Jay na napakalayo sa binibintang ng estadong siya’y terorista,” the group said after sharing about Gregorio’s life of progressive acts.
Likewise, Anakbayan commended Cruz for his dedication to serving the people.
“Walang humpay ang pagkilos ni Mark upang makiisa sa mga manggagawa ng lungsod. Mula sa pagiging aktibo sa malawakang talakayan at forums, hanggang sa pagtulong upang mabuo ang alyansang Aksyon Manggagawa,” they said.
Just today, KMU organized a protest within the area of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, to further amplify the call for their immediate release. Adonis warned Villavert to stop dreaming in another post.
“Wag ka nang mangarap, Villavert. Haharangin namin ‘yang pangarap mo. Hindi ka makakaupo sa Court of Appeals,” Adonis dared.
KMU then announced that they are preparing to participate in an upcoming protest this coming Global Day Of Action for the Release of Human Rights Day 7, which will take place this December 21. They invited people to join and amplify the call for their release. [P]
Photo from Kilusang Mayo Uno / Facebook