Harassment of development workers intensified under Duterte regime

Media Release

July 16, 2018

In a public forum organized by the Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) on July 16, 2018, various Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) shared the numerous harassment and threats that they experienced since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed his office two years ago.

“In 2016, the humanitarian and development workers were very hopeful that the attacks during the Arroyo and Aquino administrations will subside under the Duterte regime because of his pronouncement that ‘change is coming’. But they were proven very wrong. Instead, more human rights violations were committed by the police and military”, said Estrella Catarata, a convenor of ASCENT.

According to KARAPATAN, there are already 163 cases of extra-judicial killings, 351 illegal arrests and detention, and 432,380 incidents of forced evacuation from July 2016 to June 2018.

“The role of development workers is to help address the needs of the poor and marginalized sectors of our society, especially those living in rural areas since they are largely unable to access government services. But instead of supporting them, the government through its state security forces is demonizing their work and tagging them as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) or the New People’s Army (NPA)”, added Catarata.

According to her, many of the government’s recent actions are meant to criminalize persons involved in development work and to legitimize the harassment being perpetuated against them by the police and military. One of which is the creation of the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACOLA), which will allegedly pursue the government’s legal offensive against terror groups.

“ASCENT’s own Senior Consultant, Benito Quilloy, and Project Staff, Rita Espinoza, were illegally arrested by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on October 19, 2017 in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental due to trumped-up charges of robbery, arson, illegal possession of firearms, and attempted murder. This happened a few weeks after the creation of the IACOLA”, added Catarata.

Quilloy and Espinoza were in Negros for a two-day consultation with the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) regarding the issues and situation of sugar workers in the region. They also conducted workshops and planned for campaign activities on the demand of sugar workers for a 50% wage increase and pakyaw rate. It was during their last day in Negros while having lunch at a native restaurant when the CIDG and AFP barged in, pointed their guns at the victims, and took them without a warrant of arrest. They were then brought to Camp Montelibano. After a few days, they were surreptitiously transferred to Camp Crame in Quezon City. And on June 8, they were again transported without the knowledge of their lawyers and brought to the Bayugan City Jail in Agusan del Sur where they are facing criminal charges.

Aside from the IACOLA, President Duterte himself announced a crackdown against activists last November. He later signed Proclamation 374 declaring the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organizations. On February of this year, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) released a proscription petition naming certain individuals as leaders and members of the CPP and NPA, including human rights defenders, activists, and development workers.

The state of Martial Law in Mindanao has also aggravated the worsening human rights violations against alternative schools in Lumad communities.

“During a Fact Finding Mission conducted by the Save Our Schools Network, we were able to document 225 cases of attacks which affected 64 schools, 4,578 students, 189 teachers, and 202 members of the Parent-Teacher Community Associations (PCTA) in Region 12 alone, from July 2016 to July 2018”, said Mercedes Arleen Alonzo of the Center for Lumad Advocacy, Networking and Services (CLANS).

“9 out of the 11 schools we established in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat were forcibly closed because of the heavy militarization in the area by the Philippine Marines protecting the mining, logging, and coffee plantation enterprises of the David M. Consunji Inc. (DMCI). Many of our teachers were harassed, illegally arrested, and threatened to be killed. They were thus forced into hiding in order to save their lives”, she further added.

Church workers are also not spared from the harassment and threats. Last April, Sr. Patricia Fox, a missionary nun working with peasants, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups was ordered to be deported by the Bureau of Immigration for allegedly being involved in partisan political activities. And last July 5, 13 development workers and church development volunteers of the Iglesia Filipina Indipendiente (IFI) were illegally arrested by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in General Santos City while they were conducting a project assessment for the turnover of the IFI-Visayas Mindanao Regional Office for Development (IFI-VIMROD) to the Diocese of Libertad.

“Development and humanitarian workers do not deserve the attacks that they are experiencing. We at ASCENT are vehemently condemning these threats, harassment, vilification, illegal arrests, forced evacuation, and extra-judicial killings. Instead of being disheartened, we are even more emboldened to continue to fight for our cause and serve those in need”, concluded Catarata.



ASCENT Condemns the Illegal Arrest and Detention of 13 Development Workers in Gen San

The Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) strongly condemns the illegal arrest and detention of 13 church and development workers last July 4 at the Mother Francisca Spirituality Center in General Santos City, South Cotabato.

Elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the military barged into the room where the 13 development workers were conducting a project assessment for the turnover of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente – Visayas Mindanao Regional Office for Development (IFI-VIMROD) Integrated Development Program to the Diocese of Libertad. They served a warrant of arrest for three persons who were unknown to the group members.

Among those arrested were Aldeem Yanez (IFI), Jomorito Guaynon (Kalumbay), Ireneo Udarbe (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas), Vennel Chenfoo (Kabataan Partylist), Kristine Cabardo (League of Filipino Students), Roger Plana (VIMROD Volunteer), and Teresita Naul (Karapatan). They were then detained at Camp Fermin, General Santos City.

The following day, July 5, charges of obstruction of justice were filed against 11 of them while the charges against the two are not yet known.

IFI-VIMROD is the social development arm of the Visayas-Mindanao Bishops Conference of IFI.

The illegal arrest and detention of the 13 development workers is an affront to the church legacy of social action in the country. It is an injustice to development workers whose commitment and voluntary services in poor and marginalized communities has continued despite threats of political repression.

Development workers have always followed the lead of people’s organizations and can be found where these organizations are – in communities of peasants, workers, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, and urban poor. They address people’s issues of land, wages, rights and freedom.

The illegal arrest and detention of the Gen San 13 is wrong and unjust. What has happened to our society that rewards commitment and working with the poor and oppressed with illegal arrest and detention?

ASCENT thus, demands the immediate release of the Gen San 13 and all political prisoners. It also calls for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), where the causes of poverty and lack of genuine development in our country can be seriously tackled.


Church Leaders and People’s Organizations’ Representatives Form Human Rights Network in CARAGA Region: Paralegal and Welfare Assistance to Benefit Political Prisoners including Ben and Rita

caraga.jpgBishop Delfin D. Callao Jr and  Bishop Julius C. Dacera of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), Rev. Aldrin S. Jovita, Conference Moderator-Agusan District Conference (ADC-UCCP) and representatives from people’s organizations (POs) gathered together to set up a human rights network in CARAGA. They vowed to help in providing paralegal and welfare services to political prisoners including Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza.

Without the knowledge of their lawyers Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza were transferred last June 8 from Camp Crame to the Bayugan Police Station and to the Bayugan City Jail, Agusan del Sur three days later. Then they were transferred to Butuan City Jail in Agusan del Norte where they are detained up to now.  Being away suddenly from their relatives and friends has been a major source of their anxiety and insecurity.

One of their lawyers Atty. Katherine Panguban, visited them on June 11. She was able to talk to Bishop Callao who then promised to help establish a network for paralegal and welfare services for political prisoners. This network, set up last June 18, seeks to undertake support services for victims of human rights violations. Among these are setting up human rights desks, conducting quick reaction teams (QRTs) and providing services to political prisoners.

“Ben and Rita, despite their nascent insecurity, continue to be in high spirit, always inquiring about what’s happening with the farmers’ and indigenous peoples’ organizations in Mindanao,” said Sister Emma Cupin of the Missionary Sisters of Mary and one of their jail visitors.

Other members of this CARAGA-based human rights network are Pastor Marcial C. Calawigan, Pastor Marx Neil Torralba, Pastor Vivian Bahian, and Pastor Seler A. Fuertes from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Rev. Junimy B. Madrona, Rev. Jelo M. Dedumo, Rev. Antonio R. Orillos and Rev. Erick H. Echaves from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), Sr. Racquel Abueva and Sr. Emma E. Cupin of the Missionary Sisters of Mary (MSM) and Ben A.Olan and Rogelio Lucio de Asis of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) – Agusan.

PO representatives who are part of the human rights network are Virgilio T. Lincona, Jomar R. Taganas and Bienvenido P. Jacob of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Eufemia C. Cullamat of Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon sa CARAGA (KASALO-CARAGA), Atel U. Hijos and Gina N. Tutor of GABRIELA-CARAGA and Renalyn G. Tejero of Student Catholic Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) CARAGA.###

PPs Ben and Rita Brought to Bayugan City Jail for Charges Filed Against Other Persons

On June 8, 2018 Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza were arrested by three Bayugan City police men by virtue of a warrant of arrest issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 7, Agusan del Sur. However, the warrant of arrest is issued against a certain Louie Antonio Martinez and a certain Aurora Cayon.

Quilloy and Espinoza were then detained at Camp Crame and were surreptitiously brought to the Bayugan Police Station. Their lawyers were not informed of the arrest and they were disallowed to bring some of their personal belongings and medicines. On June 11 they were transferred to the Bayugan City Jail.

ASCENT condemns this latest move on the political persecution of Ben and Rita. State security forces have combined their resources and efforts to allege that Ben and Rita are Louie Antonio Martinez and Aurora Cayon respectively. They are accusing the two of criminal offenses including illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, arson, kidnapping, frustrated murder, attempted multiple murder and murder.

They were initially arrested on October 19, 2017 in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental by about 10 elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). They were forcibly taken, blindfolded and handcuffed and detained at the Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. in Bacolod City. On October 21 they were taken to Camp Crame without the knowledge of their lawyers.

Ben and Rita are development workers who have involved themselves in the issues and struggle of the poor and marginalized since their student days. They are among the many development workers and activists who are being persecuted under the Duterte administration.

Similar to other political prisoners they are facing fake charges filed in various provinces all over the country.

The ways of political persecution against development workers and activists have become more intricate yet still remain unjust. Free Ben and Rita! Free All Political Prisoners!  #FBRnew


Says Duterte admin should stop peace spoilers in their ranks

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate today strongly denounced the sneaky and dubious transfer of political prisoners Ben Quilloy and Rita Espinoza from their Camp Crame detention cell to Agusan del Sur without notice to their counsels.

The two (2) development workers were illegally arrested last October 19, 2017 in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental after attending a meeting of sugarcane workers. They were slapped with trumped up charges of murder, robbery and arson.

“At around 2pm Friday, several police from the Bayugan Municipal Police Station went to Camp Crame in order to transfer Ben and Rita to Agusan del Sur, where the trumped up charges agsinst them are pending. This precipitate transfer was made without their lawyers being informed and they were also prohibited from bringing with them their personal belongings, including their maintenance medicines. This despicable calibrated act by state forces is a clear attempt to spoil and sow distrust in the current state of the peace talks, where among the agreements being considered is the amnesty and release of political prisoners,” said the progressive solon.

“Ben and Rita should not have been arrested in the first place because
they are development workers who have dedicated their lives to serve the poor and marginalized. Yet, instead of support, they are being vilified, threatened, and harassed by the government,” said Rep. Zarate

“At the very least they should be returned to Camp Crame and those responsible for their transfer be charged and penalized. Ben and Rita, along with other political prisoners, should not be moved around like chess pieces to advance the objective of peace spoilers in undermining the peace process,” added the Davao-based solon.

“The Duterte administration should also be wary and vigilant against peace spoilers within in its ranks and put a stop to their sabotage operations” ended Rep.Zarate.###