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.###

Media Statement: Two development workers detained in Camp Crame surreptitiously transferred to Agusan del Sur

On June 8, 2018, at around 2pm, Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza were surreptitiously transferred from Camp Crame to the Bayugan Municipal Police Station without the knowledge of their lawyers and relatives. Both are facing fake charges in Agusan del Sur. Quilloy is being accused of murder while Espinoza is facing robbery and arson raps. Quilloy is the Senior Consultant of the Assert Socio Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) and Espinoza is a project staff.

The two were arrested on October 19, 2017 at a restaurant in Kabankalan City by the combined elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). They were flown to Camp Crame on October 21, also without the knowledge of their lawyers. October 24, they were presented by then PNP Director General Ronald Dela Rosa as high-ranking officials of the Community Party of the Philippines (CPP).

According to Bishop Dindo Ranojo, spokesperson of ASCENT, “it is against the right of detained persons to be transferred without informing their legal counsels. Their health condition was further endangered since the police did not allow them to bring their maintenance medicines and personal belongings. We at ASCENT denounce in the strongest term this action by the government!”

“We were very worried about Quilloy and Espinoza’s safety while they were being relocated. They could have been tortured or killed at any time while in transit. We were greatly relieved when Espinoza was able to make contact this morning”, said Bishop Ranojo.

“Quilloy and Espinoza are innocent of the fake charges filed against them. They are among the development workers who have dedicated their lives in service of the poor and marginalized, especially those living in rural areas. But the government continues to harass, intimidate, and make false charges against them”, added Bishop Ranojo. “We at ASCENT are calling for their immediate release and also of all political prisoners”, he concluded.

RMP-NMR: We are and will continue to be with the people the state is killing

It has come to our knowledge that one of our staff was being harassed by someone who only introduced her himself as an intelligence asset of the 4th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The supposed intelligence asset maligned the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR), alleging that the organization is hoarding members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

This accusation is not new to RMP-NMR and is in fact the latest of a series of attacks we faced in just these past four months. However, what has alarmed the RMP-NMR Sub-Regional Coordinating Body is the threat against the family of our staff. According to the text message sent anonymously from mobile number 0936-233-1932, they have put her and her family under surveillance and that they are capable of doing anything to her if she does not cooperate. The messages even got to the point of insinuating they would rape her if she does not do what they want her to do. The harasser also claimed that under Martial Law, they could do anything against the organization, arrest anyone, including the staff.

We wish to reiterate our organizational statement in the face of these attacks against us.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines’s history started, as can be read in our website and in other materials we have, in 1969, through the efforts of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), with a commitment to support the rural poor in their issues. In the years that followed, the work of RMP spread throughout the country and included support for the organizing of rural poor communities – farmers, farm workers, fisherfolks, Indigenous Peoples. We have, therefore, always been present in these communities, communities that are unfortunately, also victims of severe human rights violations and abuses.

The organizations we work with are often also under attack, being vocal with their criticisms of the government, fighting for the rights of the poor communities. We work in conflict areas – NPA areas as claimed by the government, NPA supporters as accused by the military – because these are the areas that are least served by the government, most vulnerable and prone to attack from state forces themselves.

We call on the state forces to stop their harassment of our staff, their attacks against our organization. If the government could not do its work in providing services for its constituency then it should welcome our efforts to provide help to the communities in need.

We ask for support from our fellow Human Rights Defenders and from all who understand the necessity of our work in the face of these threats that put our staff in danger. We assert our legitimacy as an organization, an organization that has always been at the forefront in defending the rights of the peoples who are often voiceless, violated and abused. We are and will continue to be with the people the state is killing.

RMP-NMR Sub-Regional Coordinating Body

20 November 2017