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Activists challenge 'trumped up' charges against Philippines dissidents

Military and police accused of routinely manufacturing evidence

<p>Protesters rally in front of the Manila Regional Trial Court (photo by Vincent Go)</p>

Protesters rally in front of the Manila Regional Trial Court (photo by Vincent Go)

  • ucanews.com reporter, Manila
  • Philippines
  • April 1, 2014
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Human rights groups today held a protest action outside the Manila Regional Trial Court to condemn the laying of false charges against activists and alleged communist rebel leaders. 

"The revival of these trumped up charges ... signals the intensification of political persecution," said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the Karapatan rights group.

She cited the charge of murder against former congressman Satur Ocampo and other leftist activists, which has already been deemed by a United Nations special rapporteur as a means by which the government prosecutes and punishes 'enemies of the state.'

The Supreme Court last month ordered the Manila court to resume hearing the multiple murder case against Ocampo, a former congressman representing peasants and workers, and other individuals tagged in the supposed mass purging of members of the communist rebel group New People's Army (NPA) in the 1980s.

The charges against Ocampo and the others were filed after a mass grave was discovered by the military in August 2006 in the province of Leyte. The prosecution claimed the bodies in the mass grave were victims of an alleged purge of NPA members in 1984 and 1985.

Ocampo has flatly denied the allegations, saying he was in government detention when the incidents occurred.

Palabay said that almost all of the cases are criminal charges filed based on "highly questionable evidence and fabricated testimonies."

Palabay said that under the Aquino government, the assault on political dissenters through the filing of questionable charges increased. "In an attempt to silence opposition, they make up all sort of charges using the wildest of their imagination," she said.

The Organization of Ex-Political Detainees Against Detention and Arrest, or SELDA, also condemned the revival of charges against Ocampo and the other activists.

Bonifacio Ilagan, vice chairperson and spokesman of SELDA, said the "planting" of evidence against the activists has been a long standing practice of the police and military extensively used during the martial law years.

"They use this to justify illegal arrests and detention. They also exploit the use of John and Jane Does, even aliases, to charge anyone as respondents to a case," said Ilagan, a former political detainee.

He said circumstances of arrests and detention are "highly anomalous, and the so-called evidences improbable".

However, the Philippine military has denied all claims that it planted evidence against activists. 

Military spokesman Lt Col Ramon Zagala said in a recent case against NPA leaders Benito Tiamzon and his wife, who were arrested two weeks ago, “the arrest stemmed from [their] crimes against humanity, their sensless killing, their order to kill civilians and military personnel”.

Ramon said soldiers and police always follow procedures in conducting arrests. “We ensure that no one will say anything against us in effecting the arrest, and we are confident that we executed their arrest with regularity,” he said.

“We followed procedures with due process in mind and we protected their rights at the same time.”

Karapatan and SELDA joined calls to free all political prisoners, and demanded that the government stop filing 'trumped up charges' that are meant to stifle the freedom of movement of political dissenters. 

Karapatan has so far documented 570 cases of "illegal arrests and detention" from June 2010, when President Benigno Aquino came to power, to December 2013. The group also documented 427 political prisoners, as of December 2013, including 152 persons arrested under Aquino’s term. 

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