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‘How many were not filmed?’: Calls to end police brutality renewed after cop killed mother and son in Tarlac

By Catalina Ricci S. Madarang – December 21, 2020, Philstar.com/Interaksyon

Calls to end police brutality dominated conversations online on Monday after a cop was caught in a viral video killing an unarmed mother and son in Paniqui, Tarlac.

Police officer later identified as Senior Master Sergeant  Jonel Nuezca on Sunday shot 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son, Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25, over an altercation regarding the latter’s use of “boga,” an improvised noisemaker used during the holidays in the Philippines.

Nuezca, who was reportedly assigned to the Parañaque City Crime laboratory, surrendered at the Rosales Pangasinan Municipal Police Station an hour after the incident.

He also turned over his PNP-issued 9mm semi-auto pistol that was used in the crime.

In an interview with GMA News’ “Unang Balita,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Noriel Rombaoa, chief of the Paniqui Police, said that the suspect went to the victims’ houses to confront them.

“Pumunta yung police sa bahay ng biktima at nagkaroon ng pagtatalo, naungkat ang matagal na nilang alitan sa right-of-way,” he said.

Nuezca refused to say anything except he regrets shooting the two victims, Rombaoa added. He also stated that the former will face a double murder complaint from the local police.

Data from Police Regional Office III chief Police Brigadier General Val de Leon showed that Nuezca had faced grave misconduct or homicide cases in May and December last year. However, these cases were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence.

Nuezca had faced grave misconduct (homicide) cases in May and December 2019. Both, however, were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence.

Stop the killings

Several hashtags and the phrase “My father is a policeman”
dominated the top five spots on Twitter Philippines’ trending list on Monday as concerned Filipinos and human rights advocates called to end police brutality in the Philippines.

The phrase was uttered by the daughter of Nuezca during the altercation between the victims and her policeman father, seconds before the Gregorios were shot dead.

Nuezca’s daughter also received backlash online for this remark. Twitter user @lakwatsarah, said that the daughter might have been raised to believe that her father is above the law.

“She was probably raised to believe he can shoot anyone who messes with them. He shot them. He made that choice. The daughter is a victim of his parenting,” she said.

Aside from this phrase, the hashtags in the local Twitter’s top trending list as of writing are:

  1. #StopTheKillingsPH with over 670,000 tweets
  2. #JusticeforSonyaGregoria with over 360,000 tweets
  3. #EndPoliceBrutality with over 286,000 tweets
  4. #Pulisangterorista with over 191,000 tweets

The calls for justice for Sonya and Frank Gregorio were also launched on Facebook.

Progressive groups such as the League of Filipino Students and Gabriela Youth issued separate statements that denounced Nuezca’s brutal act and other cases of abuse and killings in the Philippines.

‘How many were not filmed?’

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that the shooting incident in Paniqui is an “isolated incident.” He also said that “the sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire Philippine National Police.”

“This is an unfortunate but isolated incident. While there are unfortunate incidents like this, the vast majority of our PNP personnel perform their sworn duties everyday with honor and integrity to protect and serve the people,” Año said.

Writers Emiliana Kampilan or “Dead Balagtas” and Alfonso Manalastas, however, noted the possible deaths at the hands of the police and the military that were not caught on camera.

Bar 2019 topnotcher Kenneth Manuel echoed the similar view and questioned if there were more underreported victims.

“Minsan mapapaisip ka na lang, ilan na kaya nakitil nito pero hindi lang naibalita? Mas mapapaisip ka, ilan kaya sa kanila ang kayang pumatay ng ganito?” Manuel wrote.

Several concerned Filipinos also questioned this possibility, while citing that drug suspects were killed before because they allegedly fought back or “nanlaban” but there were no videos to prove them.

Detained Sen. Leila De Lima in 2018 called out the government and former presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo for using the “nanlaban” narrative.

“I cannot allow Panelo to continue to poison the public’s mind with the Duterte administration’s oft-repeated but flawed proposition that the increasing number of deaths due to the crackdown on drugs was because suspected drug offenders have all resisted police arrest with violence,” she said in December 2018.

Meanwhile, others lamented the Christmas bonuses police officers received despite the reported brutality.

“Tapos mas mataas ang bonus ng mga pulis kaysa health workers?” he said.

Not the first time

Data from World Population Review showed that in 2020, the Philippines ranked third among the countries with the highest cases of police killings wherein 3,451 people were killed or a rate of 322 victims per 10 million people.

In a September report from US-based Human Rights Watch, citing government data, the PNP killed 50% more people between April and July of this year despite the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

HRW noted that this figure is only for deaths in police anti-drug operations.

Last June, the rising cases of police abuse in the Philippines which happened before and during the pandemic were juxtaposed to the killings perpetrated by the police in the United States.

The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis triggered a nationwide campaign for equal rights for all people of color.

RELATED: ‘I can’t breathe!,’ ‘Tama na po’: Police brutality in US, Philippines juxtaposed

Duterte’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ remarks

Some Filipinos blamed such rogue activities among PNP members on President Rodrigo Duterte’s continuous “shoot-to-kill” remarks since he took office in 2016.

In a televised address aired last December 16, Duterte denied ordering the police to “shoot to kill” civilians.

“May mga pulis na talagang may ano sa — diretso salvage ganoon. Wala akong inutos na ganoon. Remember, in all of my utterances, ang galit ko ‘yan when I say, ‘Do not destroy my country, the Republic of the Philippines, who elected me as President. Do not destroy our sons and daughters because I will kill you.’ Sabi ko — hindi ko sinabi, ‘They impede, they will kill you.’ The military will… I said, ‘I will kill you,’” the said.

“Pero sabi ko, ito, ‘Go out and destroy the apparatus.’ Iyan. Pagka nagkabarilan diyan in destroying the apparatus, goodbye ka. Kaya sabi ko, ‘Ako, I take full responsibility for my order.’ ‘But remember,’ I said, ‘enforce the law in accordance with what you have learned then self-defense.’ Defense of ano ‘yan. Stranger kung kasama mo. In law it’s called a stranger, maski kilala mo. Defense of relative,” he also said.

‘Walk the talk’

Amid the outrage on Nuezca’s brutal act both Paniqui Police chief Rombaoa and PNP chief Police General Major Debold Sinas reminded their colleagues to observe “maximum tolerance.”

“Sa mga kasamahan po natin sa pulisya, dapat self-control kasi nga maximum tolerance tayo, tayo ang may armas. Kung merong umaagrabiyado sa atin merong right forum po riyan, pwede nating kasuhan, not to the point na gagamitin natin ang baril natin,” Rombaoa was quoted as saying.“Lagi nating tandaan ang ating sinumpaang tungkulin bilang tagapagpatupad ng batas. We should walk the talk in the PNP,” Sinas said. #

‘Aswang’ Documentary Review: Do Not Dare Look Away

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - JULY 23: (EDITORS NOTE: Image contains graphic content.) Two women cry in grief after armed assailants in a motorcycle shot their loved one in a main thoroughfare on July 23, 2016 in Manila, Philippines. The victim was an alleged drug peddler a claim disputed by his wife and maintained her husband is nothing more than a pedicab driver plying his trade when he was shot in front of her. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a war on crime and drugs after winning the presidential elections on May 9, 2016. President Duterte has recently been living up to his nickname, 'The Punisher', as Philippine police have been conducting night time drug raids on almost a daily basis. With reports of at least 300 drug related deaths since the start of July, Human rights groups and the Catholic church have objected to the use of brutal force by the Police. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)

July 20, 2020/

By L.S. Mendizabal

Kodao Productions

Pumarito ka. Bahala ka, kukunin ka ng aswang diyan! (Come here, or else the aswang will get you!)” is a threat often directed at Filipino children by their mothers. In fact, you can’t be Filipino without having heard it at least once in your life. For as early as in childhood, we are taught to fear creatures we’ve only seen in nightmares triggered by bedtime stories told by our Lolas.

In Philippine folklore, an “aswang” is a shape-shifting monster that roams in the night to prey on people or animals for survival. They may take a human form during the day. The concept of “monster” was first introduced to us in the 16th century by the Spanish to demonize animist shamans, known as “babaylan” and “asog,” in order to persuade Filipino natives to abandon their “anitos” (nature, ancestor spirits) and convert to Roman Catholicism—a colonizing tactic that proved to be effective from Luzon to Northern Mindanao.

In the early 1950s, seeing that Filipinos continued to be superstitious, the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized folklore against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap), an army of mostly local peasants who opposed US intervention in the country following our victory over the Japanese in World War II. The CIA trained the Philippine Army to butcher and puncture holes in the dead bodies of kidnapped Huk fighters to make them look like they were bitten and killed by an aswang. They would then pile these carcasses on the roadside where the townspeople could see them, spreading fear and terror in the countryside. Soon enough, people stopped sympathizing with and giving support to the Huks, frightened that the aswang might get them, too.

Fast forward to a post-Duterte Philippines wherein the sight of splayed corpses has become as common as of the huddled living bodies of beggars in the streets. Under the harsh, flickering streetlights, it’s difficult to tell the dead and the living apart. This is one of many disturbing images you may encounter in Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang. The documentary, which premiered online and streamed for free for a limited period last weekend, chronicles the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs. “Oplan Tokhang” authorized the Philippine National Police to conduct a door-to-door manhunt of drug dealers and/or users. According to human rights groups, Tokhang has killed an estimated 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom were suspected small-time drug offenders without any actual charges filed against them. A pattern emerged of eerily identical police reports across cases: They were killed in a “neutralization” because they fought back (“nanlaban”) with a gun, which was the same rusty .38 caliber pistol repeatedly found along with packets of methamphetamine (“shabu”) near the bloodied corpses. When children and innocent people died during operations, PNP would call them “collateral damage.” Encouraged by Duterte himself, there were also vigilante killings too many to count. Some were gunned down by unidentified riding-in-tandem suspects, while some ended up as dead bodies wrapped in duct tape, maimed or accessorized with a piece of cardboard bearing the words, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not emulate). Almost all the dead casualties shared one thing in common: they were poor. Virtually no large-scale drug lord suffered the same fate they did.

And for a while, it was somehow tempting to call it “fate.” Filipinos were being desensitized to the sheer number of drug-related extrajudicial killings (a thousand a month, according to the film). “Nanlaban” jokes and memes circulated on Facebook and news of slain Tokhang victims were no longer news as their names and faces were reduced to figures in a death toll that saw no end.

As much as Aswang captures the real horrors and gore of the drug war, so has it shown effectively the abnormal “sense of normal” in the slums of Manila as residents deal with Tokhang on the daily. Fearing for their lives has become part of their routine along with making sure they have something to eat or slippers on their feet. This biting everyday reality is highlighted by Arumpac’s storytelling unlike that of any documentary I’ve ever seen. Outlined by poetic narration with an ominous tone that sounds like a legitimately hair-raising ghost story, Aswang transports the audience, whether they like it or not, from previously seeing Tokhang exclusively on the news to the actual scenes of the crime and funerals through the eyes of four main individuals: a nightcrawler photojournalist and dear family friend, Ciriaco Santiago III (“Brother Jun” to many), a funeral parlor operator, a street kid and an unnamed woman.

Along with other nightcrawlers, Bro. Jun waits for calls or texts alerting them of Tokhang killings all over Manila’s nooks and crannies. What sets him apart from the others, perhaps motivated by his mission as Redemptorist Brother, is that he speaks to the families of the murdered victims to not only obtain information but to comfort them. In fact, Bro. Jun rarely speaks throughout the film. Most of the time, he’s just listening, his brows furrowed with visible concern and empathy. It’s as if the bereaved are confessing to him not their own transgressions but those committed against them by the state. One particular scene that really struck me is when he consoles a middle-aged man whose brother was just killed not far from his house. “Kay Duterte ako pero mali ang ginawa nila sa kapatid ko” (I am for Duterte but what they did to my brother was wrong), he says to Bro. Jun in between sobs. Meanwhile, a mother tells the story of how her teenage son went out with friends and never came home. His corpse later surfaced in a mortuary. “Just because Duterte gave [cops] the right to kill, some of them take advantage because they know there won’t be consequences,” she angrily says in Filipino before wailing in pain while showing Bro. Jun photos of her son smiling in selfies and then laying pale and lifeless at the morgue.

The Eusebio Funeral Services is a setting in the film that becomes as familiar as the blood-soaked alleys of the city. Its operator is an old man who gives the impression of being seasoned in his profession. And yet, nothing has prepared him for the burden of accommodating at least five cadavers every night when he was used to only one to two a week. When asked where all the unclaimed bodies go, he casually answers, “mass burial.” We later find out at the local cemetery that “mass burial” is the stacking of corpses in tiny niches they designated for the nameless and kinless. Children pause in their games as they look on at this crude interment, after which a man seals the niche with hollow blocks and wet cement, ready to be smashed open again for the next occupant/s. At night, the same cemetery transforms into a shelter for the homeless whose blanketed bodies resemble those covered in cloth at Eusebio Funeral Services.

Tama na po, may exam pa ako bukas” (Please stop, I still have an exam tomorrow). 17-year-old high school student, Kian Delo Santos, pleaded for his life with these words before police shot him dead in a dark alley near his home. The documentary takes us to this very alley without the foreknowledge that the corpse we see on the screen is in fact Kian’s. At his wake, we meet Jomari, a little boy who looks not older than seven but talks like a grown man. He fondly recalls Kian as a kind friend, short of saying that there was no way he could’ve been involved in drugs. Jomari should know, his parents are both in jail for using and peddling drugs. At a very young age, he knows that the cops are the enemy and that he must run at the first sign of them. Coupled with this wisdom and prematurely heightened sense of self-preservation is Jomari’s innocence, glimpses of which we see when he’s thrilled to try on new clothes and when he plays with his friends. Children in the slums are innocent but not naïve. They play with wild abandon but their exchanges are riddled with expletives, drugs and violence. They even reenact a Tokhang scene where the cops beat up and shoot a victim.

Towards the end of the film, a woman whose face is hidden and identity kept private gives a brief interview where, like the children drawing monsters only they could see in horror movies, she sketches a prison cell she was held in behind a bookshelf. Her interview alternates with shots of the actual secret jail that was uncovered by the press in a police station in Tondo in 2017. “Naghuhugas lang po ako ng pinggan n’ung kinuha nila ‘ko!” (I was just washing the dishes when they took me!), screams one woman the very second the bookshelf is slid open like a door. Camera lights reveal the hidden cell to be no wider than a corridor with no window, light or ventilation. More than ten people are inside. They later tell the media that they were abducted and have been detained for a week without cases filed against them, let alone a police blotter. They slept in their own shit and urine, were tortured and electrocuted by the cops, and told that they’d only be released if they paid the PNP money ranging from 10 000 to 100 000 pesos. Instead of being freed that day, their papers are processed for their transfer to different jails.

Aswang is almost surreal in its depiction of social realities. It is spellbinding yet deeply disturbing in both content and form. Its extremely violent visuals and hopelessly bleak scenes are eclipsed by its more delicate moments: Bro. Jun praying quietly by his lonesome after a night of pursuing trails of blood, Jomari clapping his hands in joyful glee as he becomes the owner of a new pair of slippers, an old woman playing with her pet dog in an urban poor community, a huge rally where protesters demand justice for all the victims of EJKs and human rights violations, meaning that they were not forgotten. It’s also interesting to note that while the film covers events in a span of two years, the recounting of these incidents is not chronological as seen in Bro. Jun’s changing haircuts and in Jomari’s unchanging outfit from when he gets new slippers to when he’s found after months of going missing. Without naming people, places and even dates, with Arumpacletting the poor do most of the heavy lifting bysimply telling their stories on state terrorism and impunity in their own language, Aswang succeeds in demonstrating how Duterte’s war on drugs is, in reality, a genocide of the poor, elevating the film beyond numb reportage meant to merely inform the public to being a testament to the people’s struggle. The scattered sequence, riveting images, sinister music and writing that borrows elements from folklore and the horror genre make Aswang feel more like a dream than a documentary—a nightmare, to be precise. And then, a rude awakening. The film compels us to replay and review Oplan Tokhang by bringing the audience to a place of such intimate and troubling closeness with the dead and the living they had left behind.

Its unfiltered rawness makes Aswang a challenging yet crucial watch. Blogger and company CEO, Cecile Zamora, wrote on her Instagram stories that she only checked Aswang out since it was trending but that she gave up 23 minutes in because it depressed her, declaring the documentary “not worth her mental health” and discouraging her 52,000 followers from watching it, too. Naturally, her tone-deaf statements went viral on Twitter and in response to the backlash, she posted a photo of a Tokhang victim’s family with a caption that said she bought them a meal and gave them money as if this should exempt her from criticism and earn her an ally cookie, instead.

 Aswang is definitely not a film about privileged Filipinos like Zamora—who owns designer handbags and lives in a luxurious Ed Calma home—but this doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant or necessary for them to watch. Zamora missed the point entirely: Aswang is supposed to make her and the rest of us feel upset! It nails the purpose of art in comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. It establishes that the only aswang that exists is not a precolonial shaman or a shape-shifting monster, but fear itself—the fear that dwells within us that is currently aggravated and used by a fascist state to force us into quiet submission and apathy towards the most marginalized sectors of society.

Before the credits roll, the film verbalizes its call to action in the midst of the ongoing slaughter of the poor and psychological warfare by the Duterte regime:

“Kapag sinabi nilang may aswang, ang gusto talaga nilang sabihin ay, ‘Matakot ka.’ Itong lungsod na napiling tambakan ng katawan ay lalamunin ka, tulad ng kung paano nilalamon ng takot ang tatag. Pero meron pa ring hindi natatakot at nagagawang harapin ang halimaw. Dito nagsisimula.” (When they say there’s a monster, what they really want to say is “be afraid.” This city, chosen to be the dumpsite of the dead, will devour you as fear devours courage. But there are still those who are not afraid and are able to look the monster in the eye. This is where it begins).

During these times, when an unjust congressional vote recently shut down arguably the country’s largest multimedia network in an effort to stifle press freedom and when the Anti-Terrorism Law is now in effect, Aswang should be made more accessible to the masses because it truly is a must-see for every Filipino, and by “must-see,” I mean, “Don’t you dare look away.” #

= = = = = =


Buan, L. (2020). “UN Report: Documents suggest PH Police Planted Guns in Drug War Ops”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://rappler.com/nation/united-nations-report-documents-suggest-philippine-police-planted-guns-drug-war-operations

Ichimura, A., & Severino, A. (2019). “How the CIA Used the Aswang to Win a War in the Philippines”. Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/cia-aswang-war-a00304-a2416-20191019-lfrm

Lim, B. C. (2015). “Queer Aswang Transmedia: Folklore as Camp”. Kritika Kultura, 24. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3mj1k076

Tan, L. (2017). “Duterte Encourages Vigilante Killings, Tolerates Police Modus – Human Rights Watch”. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/02/Duterte-PNP-war-on-drugs-Human-Rights-Watch.html

House told: 30 to 70% of seized narcotics recycled as reward to informants

Mar 15, 2023, Rappler.com

‘The testimony of the asset confirmed what we have heard all this time,’ says Surigao Representative Ace Barbers

MANILA, Philippines – A Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority (PDEA) and Philippine National Police (PNP) informant told a House panel in a closed-door session that there were instances where more than half of illegal drugs confiscated from buy-bust operations were given to agents as a reward for their tips. 

In a press release on Tuesday, March 14, Surigao 2nd District Representative and House dangerous drugs committee chairman Robert Ace Barbers said that according to the unnamed informant, “the amount varies from 30% of the haul up to as much as 70%.”

The scheme has supposedly been in practice for two decades. 

“The testimony of the asset confirmed what we have heard all this time. The illegal practice of giving substantial portions of the drugs seized now has a face. In due time, if evidence warrants, criminal charges will be filed,” Barbers said.

The disclosure was made in an executive session following Tuesday’s public inquiry into the drug recycling scheme mentioned by PDEA Director General Moro Lazo in February. 

Lazo had said that there were informants who sought seized illegal drugs as “reward” for their successful apprehensions.

Faster disposal

Antipolo City 2nd District Representative and committee vice-chair Romeo Acop said there must reforms on how to dispose confiscated narcotics.

“The problem is that illegal drugs we seize are within the custody of the law enforcers for a long time,” Acop said.

Former PNP chief and senator Panfilo Lacson said in 2020 that storing seized drugs for too long, instead of destroying them as soon as possible, “is where the temptation of recycling begins.”

Under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, illegal drugs must be submitted to the PDEA forensic laboratory for examination within 24 hours from confiscation.

After a case is filed, the court, within 72 hours, shall conduct an ocular inspection of the illegal narcotics and destroy them within 24 hours thereafter.

The PNP, however, said the problem is that courts take around six days to make an examination. 

The PNP and PDEA told the committee that over 7,000 and 1,500 kilograms of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) respectively were currently in their inventories. – Chris Burnet Ramos/Rappler.com

Chris Burnet Ramos is a Rappler intern.

Opinion: PH’s “improved” human rights situation

Vantage Point, by Luis V. Teodoro, March 3, 2023, Businessworld

As the visiting European Union  (EU) parliamentarians  were declaring that the human rights situation in the Philippines has “improved,” a 17-year old male and two others had apparently been abducted in a Batangas town. Very few details were available as this column was being written, but it was only one of the many  abductions that are still happening despite the change in administration last July, 2022.

It may not be another instance of State terrorism against a critic of government. But together with harassments, “red-tagging” and other attacks, some abductions have involved political and social activists and their families as victims. These are still occurring despite the promise of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July that he would protect human rights. He made the same pledge in his September speech at the 77th United Nations General Assembly. 

The media reported at least eight instances of harassments, threats and human rights violations during the first two months of 2023. What makes them  alarming is that some of the victims seem to have been targeted because of the involvement of  their kin in those groups  the previous regime had  labeled “red” and “terrorist.” 

As reported by some media organizations,  those instances included the following:

Playwright and political activist Bonifacio Ilagan, who is also the lead convenor of the non-government organization Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law  (CARMMA),  received a death threat on his cell phone on the second day of the new year. 

The  caller claimed to be  the “commander” of a police or military team that was only waiting for the approval of his superiors to kill Ilagan. The caller, said Ilagan, told him that his  and similar State groups can easily kill “communists” with impunity.   

Six days later, on January 8, in an apparent case of harassment, while visiting her father, the daughter of  a political prisoner  was strip-searched and frisked in full view of  jail guards in violation of their own guidelines for such searches.

Two labor rights advocates were abducted at Cebu City’s Pier 6 on January 10. Forced into a car parked  at the docking area, they were released later. Both victims said  their abductors, who had introduced themselves as police officers, subjected them to days of psychological torture.

An activist and eight others including a community journalist were formally charged with rebellion before  Branch 2 of  the Cordillera Regional Trial Court. A staff member of a Cordillera indigenous peoples (IP) network, one was arrested on January 30. She is the mother of the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno’s international officer who was also arrested last year on the same charges.

Before the month ended, on  January 29, a former National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant was arrested  with his wife and a female companion. He was one of the peace consultants released in 2016 to participate in the  peace talks between the Duterte regime and the NDFP.

On January 30, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) named a medical doctor a terrorist in its Resolution No. 35. A community activist  who helped set up health centers  in Mindanao, she was arrested February last year on alleged and patently absurd kidnapping and illegal detention charges.

A  humanitarian mission of the human rights group Karapatan was  threatened and harassed by military elements in the Bondoc Peninsula of Quezon Province on February 1. The human rights group was  assisting families in retrieving the bodies of alleged New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas who were killed in a supposed  encounter with government troops. 

The  drivers of the mission vehicles were interrogated and all the names of their passengers  taken. Two vehicles were also impounded for alleged violations of Land Transportation Office (LTO) regulations. At the LTO Office later,  an LTO  official and a police officer demanded that the drivers admit that they and their passengers are members of the NPA.           

Five days later, on February 6,  a University of the Philippines (UP) professor  was arrested inside her home in UP Diliman for her alleged failure to remit Social Security System (SSS) contributions for her former domestic help. The professor said  she was not aware of any case against her.  

Her arrest was in violation of the UP-Department of National Defense (DND) agreement which prohibits the military  from entering the campus without  coordinating with UP authorities. The likely reason for her arrest is her supposedly being among those militants the government has labeled  “red.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) had earlier compared the human rights situation during the Duterte regime with that  in Marcos, Jr.’s. HRW Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said that “the reality is nothing has changed… only a change in tone and a greater effort in public relations.”  

HRW noted the instances of “red-tagging” last year during the first months of the Marcos administration. It also recalled that in September, the former spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) even  threatened in a social media post a Manila Regional Trial Court judge for dismissing the government petition to declare as terrorists the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA. 

But apart from “red-tagging,” and attacks against freedom of expression, other human rights violations have continued under the Marcos administration — among them the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of dissenters. and the  “drug war” killings that have been monitored by, among other groups, the UP Third World Studies Center (TWSC).

Given these circumstances, how then account for the EU parliamentarians’ description of the Philippine human rights situation as “improved”? The answer can only be because the situation during the six years of the  Duterte regime was so bad in comparison to the seven months of the Marcos II administration, the present can only seem better.   

The extrajudicial killings (EJKs) during the present regime (according to the TWSC, 35 so far this year), for example, when compared with the number of EJKs during the Duterte era, which the Philippine National Police ((PNP) says numbered “only” 6,252, pale in comparison with that figure — and even more so when  compared to the 27,000 to 30,000 individuals human rights groups say were actually killed during the Duterte “war on drugs.” And, although the harassment, “red-tagging” and killing of government critics, human rights defenders and activists are continuing, the numbers are, so far, similarly lower than those during the Duterte regime’s.

Also still to be established is whether the Marcos regime is replicating such Duterte era atrocities as its encouraging the police to kill suspected drug pushers and addicts by offering them financial rewards, which  made the “war on drugs,” according to Amnesty International (AI), a “deliberate and systematic” war  against the poor, the deaths of whose  breadwinners have driven the widowed and orphaned even deeper into  penury. 

As noted by the global coalition InvestigatePH, “the State forces that perpetrate violence are (also) obstructing investigations.” In its second report, the coalition pointed out that the tactics the Duterte regime had been using in its “drug war” were also being used, by 2021, to target human rights defenders and government  critics.

As favorably as the current regime’s human rights record may seem compared to that of its predecessor’s, everyone should keep in mind that it is still only in its seventh month. That means it could yet equal, if not  surpass,  the Duterte record in the  five years and five months left of its six-year term.


Press freedom stalwart Luis Teodoro dies at 81

www.bworldonline.com, March 14, 2023

LUIS V. TEODORO, a veteran journalist who championed press freedom in the Philippines, has died. He was 81.

Mr. Teodoro died of a heart attack shortly before midnight on Monday, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), where he was a Board of Trustee member, posted on its website.

“As educator, editor, and journalist, Dean Teodoro was pivotal in fostering academic excellence in our discipline, upholding integrity in the practice of media and defending our freedoms of the press, speech, and assembly,” the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP-CMC), where he taught journalism and was dean from 1994 to 2000, posted on its Facebook page.

Mr. Teodoro was also a fictionist and wrote opinion pieces for several broadsheets including BusinessWorld, where his last “Vantage Point” column was published on March 9 after being one of its columnists since 2007.

“‘Language,’ it is said in absurdist plays, ‘is often dislocated, full of clichés, puns, repetitions, and non sequiturs,’” according to the introduction of his 2014 book Vantage Point: The Sixth Estate and Other Discoveries. “And we find ourselves overwhelmed by the poisonous words that filter out of the turret, drifting down like some mantra of state functionaries to help us imagine an impossible future.”

“Teodoro knows the irony too well: with the clinical eye of an academic, he marshals data and historical contexts to pin down the powerholders, sparing no one — much unlike other ‘pundits’ who dribble words for their patrons’ pleasure. He sees through the charade of duplicitous sovereigns,” it added.

The UP-CMC said it would hold a service in Mr. Teodoro’s honor on March 15.

Mr. Teodoro was a political prisoner in the early years of martial law under the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.

He was chairman of the Board of Editors of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

In the 1970s, he worked as editor of the alternative news agency Philippine News and Features, according to CMFR. After 1986, he wrote for and edited publications including the National Midweek magazine and the daily broadsheet Today.  

He authored several books on mass media ethics, journalism and press freedom, and received the 2015 National Book Award for Journalism for his book Vantage Point and Mass Media Laws and Regulations in the Philippines, which he co-wrote.

Mr. Teodoro headed the Commission on Higher Education’s Technical Committee of Journalism Education, and was one of the honorees at The Many Faces of the Teacher 2007, where his excellence in teaching was recognized, according to the website of Arellano High School, where he studied.

After graduating from UP with a Bachelor of Arts in English (Journalism and Creative Writing), he attended the Master of Arts Program in Comparative Literature and Asian Studies there.

He was a senior fellow at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi, and a research fellow at the Communication Institute, East-West Center in Honolulu, it said.

“A pillar of Philippine journalism, Teodoro’s combined careers as an academic and journalist is unparalleled,” CMFR said.

“His place as an esteemed colleague and friend is unique. CMFR will forever uphold his contribution to the work of building a free and independent press and its role in Philippine democracy.” — Norman P. Aquino

Read Also: https://www.rappler.com/nation/luis-teodoro-obituary-remembered-pillar-journalism-philippines/


Photo from Rappler.Com

More than 5 years later, cop found guilty of murdering teens Carl-Kulot in ‘drug war’ op

Kristine Joy Patag – Philstar.com

March 13, 2023

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:32 p.m.) — A Navotas court has found former policeman Jeffrey Perez guilty of killing teenagers Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo “Kulot” De Guzman whose deaths in 2017 raised doubts about the Duterte administration’s bloody “war on drugs.”

The Navotas Regional Trial Court Branch 287 found Perez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the murders of Arnaiz and De Guzman. He was sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison, “without eligibility of parole.”

Judge Romana Lindayag Del Rosario also ordered Perez to pay a total of P390,000 to the family of Arnaiz for actual damages, civil indemnity, moral damages and exemplary damages.

Perez was also told to pay P300,000 to de Guzman’s family.

This is the second known conviction of police officers of murder in the “war on drugs” campaign of the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, although the case of the two teenagers took longer than five years to resolve.

Court’s ruling

Perez had a fellow police officer as co-accused in the case, but Patrolman Ricky Arquilita died in prison of suspected viral hepatitis B in April 2019.

Perez and Arquilita were accused of beating up the teenagers before killing them in 2017.

Arnaiz went missing on the night of August 17, 2017. His body was found 11 days later at a funeral home in Caloocan City. Police claimed he had robbed a taxi driver and fired back at responding policemen, prompting the authorities to shoot him.

Almost a month later, De Guzman’s parents were informed that their son’s body was found floating in a creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija.

Based on the certificates of death presented in the case, Arnaiz suffered five gunshot wounds, four of which were fatal and resulted in his death. De Guzman meanwhile bore 28 stab wounds in various parts of the body.

“In the instant case, all the elements for the crime of murder are present,” the ruling read.

The court also said that Perez himself admitted in his testimony that their operation and shooting encounter resulted in Arnaiz’s death. The dismissed cop also failed to testify, “in great detail and depth,” the supposed connection of the gun found beside Arnaiz or where it came from.

Torture, planting of evidence conviction

In November 2022, the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court Branch 122 found Patrolman Perez guilty for torture of Arnaiz and De Guzman and was sentenced to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years of imprisonment.

He was also found guilty of Planting of Evidence under RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 and RA 10591 or Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act in the case of Arnaiz.

A report by The STAR newspaper in 2021 reported that pandemic has stalled the murder trial over the killings of the two teenagers. This was unlike the murder trial involving 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, which concluded in November 2018 or after a speedy year-long trial with the conviction of three police officers. — with reports from The STAR/Marc Jayson Cayabyab

‘Phase out SMNI’: Quiboloy network slammed for red-tagging groups over jeepney strike

Mar 11, 2023

Lance Spencer Yu

‘Ang SMNI at red-tagging ang dapat i-phaseout, hindi jeepney,’ says transport group Piston

MANILA, Philippines – Piston strongly condemned Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) over red-tagging comments by its presenters, who said leaders of transport and teachers’ groups that supported the recent jeepney strike should be labeled as terrorists and imprisoned.

On the program “Labang Kasama ang Bayan,” on Tuesday, March 7, former anti-insurgency spokesperson Lorraine Badoy and Jeffrey “Ka Eric” Celiz urged the government to designate as terrorists Mody Floranda of Piston and France Castro of Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), who they alleged were linked to communist insurgency groups in the country.

In response to the accusations, Piston slammed SMNI for its “red-tagging spree against the transport groups who held a successful two-day strike.”

Lumahok ang mga tsuper at operator sa tigil-pasada dahil tinutulak sila mismo ng mga anti-mahirap na polisiya ng gobyerno at dahil kailangan nilang ipagtanggol ang kabuhayan nilang gustong i-masaker ng pamahalaan,” Floranda said. “Ang SMNI at red-tagging ang dapat i-phaseout, hindi jeepney.”

(Drivers and operators join the strike because the anti-poor policies of the government compel them to, and also because they have to fight for their livelihoods, which the government wants to massacre. Phase out SMNI and red-tagging, not jeepneys.)

Piston also highlighted the scandals faced by Apollo Quiboloy, who owns SMNI. Quiboloy was indicted by United States prosecutors for sex trafficking, placing him on the most wanted list of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Meanwhile, Badoy already drew in at least 12 administrative and criminal complaints against her for relentless red-tagging, along with a show-cause order from the Supreme Court for her threats against Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar. 

Celiz also had his credibility and motives questioned by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers during a Senate hearing on red-tagging in November 2022.

Bago tumalak ng kung ano-anong kasinungalingan ‘yang sila Jeffrey Celiz at Lorraine Badoy, baka nakakalimutan nilang isang kriminal ang nagpapalamon at nagpapasahod sa kanila. At baka nakakalimutan din nilang sila mismo ay may mga kinakaharap na criminal charges ,” said Floranda. “‘Yun na lang ang harapin nila kesa siraan ang mga tsuper at operator na gusto lang ipagtanggol ang kanilang hanapbuhay.”

(Before Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Badoy hurl all sorts of lies, they shouldn’t forget that they are led and salaried by a criminal. And maybe they forget, too, that they themselves face criminal charges. That’s what they should face rather than destroying the image of drivers and operators who just want to fight for their livelihood.)

‘CPP-created personality’

During the March 7 program, the SMNI presenters alleged that Piston president Floranda was a “CPP-created personality” and ACT Teachers Representative Castro really led the “Alliance of Communist Teachers.”

transport group Piston

MANILA, Philippines – Piston strongly condemned Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) over red-tagging comments by its presenters, who said leaders of transport and teachers’ groups that supported the recent jeepney strike should be labeled as terrorists and imprisoned.

On the program “Labang Kasama ang Bayan,” on Tuesday, March 7, former anti-insurgency spokesperson Lorraine Badoy and Jeffrey “Ka Eric” Celiz urged the government to designate as terrorists Mody Floranda of Piston and France Castro of Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), who they alleged were linked to communist insurgency groups in the country.

In response to the accusations, Piston slammed SMNI for its “red-tagging spree against the transport groups who held a successful two-day strike.”

Lumahok ang mga tsuper at operator sa tigil-pasada dahil tinutulak sila mismo ng mga anti-mahirap na polisiya ng gobyerno at dahil kailangan nilang ipagtanggol ang kabuhayan nilang gustong i-masaker ng pamahalaan,” Floranda said. “Ang SMNI at red-tagging ang dapat i-phaseout, hindi jeepney.”

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(Drivers and operators join the strike because the anti-poor policies of the government compel them to, and also because they have to fight for their livelihoods, which the government wants to massacre. Phase out SMNI and red-tagging, not jeepneys.)

Piston also highlighted the scandals faced by Apollo Quiboloy, who owns SMNI. Quiboloy was indicted by United States prosecutors for sex trafficking, placing him on the most wanted list of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Meanwhile, Badoy already drew in at least 12 administrative and criminal complaints against her for relentless red-tagging, along with a show-cause order from the Supreme Court for her threats against Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar. 

Celiz also had his credibility and motives questioned by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers during a Senate hearing on red-tagging in November 2022.

Bago tumalak ng kung ano-anong kasinungalingan ‘yang sila Jeffrey Celiz at Lorraine Badoy, baka nakakalimutan nilang isang kriminal ang nagpapalamon at nagpapasahod sa kanila. At baka nakakalimutan din nilang sila mismo ay may mga kinakaharap na criminal charges ,” said Floranda. “‘Yun na lang ang harapin nila kesa siraan ang mga tsuper at operator na gusto lang ipagtanggol ang kanilang hanapbuhay.”

(Before Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Badoy hurl all sorts of lies, they shouldn’t forget that they are led and salaried by a criminal. And maybe they forget, too, that they themselves face criminal charges. That’s what they should face rather than destroying the image of drivers and operators who just want to fight for their livelihood.)

‘CPP-created personality’

During the March 7 program, the SMNI presenters alleged that Piston president Floranda was a “CPP-created personality” and ACT Teachers Representative Castro really led the “Alliance of Communist Teachers.”

“Government has to follow suit. That means putting these people behind bars, ‘yung mga Mody na ‘yan? Because we already know who they are,” Badoy said, urging the government to crack down on the red-tagged groups.

“We have a very beautiful and very powerful law. Let’s enforce it to the fullest: the anti-terrorism law. So, let’s do it,” Badoy added, citing as a precedent the designation of community doctor Natividad Castro as a terrorist.

Aside from Floranda and Castro, Badoy also included Arlene Brosas, Raoul Manuel, Neri Colmenares, Teddy Casiño, and Carol Araullo to her list of “terrorists.”

Tuwing nakikita n’yo ang Piston, nakita n’yo ‘yung mukha ni France Castro, ‘yung Alliance of Communist Teachers na, sige, nagkakiyaw-kiyaw, tapos confused kayo, maganda ba talaga itong issue na ‘to? Pero ‘pag nakita mo na ‘yung mga pagmumukha ng mga CPP na ‘yan, alam n’yo na kung ano ‘yung bulungan na labas sa bibig nila, makakasama sa ating bansa,” Badoy said.

(Whenever you see Piston, when you see the face of France Castro, the Alliance of Communist Teachers, and they keep on yapping, and you’re confused whether it’s a good issue or not? When you see the faces of these CPP people, remember that whatever comes out of their mouth is to the detriment of our country.)

Celiz, who claims to be a former New People’s Army rebel, insisted that Piston was being used by communists as a legitimate front organization.

“Piston is a communist party-created transport association serving as a front organization,” Celiz added. “Alam ko ‘yan, ma’am, na ito ay CPP active operative sa urban area. Si Mody ay hindi driver lang o leader ng transport group (I know that, ma’am, that he is a CPP active operative in the urban area. Mody is not just a driver or leader of a transport group).” 

“The government cannot be hostaged by a noisy minority, which is very partisan, instigated, and supported by CPP-NPA-NDF para lamang sa magsabotahe ng programa ng gobyerno (just to sabotage the government’s program). The government cannot do that,” Celiz also said.

Celiz wondered whether Floranda and Mar Valbuena – the chairman of Manibela, the transport group that initially announced the strike – could be charged for sedition and economic sabotage.

The accusations came after transport group Piston, along with other groups, declared a weeklong strike to protest issues perceived in the government’s jeepney modernization program, which they fear would force operators of traditional jeepneys to consolidate or be phased out. The strike came to an end after leaders of protesting transport groups met with Malacañang officials, who promised a review of the modernization program.

ACT also previously expressed support for the planned weeklong strike, which prompted Vice President and Department of Education Secretary Sara Duterte to declare ACT as a “lover of the useless ideologies espoused by the New People’s Army (NPA), the Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP), and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF).” – Rappler.com

‘They were shot in the head’: morgue gives up truth of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war

Rebecca Ratcliffe, South-east Asia correspondent, The Guardian, Sun 26 Feb 2023

Crusading pathologist Raquel Fortun finds evidence of multiple murder at the direction of ‘a madman’ in the exhumed remains of young Filipinos

it was in an old university stockroom, with wooden tables salvaged from a junkyard, that Raquel Fortun began to investigate the merciless crackdown launched under the former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.

Fortun, one of only two forensic pathologists in the country, has now spent more than 18 months examining the exhumed remains of dozens of victims of the so-called “war on drugs”, revealing serious irregularities in how their postmortems were performed – including multiple death certificates that wrongly attributed fatalities to natural causes.

Most recently, her findings have raised questions about examinations carried out on the body of Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old boy whose death at the height of the shootings provoked global outrage.

The Philippines does not automatically provide postmortems in cases of violent death, says Fortun. The standard, where they do occur, is poor, with evidence often missed.

“We have very weak institutions, unqualified people. We have a law that’s so ancient. And here comes a madman, ascending to the top as president, and I think he just took advantage,” she says.

Duterte repeatedly ordered the police to kill drug suspects. “And that’s it – they did,” says Fortun.

The international criminal court (ICC) said in January that it would proceed with its investigation into the killings, which it estimates led to between 12,000 and 30,000 deaths. Its work had been suspended while it assessed a claim by the Philippines, which said it had begun its own investigations and therefore the case should be deferred – an argument that was rejected.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr – who took office last year after a joint campaign with Duterte’s daughter, Sara, who is now vice-president – has called the ICC investigation an “intrusion into our internal matters”, saying that the country has a “good” police and judicial system.

For campaigners, however, Fortun’s findings are further proof that the Philippines’ institutions are failing to deliver justice. She is aware of 12 death certificates, including 11 from the 74 remains she has examined, that wrongly attribute deaths to natural causes, such as pneumonia or sepsis. “It would make one wonder, were they involved, were they complicit? Was it just them making a short cut?” says Fortun.

The Catholic priest Father Flaviano Villanueva blesses the urns of drug war victims during a ceremony for their families in a church in Manila, Philippines, in 2021.

The Catholic priest Father Flaviano Villanueva blesses the urns of drug war victims during a ceremony for their families in a church in Manila, Philippines, in 2021. Photograph: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

Kian delos Santos was found dead, bent in a foetal position, in a dark alley in Caloocan, Metropolitan Manila, in 2017, with a gun in his left hand. Police argued they killed him in self-defence. Yet his family pointed out that he was right-handed.

CCTV footage showed police dragging a male matching Delos Santos’s description towards the spot where he was killed. His is the only known case where police have been convicted of murder. Despite intense scrutiny at the time of his death, examinations by both the Philippine National Police and the Public Attorney’s Office failed to spot a bullet that was still lodged in his neck, according to Fortun’s findings. “It’s evidence that has been missed,” she says.

Such omissions are not uncommon; Fortun has found at least one bullet left in about 15 other victims’ remains. She also found that only superficial cuts had been made during autopsies on Delos Santos’s body, meaning no internal examination was carried out. This is despite a report, signed by a doctor, referencing Delos Santos’s stomach contents.

Fortun began looking at the remains of exhumed victims in 2021. It was then about five years since Duterte had launched his crackdown, and the families of those killed, who had only been able to pay for short leases on graves, were increasingly facing eviction from cemeteries.

The Catholic priest Father Flaviano Villanueva began offering to help families exhume and cremate their loved one’s remains through an initiative called Project Arise. The option of an examination by Fortun, to document evidence, was also offered to families.

The stockroom Fortun uses has been renovated, but her work is still carried out on a shoestring. She works for free, with a small budget to cover the cost of plastic bags, superglue, a lighter adhesive for teeth and special paper. Remains are delivered to the hospital for X-ray after midnight because the local hospital is too busy to handle them during the day. An examination can take weeks as she tries to juggle the process with her university role and handling other cases.

The remains she has seen represent just “a pinch of tens of thousands of those killed”, says Fortun. “But the picture is showing.” The victims are overwhelmingly men, and young. “They’re the poorest of the poor. I see that in their teeth.”

Some are buried with printed tarpaulin images of their faces, clothes, footwear or religious items. In two cases, Fortun has examined victims wearing a Duterte-branded wristband. “There was [a widow] who said the husband actually felt safe with that on his wrist,” says Fortun.

Her examinations add to evidence contradicting police narratives that officers acted in self-defence. “They were shot not to immobilise them or render them safer for police to apprehend – they were shot multiple times in the chest, in the head,” she says.

According to government figures, officers killed 6,252 people during anti-drug operations from 1 July 2016 to 31 May 2022. Fortun wonders if it will ever be possible to accurately calculate how many were killed. “Who is keeping count?” she asks. “What about the [victims] who were never recovered? Bodies thrown into rivers, buried in some clandestine grave?” Even less is known about killings outside Metro Manila.

Known for taking on politically sensitive cases, Fortun is aware that her work brings risks. She has worked abroad previously, but the temptation to do so again has long passed. “I feel: OK, this is the reason why I stayed. I needed to. What if I left?”

When she meets families, Fortun makes no promises that the examinations will bring justice. “But at least I tell them: thank you for giving us the chance to document the findings. I don’t know if at some point it is going to court, but at least we tried.”

EU: Freeing ex-senator can help Manila keep trade incentives


Fri, February 24, 2023, AP

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines’ chances of retaining special trading incentives, including slashed tariffs for a wide array of products, would be boosted if it decides to free a long-detained opposition leader and rejoin the International Criminal Court, a group of European parliamentarians said Friday.

The European Union trade incentives under the so-called Generalized Scheme of Preferences, or GSP Plus, for the Philippines and seven other developing countries are anchored on their adherence to more than two dozen international conventions on human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.

The trading incentives, which the Philippines started to enjoy in 2014, would end in December and the government could reapply within a two-year period to retain them, the European lawmakers said.

But the Philippines came under intense EU criticism during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year term, which ended last year, mainly because of the bloody anti-drugs crackdown he oversaw that left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead.

The killings sparked an International Criminal Court investigation as a possible crime against humanity. Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC in 2018 but its prosecutor has proceeded to investigate the widespread deaths that occurred in the years when the country was still part of the court based in The Hague.

European parliamentarians have also repeatedly demanded the release of opposition leader and former senator Leila de Lima, Duterte’s most vocal critic who was arrested and detained in 2017 on drug charges she said were fabricated by Duterte and his officials to stop her from investigating the killings.

A delegation from the European Parliament’s sub-committee on human rights visited the Philippines from Wednesday to Friday and held talks with the justice secretary and other officials, senators, and human rights and labor activists to discuss rights issues under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June.

They visited de Lima on Thursday on the eve of her sixth year in detention and expressed hopes she would at least be released on bail. “I expressed to them my hope and optimism on the prospects of freedom and vindication,” de Lima said in a statement after the visit.

In a news conference in Manila, Hannah Neumann, who led the European delegation, said rights conditions were “better than it was under Pres. Duterte” in reply to a question. “There are a lot of announcements that could indeed improve things if they’re implemented.”

The delegates welcomed in a joint statement Marcos’ “commitment to change the focus of the ‘war on drugs’ away from a punitive approach towards prevention and rehabilitation.”

But they said extrajudicial killings have reportedly persisted and underscored the need for all the killings to be investigated and the perpetrators held to account to fight impunity.

Asked if a decision to release de Lima and rejoin the ICC would boost the Philippines’ chances of continuing to enjoy the EU trading incentives, Neumann said that would be “a strong sign in which direction the country wants to move.”

“The European Parliament has been quite clear that whoever wants to have preferential access to the European market needs to uphold social standards, human rights standards, environmental standards,” she said. “This is not going to go away.”

Out of the more than 6,000 police-reported killings under Duterte’s drug crackdown, she said, only 25 cases have been filed and three law enforcers had been convicted nearly nine months into Marcos’ presidency.

Marcos has also vehemently opposed any future ICC investigations in the Philippines.

“If you look at the trajectory, this will take physically forever,” Neumann said, adding that “asking the ICC to come in is the perfect way to do it.”

European officials wanted to know how they can support such a massive investigation and “how we can make, especially witnesses and families of victims, gain confidence that this is done in a proper way that doesn’t lead to more harassments and intimidation by the very same people that have killed their relatives,” Neumann said.

More than 6,200 products exported by the Philippines are covered by the tax and tariff reduction under the GSP Plus, including crude coconut oil, preserved tuna and pineapple and vacuum cleaners, and more Filipino exporters have sought Europe’s trading incentives in recent years, Philippine trade officials said.

As EDSA memory fades, children’s book creators hope to pass on People Power stories

Kristine Joy Patag – Philstar.com

February 23, 2023

MANILA, Philippines — Making books for children means helping shape the individuals that they will become. In the Philippines, which has often been described as forgetful, storytellers for children have the task of making sure a pivotal moment in our history — the EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted a dictator and is touted to have restored democracy — too, becomes part of their foundation as future leaders.

Children’s book writer Rusell Molina believes that young Filipinos inherently embrace kindness, unity and love. And when they ask — and learn — about People Power, he would like them to remember it as a story of hope and courage.

If he was asked by Filipino learners why the EDSA commemoration is a holiday anyway, Molina hopes to give a definitive answer. “What do we tell them? Do we talk about reds or yellows or dark pasts and bleak futures? Or do we tell stories of hope, bravery, kapit-bisig (arm in arm) and flowers over tanks?”

He picks the latter. “I think children naturally embrace concepts of kindness, unity and love until an adult points them to a different direction,” he says in an e-mail to Philstar.com.

Augie Rivera’s “Isang Harding Papel,” illustrated by Rommel Joson, and Russell Molina’s “EDSA,” illustrated by Sergio Bumatay III are part of Adarna House’s #NeverAgain bundle.

In 2013, Molina wrote “EDSA,” a book with sparse text but accompanied by a gorgeous spread of whimsical illustrations of things related to the people’s peaceful revolt from the pen of Sergio Bumatay III.

In it, the children’s book writer aimed to share the story of EDSA through numbers of pivotal moments and characters in the event, until the Philippines reaches “isang ibong lumilipad sa taas ng EDSA. Nakatingin sa milyon-milyong taong ngayo’y malaya na.”

(A bird flies high over EDSA, looking at millions and millions of people who are now free.)

Bumatay, in a 2013 blog post, explained that he wanted the book’s illustrations to be “very special and memorable, just like the occasion itself.”

“The black and white drawings evoke nostalgia and vivid memories while a splash of yellow highlights the special color. To depict a sense of history, I thought of using the dioarama as format to stage the scenes and organize them inside a wooden box I made especially for this book,” Bumatay adds.

The book was published with help from the EDSA People Power Commission, which called it  “a story our children must hear, for at EDSA, the world saw the best of the Filipino spirit.”

Taking root

Illustrator Rommel Joson remembers growing up with his classmates wearing election campaign headbands with a huge hand forming an L sign on their foreheads. He was seven.

It was a different childhood for writer Augie Rivera, whose book “Isang Harding Papel” was illustrated by Joson. Rivera says he was part of “that generation of Martial Law babies who grew up shielded from the realities of times,” a familiar story especially from children who grew up in the bailiwick of the Marcoses.

It was not until he went to the University of the Philippines, after EDSA, that he truly learned about the horrors of the Martial Law. “It was then that I was awakened to the truth and the part Martial Law played in our society and our history,” Rivera tells Philstar.com in an e-mail.

He has since written two Martial Law-themed children’s books. “Si Jhun-Jhun, Noong Bago Ideklara ang Batas Militar,” was published in 2001, as part of the UNICEF Philippines and Adarna House “Batang Historyador” series.

A spread from “Si Jhun-Jhun, Noong Bago Ideklara ang Batas Militar,” written by Augie Rivera and illustrated by Brian Vallesteros.

In it, protagonist Jhun-Jhun just wanted to know where his older brother had been going. Unknowingly, the child followed his brother to a rally with “men wearing shiny, round helmets” forming a barricade around the crowd. Next, there were gunshots and chaos. And all Jhun-Jhun found was his brother’s left slipper.

Rivera says the book was inspired by a photo he saw of “a street full of broken bottles, stones, and slippers — an aftermath of a violent rally dispersal.”

More than a decade later, Rivera wrote “Isang Harding Papel” in 2014, with Joson as its illustrator. Rivera shares that the story was loosely based on a cousin whose mother was a political detainee during Martial Law.

Both books are part of Adarna House’s #NeverAgain bundle.

Joson filled Rivera’s “Isang Harding Papel” with collage-like illustrations, a play on newspaper clippings and flower origami. One striking illustration is our protagonist Jenny, her grandmother Priming and her detained mother Chit enjoying a spread inside the police headquarters with big smiles on their faces.

At the upper corners of the drawing, two pairs of boots are seen — an apt frame that paints the rest of the story where the fear looms over a child’s joy of being with her family.

Part of the accompanying text story of that illustration was Jenny asking her mother, out of nowhere, why is she detained anyway?

“Paano, ‘pag may rally, lahat ng pinapalabas naming mga dula sa kalye, laban kay Marcos. Hindi niya siguro nagustuhan,” Chit had told her daughter.

(Well, when there is a rally, our street theater is against Marcos. Maybe he didn’t appreciate it.)


Joson, in a blogpost in 2014, shared that he dedicated much research work depicting the EDSA highway in “Isang Harding Papel”: “What did the old propaganda billboards of President Marcos and Imelda Marcos look like?”

He knows that as an illustrator, and of historical fiction for children at that, it is important to “present historical events in uniquely engaging ways.”

Illustration by Rommel Joson for Augie Rivera’s “Isang Harding Papel.”

Fast forward to 2022, Joson’s illustration, and Rivera’s and Molina’s stories were labelled propaganda meant to radicalize children against the government. National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director-General Alex Monteagudo claimed with no basis that these were linked to the communist rebels..

This came after the Adarna House, a Filipino household name for publishing house for children, released its #NeverAgain bundle after the 2022 national elections that, at that time, showed candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., namesake and only son of the ousted dictator, inching towards Malacañang.

Rivera, then, condemned Monteaguado’s baseless red-tagging of the publishing house. “As ‘historical fiction,’ this features stories of adventures and the awakening of the youth and important events and lessons of our history,” he wrote in Filipino in a Facebook post.

He tells Philstar.com now that the experience was “quite unsettling to say the least.”  

Rivera, now current head writer of AHA!, an infotainment program and writer for the top-rating gameshow, Family Feud, said that “nobody wants that for themselves or their family.”

But Rivera knows that once a book has been published, what happens next is out of the hands of the writer. Even if his book is labelled propaganda, he knows he cannot dictate how people should react to it.

“That’s how democracy works. What’s most important to me is that the book is read, and hopefully resonates with my intended audience,” he says.

It was, again, a different story during the Martial Law era of Marcos Sr. In the first week of dictatorial rule, the president issued a Letter of Instruction on the “prevention of the use of privately owned media facilities and communications.”

This authorized the military takeover of assets of ABS-CBN, Associated Broadcasting Corp. and other stations, as accounted by the Martial Law Museum in its website. It said that the sequestered assets were being used for “propaganda purposes against the government.”

Never again

Illustrator Joson admits it is difficult to fathom how his book would have been labelled as propaganda, especially since “Isang Harding Papel” was based loosely on a real-life experience and he too grew up in the wake of EDSA.

“A big part of the stuff and stories I grew up with informed illustration research and process. When I was a child my grandfather gave me a coin with Marcos’ likeness on it — which was unbelievable to me,” Joson says, adding that: “Seeing how the tide of public opinion is shifting is incredible to me.”

“I think denying the abuses perpetrated during Martial Law is a slap to those who suffered during this time,” Joson says.

Rivera says that the “Batang Historyador” series was conceptualized as a supplementary reading material for teaching history.

Rommel Joson shares with Philstar.com an illustration that shows one of his childhood memories. He says when he was in high school, “the blackboard tallying the NAMFREL quick count results was displayed in school, so I saw it every day.”

The Martial Law Museum, a project by the Ateneo de Manila University, has opened a digital library for those who want to learn about this period in our history, from the beginning, duration, end and lessons of Martial Law. It also offers teaching resources, in English and Filipino, and filmed online lectures.

After all, learning history is beyond memorization. “Another way to go about it, to make history ‘come alive’ is through stories and personal accounts from primary sources, and even historical fiction,” Rivera says.

It is a tough job but one that needs to be done, he admits. The Philippines’ Martial Law era can never be told without abuses, disappearances, torture, dread and killings. Thousands of Filipinos suffered through long years of fear under the Marcos’ dictatorial rule.

“It was quite inevitable. What I did then was to focus more on the characters, and make them more believable, relatable, and child-like, so other children could easily empathize with them,” he says.

Rivera continues: “Through their stories, we hope the child reader would get curious and want to know more about history and the conditions and struggles of children during these most difficult periods in our nation’s past.”

Joson knows that teaching history, including the EDSA revolution, is essential, especially since no one wants to repeat that dark period of our history.

With the young generation becoming increasingly visual, the illustrator says “[n]ow more than ever, we have to reclaim the child’s visual landscape and bend it towards things that are factual and true.”

Molina, whose book “EDSA” featured captivating and strong visuals, says he wrote the book with highly visual narrative “to become an avenue for an adult-child shared experience.”

As it offers a different reading experience with text-heavy books, Molina hopes that his book elevate the child-reader’s. “And with this lens, EDSA becomes more than just a history picture book but a platform for new discoveries and continued conversations between generation,” he adds.

After all, children should always be part of discussions of issues and challenges in society, because they too are affected, Rivera says.

“We want our children to learn from past mistakes. And never forget. We want them to become critical and ask about complex issues, and we want to make them care enough to dream, aspire, and participate in creating better world for them to live in,” he continues.

But in a world where misinformation and disinformation proliferate and even historical accounts are cast in doubt, what do children’s story book artists have left to do?

“I guess we just have to tell and share our stories over and over again.”