DAVAO CITY – Human rights groups condemn the arrest and planting of evidence on two community activists of Caraga based in Quezon City last July 16.
Arrested are Julieta Gomez, an officer of the Lumad group Kahugpongan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga (KASALO Caraga) and Niezel Velasco, former project coordinator of the relief organization Bread for Emergency Assistance and Development (BREAD).
Gomez and Velasco were arrested in Barangay Pansol, Quezon City by a joint operation of the police and Philippine Army. They were served warrants of murder and two counts of attempted murder.
Philippine National Police Chief General Guillermo Elazar in a press conference presented what he said are evidence taken from Gomez and Velasco, which include firearms, bullets, a flag of the Communist Party of the Philippines and subversive documents. The Philippine Army 4th Infantry Division Commander released a statement claiming the two as “high ranking officers” of the “white area committee in NEMR (NorthEast Mindanao Region).
Karapatan Caraga demanded their release and the dropping of charges as it said the evidence was preposterous.
“Such claims are preposterous and at the height of implausibility as who in their right mind would attempt to purchase and transport such, at a time when checkpoints and lockdowns are in effect, let alone store such munitions in the house where you were staying? And why would they bring a CPP flag and education materials? It is best for PNP Chief Eleazar to look into the arresting officers – CIDG and the AFP, for planting of evidence,” their statement said.
Karapatan identified Julieta Gomez as a Manobo hailing from San Luis, Agusan del Sur who was a teacher for the Sildap-Sidlakan Lumad School in her province. She later served as a community organizer for KASALO.
In 2010, she was elected secretary general of the group, and joined a campaign of Lumad communities in Surigao del Norte demanding for a 1% royalty from mining profits taken from their ancestral land.
Gomez participated in the Manilakbayan caravan in 2015 to call out justice for the Lianga Massacre.
Velasco served as project coordinator of BREAD for a decade from 2007 until 2017. Her group led the implementation of a marine sanctuary protection and livelihood projects for fisherfolks in Siargao Islands in coordination with the local government unit of General Luna from 2007 to 2014.
She also took part in relief missions and projects in communities in Caraga region that were hit by floods brought about by Typhoons Sendong in 2011 and Pablo in 2012 and other typhoons that often hit the region from 2014 to 2018.
Both Gomez and Velasco became Provincial Focal Person (PFPS) of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, Local Affairs Coordinating and Monitoring Services (NAPC-LACMS), Gomez for Agusan del Sur and Velasco for Surigao del Norte, from July 2017 to June 2018.
Gomez and Velasco were among local activists included in red-tagging propaganda spread in the regions recently, where they are tagged as members of the CPP-New People’s Army and National Democratic Front.
In recent years, activist leaders in Caraga were arrested and accused as ranking members of communist rebels. One of the cases against a public school principal was recently dismissed.
An elderly farmer leader from Surigao del Sur was shot dead last year in the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Karapatan Caraga condemned how activists are being charged with cases in different courts in Caraga, and calls this act “attempts to silence activists in Caraga and in the country.”