POLICE arrested nine suspected members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) who allegedly clashed with government forces in Nasugbu, Batangas on Monday, November 20.
Local human rights watchdog Karapatan, however, claimed that the nine arrested persons are members of the groups Habagat and the Samahang ng Pinagkaisang Damdamin ng Barangay Quisumbing from Calaca and Lian, Batangas.
The two groups were on their way to Barangay Utod to monitor alleged human rights violations committed there against civilians amid the ongoing military operations against communist rebels.
Brigadier General Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade, said the nine suspects and three others were on board a public utility jeepney that was flagged down at a checkpoint in Barangay Utod, Nasugbu hours after the clash.
Only nine, however, were apprehended because the three other suspected rebels evaded arrest by mixing with the crowd at the checkpoint.
Burgos said members of the 730th combat group of the Philippine Air Force will verify whether the suspects in police custody were the same individuals who figured in the encounter with them. Appropriate charges will be filed upon verification of the suspects' identities.
Initially, the persons in custody were identified as Leonardo Delos Reyes, 43; Carlos Sanoza, 62; Josefino Castillano, 50; Peping Sacdalan, 67; Robert Hernandez; Jocelyn Cabadin, 44; Jennelyn Bayani, 30; Orlan Cabadin, 19 and Anthony Bañaga.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the arrest and detention of these individuals were illegal.
“Mass arrest of members of an organization is fast becoming a trend in the PNP and AFP’s conduct of illegal arrests which have become as brazen and as arbitrary,” she said.
“The authorities again claim that those arrested were members of the NPA, a lie relegated as among the oldest trick in the PNP and AFP’s 'how to get away with illegal arrest and human rights violations' rulebook,” she added.
Palabay said the incident only proves that there is a “systematic attack” against human rights workers under the Duterte regime.
Hot pursuit operations are being conducted by the PNP Cavite, PNP Batangas and troops of 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army against the other suspected rebels.
The encounter occurred around 8 a.m. Monday in Barangay Utod. Troops discovered an encampment believed to have been occupied by members of KLG Honda, the same NPA group which incurred heavy casualties during the focused military operations in Batangas City last September as part of security preparations for the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) last week.
Southern Luzon acting commander Major General Rhoderick Parayno said the focused military operation was conducted after they recovered documents and sketches detailing terrorist plans allegedly aimed at disrupting the Asean events.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier announced his intent to classify NPA rebels who commit atrocities as terrorists. (SunStar Philippines)