THE National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) and Karapatan condemned the filing of kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges against a lawyer for allegedly keeping the minor-witness who survived the massacre of nine farmers in Sagay City, Negros Occidental.
The criminal complaint filed before the City Prosecutor's Office on October 31 against lawyer Katherine Panguban of NUPL came after the father of the 14-year-old boy revealed to the members of the media on October 27 that Karapatan-Negros through the assistance of Panguban forcibly took the custody of his son by using his estranged wife.
The NUPL, in a press statement, said, “These accusations are malicious, contrived, and have no legal and factual basis to stand on. These are mere incredible concoctions of Sagay authorities with the clear intent to malign human rights workers and organizations that are genuinely helping the victims and survivors who would definitely shed light as to who the real authors are of the bloody massacre that took nine innocent lives.”
The NUPL explained that the custody of the minor has been with his mother after the Sagay City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) turned him over to her in the afternoon of October 25, in the presence of his father.
“We regret we cannot humor the police because this legal representation and turnover of custody are duly documented and are perfectly legal and in order,” NUPL said.
The NUPL added that the minor's mother engaged the services of NUPL, as represented by Panguban, in close coordination with NUPL national and its Negros and Panay chapters, and Karapatan after the child's father cavalierly and unilaterally, without consulting the child's mother, turned him over to the police and local authorities.
“The child and his mother have voluntarily sought sanctuary in Manila, away from the Sagay police who continue to coerce her and the child to return to Negros and be used and exploited as their “star witness” on falsified statements and distorted narratives,” NUPL said.
“It will do well for these police officers to cease and desist from manufacturing tall tales that are nothing but a second-rate, trying hard cover-ups of their own culpability and liabilities,” NUPL said.
Karapatan, in a press statement, said, “These charges, which we can only presume to have been wildly concocted by the Negros police and other forces who want to divert the accountability of paramilitary forces and private armies of landlords, have no legal and factual basis, and are ill-intention and manufactured.”
“It is lamentable that they have been using the child's father to peddle and insist on lies regarding the roles of Panguban, NUPL, and Karapatan in the case,” Karapatan said.
“There is absolutely no truth to allegations of the minor's father and the police that the mother and son are being held against their will by Panguban, NUPL, and Karapatan,” Karapatan said.
Karapatan added that the charges against Panguban are among the forms of intimidation by state forces against people’s lawyers.
”This incident once again exposes the vile intent of the police to go to great lengths to exploit relatives of victims and survivors and to use them for their slanted narratives. The charges against Panguban should be immediately withdrawn or dropped, unless the Sagay police and their cohorts want to fall flat on their faces with the tall tales that they have been weaving,” Karapatan said.
For his part, Chief Inspector Robert Mansueto, city police chief, said that they will wait for the court to issue an arrest warrant if Panguban fails to appear in court when a subpoena will be issued against her.
“If they want justice, why would they keep the minor and his mother?” Mansueto asked.
Mansueto said the child's father told the police that he was not able to contact his son and estranged wife since October 27.
Earlier, the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office (Nocppo) has denounced the accusation of a militant group that the minor was “illegally arrested,” claiming that police placed the child into their custody only for safekeeping.
Mansueto, meanwhile, said that he will invite other persons of interest in the incident such as the donees, landowner, and militant groups, as well as members of the fact-finding team to appear in a meeting with the policemen to give updates on their independent investigation.
”Through this, we can also clear things related to the incident and other matters,” Mansueto added. He, however, has yet to provide details on the venue of the said meeting.
In October 26, police also filed multiple murder charges against two members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) identified as Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo, and seven John Does for the massacre of the nine farmers at Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon in October 20.
The two NFSW members who remain at large were accused of connivance with the assailants by deceiving the victims. (GYM)