Activist groups in the Philippines have denounced the arrest of at least 57 individuals in the wake of raids on offices of organizations tagged by the government as “communist fronts.”
Authorities raided the offices of women’s group Gabriela, political party Bayan Muna, rights group Karapatan, and National Federation of Sugar Workers in the city of Bacolod on Oct. 31.
Police said they found assorted firearms, explosives, and “subversive documents” in the raids that were carried out based on a search warrant issued by a court in Manila.
Reylan Vergara of human rights group Karapatan said the alleged evidence “was planted” and the people who were arrested are “activists, not rebels.”
He said the arrest of the activists is “an alarming sign of the government’s intensifying efforts to crack down on its critics.”
The leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or New Patriotic Alliance, denied allegations that the arrested individuals were members of the communist-led New People’s Army.
Teddy Casiño, spokesman of the alliance, said 21 of the 57 people arrested were members of a labor union of a local bus company who were attending a meeting during the raid.
At least 25 members of theater group Teatro Obrero, who were rehearsing a performance, were also brought to police headquarters.
“Others who were arrested are well-known leaders of progressive organizations who are defending human rights for decades,” said Casiño.
“There is no armed combatant among them,” he added.
In Manila, police also arrested Cora Agovida, chairwoman of Gabriela in the capital, and her husband.
Joms Salvador, secretary general of the women’s group, said the arrest was “stupid and irrational.”
“I cannot comprehend how unintelligent the government’s intelligence work is. How could a mass leader such as Agovida, who is unarmed, become a member of a rebel group?” said Salvador.
She called on the government to immediately release Agovida and her husband, and the 57 activists.
Martin Andanar, President Rodrigo Duterte’s communications chief, defended the raids and the arrests, describing it as lawful, safe, quick, and conducted in a precise manner.
He said the “bloodless operations” that led to the arrests “show the government’s respect for democracy and its adherence to the rule of law.”
“We decry any claim that they were planted by our law enforcement authorities as we have proof they were obtained through legal means,” he said.
In a statement issued on Nov. 2, Amnesty International said the raids and arrests represent an “escalation” in an ongoing crackdown against activist groups.
The group expressed concern that the allegations “undermine the peaceful exercise of the human rights of government critics, and have in numerous cases led to violent attacks, including killings.”
Amnesty International called on the Philippine government to investigate the threats of violence against government critics … as well as the violent attacks that have resulted from them.”