A Cordillera case study: Criminalization of political offenses and bounty hunting


BAGUIO CITY — Grayson Naogsan, the son of the revolutionary Cordillera People’s Democratic Front (CPDF) spokesman Engineer ‘Ka Filiw’ Naogsan, had recently gained his freedom this August after incarceration for nearly three years in the jails of Ifugao, Abra and Mountain Province.

CONTINUING DEMAND. Various groups and advocates demand the immediate and unconditional release of political detainees all over the country. Photo by Noel Godinez
CONTINUING DEMAND. Various groups and advocates demand the immediate and unconditional release of political detainees all over the country. Photo by Noel Godinez
Accused of allegedly being a member of the New People’s Army, he was charged for six counts of murder at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Ifugao, eight counts of murder in the RTC of Bontoc, and a rebellion case in the RTC of Abra.

It was still fresh in his mind he said, when he was arrested on November 5, 2012 at a mall in Baguio City by the intelligence unit of the Police Regional Office of the Cordillera (PROCor), he was brought, to the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Manila and presented, in a press conference, as a top ranking member of the NPA Cordillera.

He was then brought by the PNP to Bontoc, Mountain Province on November 7, 2012 where he was allegedly charged for eight counts of murder. The judge, however, did not have him committed as the warrant identified the person as Jason Naogsan. Unknown to him, the police had already been working for the change of the name from Jason to Grayson in the warrant, and that same day, Grayson was brought by the police to the Ifugao provincial jail in Lagawe.

For one year and seven months in the Ifugao jail, he experienced mental and psychological torture, an experience that he will never forget throughout his lifetime, he said in an interview. He did not have problems with visits that he was entitled to from his family, friends and lawyer. His lawyer, a prominent human rights defender Atty. Rene Cortes worked on his cases, and all were dismissed in June 2014.

On June 17, 2014, he was transferred to the Abra provincial jail in Bangued to face a rebellion case initiated by the military against him. Unlike in the Ifugao jail where he was segregated from common criminals, he was with common criminals in the Abra jail. And like rubbing salt to injury, he received lesser visits as Abra is far from his family and friends in Baguio City and in the Mountain Province. With his top caliber lawyer, his rebellion case was dismissed in May 2015.

In June, he was transferred to Bontoc, Mountain Province to face the charges against him – eight counts of murder. He felt better here. The jail is now more accessible to his family, relatives and friends who visited him more often and regularly. These visits helped him overcome psychological and emotional stress. As all the cases were diligently attended to by Bontoc lawyer Max Dalog Jr., all charges were dismissed on August 11 and Grayson was freed.

Other alleged NPA arrested had common experiences with that of Grayson.

Accused by state agents as a top ranking NPA commander, Corsio Galema, a.k.a. Tuy-ob was arrested for various criminal cases slapped against him in the courts of the Mountain Province, Abra and in Ilocos Sur. He was charged at the Bontoc RTC Branches 35 and 36 for rebellion, and at Branch 35 for eight criminal cases. All the said cases were however dismissed.

After Bontoc, he was brought to Abra jail to face charges for rebellion, two counts of murder, and two counts of frustrated murder at the RTC Branch 58 in Bucay (Abra). All the cases filed against him were dismissed; the last ones were two counts of frustrated murder which were dismissed on June 15.

Ironically, he was supposed to have already left the Abra jail. But there were more cases filed against him in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. It was learned that prior to the dismissal of his cases in Abra, he was charged with three counts of murder and an attempted murder and frustrated murder at RTC Branch 25 in Tagudin. His sole lawyer on all his cases was Atty. Bart Baldas. Galema was freed in August this year.

Even senior citizens are not spared from this military tactic of fabricating charges. Eduardo Esteban was charged with two counts of murder (including the murder of Fr. Conrado Balweg), and two frustrated murders at the RTC Branch 58 in Bucay, Abra. The warrant of arrest used to pick him up was named to and Esteban Manuel. All of these cases were eventually dismissed.

Esteban is a cancer survivor from Iloilo who has never set foot in the Cordillera or Ilocos regions until his arrest and incarceration.

Still incarcerated, he is presently facing another murder case, robbery case and arson case at the Branch 71 in Candon, Ilocos Sur; murder case, frustrated murder case, and rebellion case at Branch 25 in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur; and, murder and frustrated murder at the Branch 36 in Bontoc, Mountain Province.

National Democratic front in the Philippines (NDFP) panel consultant Kennedy Bangibang, an NDFP consultant on Cordillera Indigenous Issues was arrested and is now facing seven criminal cases, mostly murder and robbery, in various courts.

He was also brought to the Baguio City Jail then brought back to where he is presently, in the provincial jail in Tabuk City, Kalinga.

Church personalities are not exempted from trumped up cases. Pastor Francisco Bonuan of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) was charged for criminal cases, with genesis handiwork of alleged NPAs as claimed by the military. He was not jailed after the courts allowed him to post bail. As the charges were unbelievable, these were later dismissed and the courts ordered the refund of his bail payment.

The above mentioned cases are concrete examples that show the military and police criminalize political offenses. Instead of filing rebellion cases, which is the doctrine established by the Philippine Court, they charge their targets with criminal cases while accusing them of being members of the NPA and then lock them up in various jails. If not for dedicated human rights lawyers, these poor victims would be made to rot in jail.

Moreover, the military and police go on filing trumped-up cases against anybody. In most of the charge sheets in court filed by state security forces are John Does and Jane Does, that could just be anybody. This was what happened to Esteban.

The military would label anyone as a top ranking NPA cadre with millions of pesos of reward money; arrest them and collect the reward from the government under the guise of being informants whose identities could not be divulged.

In the case of Esteban, the alleged top ranking NPA named in the original charge sheet was Esteban Manuel with a more than P5M bounty for his arrest. But the military insisted that he is the same person as Eduardo Esteban. Jason Naogsan had a bounty of P3.2M.

The filing of fabricated criminal cases against anybody and accuse them to be top ranking NPAs has become an institutionalized bounty hunting practice among state agents. This is a gross human rights violation. # nordis.net


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