(UPDATED) Seven persons who claimed to be human rights workers and volunteers have been arrested for illegal possession of firearms and explosives by police and military authorities conducting a checkpoint in Puerto Princesa City late Friday night along the national road in Barangay San Jose.
Four of the arrested have been identified as Ronces Paraguso and Glendhyl Malabanan of Karapatan, an alliance for the advancement of people’s rights; Domingo Ritas, alias Ka Tino, alleged ranking rebel leader and deputy secretary of the Sub-Regional Military Area (SRMA) 4E or Bienvenido Vallever Command (BVC), and a certain Ka Helen, believed to be the wife of another BVC leader, Vincent Lozada Libuna, alias Ka Allan Libuna, Ka Allan Lozada, and Ka Peter.
The identities of the three other male suspects are still being verified as of press time, but a police spot report signed by P/Maj. Lorence Battaler of PPCPO Station 1 has named them by their aliases Ka Tangkad, Ka Bata, and Ka Gitna.
They were stopped at a checkpoint at Km. 6, North National Highway at 11:00 p.m. in San Jose by joint operatives and personnel of the City Mobile Force Company (CMFC) of the Puerto Princesa City Police Office (PPCPO), Provincial Intelligence Branch (PIB) of the Palawan Provincial Police Office (PPO), and Joint Intelligence Task Group West (JITG West) of the 3rd Marine Brigade under the Western Command (WESCOM).
CFMC commander P/Maj. Mhardie Azares said their operation against the suspected rebels was based on information shared with them by the military.
“Naka-receive kami ng information from the military, ‘yong JITG West na ‘yon nga — allegedly may isang wanted na NPA na nakasakay onboard sa isang van na may mga kasamang iba pa na nagbibiyahe galing San Vicente papunta ng south. With that, nag-initiate kaagad kami ng joint checkpoint para ma-intercept namin sila,” Azares said.
Azares said the group was supposed to travel to southern Palawan from Barangay Caruray, San Vicente aboard a white public transport van they privately rented for P10,000.
He said Ritas has a standing arrest warrant for the murder of a policeman who was part of a group that was ambushed in northern Palawan.
“Mula sa ating informant, na-pinpoint ngayon ‘yong may arrest warrant [si Ritas] kaya in-effect na namin ‘yong arrest,” Azares said.
“Based on combined intelligence reports, ‘yon nga may armas nga, may explosive materials kaya nag-conduct tayo ng search with the presence of the barangay officials and the media at ‘yon nga may mga na-recover tayong mga subversive documents,” he added.
The joint team recovered from their possession several Macbook laptops with one hidden under the seat of the van; communication gadgets; electric blasting caps; rifle, hand, and MK2 grenades; military and police uniforms; NPA and National Democratic Front (NDF) uniforms and other gears; banners and communist flags, assorted medicines and food items; subversive documents, and a caliber 9mm pistol with two magazines loaded with live ammunition.
Azares said they also discovered among the suspected rebels’ items some sketches and maps of the Anilawan detachment in Brgy. Babuyan of the city mobile force.
“Nakakabahala rin dahil ‘yong isa nating kampo doon sa Anilawan sa Brgy. Babuyan ay namapa na nila, na-sketch na nila. May kampo tayo doon ng mobile force at may mga sketch na sila ng layout kaya maganda rin na na-intercept natin at ma-prevent ‘yong possible harassment o raid ng kampo,” he said.
Azares said the possible cases that will be filed against them are illegal possession of firearms and explosives under the “Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act” or Republic Act 10591.
Not NPA members, only human rights workers
During their arrest, Malabanan denied they were members of the NPA, claiming they are with Karapatan people’s alliance in Southern Tagalog (ST).
Malabanan introduced herself as a regional staff of Karapatan ST who is based in Manila but is in Palawan to investigate alleged human rights abuses.
“Galing kaming Taytay for investigation pero anong ginagawa nila? Tumawag na sila ng media — this is a violation of our rights. Dalawang beses kaming tsinekpoint tapos hinahanap namin ang aming mga gamit. Hindi nila alam ang comprehensive agreement, respect for human rights, and international humanitarian law. We are human rights workers. I am a human rights worker that’s why I know my rights,” Malabanan said.
Malabanan said the police and the military who arrested them since 8:30 p.m. on October 4 have violated their human rights and their volunteers by detaining them without any valid reason or warrants of arrest.
Paraguso, on the other hand, accused the police of pointing guns at them at 8:30 p.m., the time she claimed they were first held at a checkpoint she did not say where.
“Hindi makatao ang ginagawa ng City PNP dito sa Puerto Princesa — 8:30 p.m. tinutukan kami ng baril, mga human rights workers kami. Kanina pa kami, hindi kami pinakain,” Paraguso said.
Paraguso and Malabanan alleged that after their first checkpoint, they were brought by the police to the PPCPO headquarters in Brgy. San Pedro. However, upon getting there, the police turned their “lights off”, and rode around with them.
Paraguso said they have been held for already more than four hours by the police and the military.
“Pababain kayo (sila) ulit para i-present ‘yong ebidensya niyo kunwari. Wala silang nakitang ebidensya sa amin. Kailangan namin ng abogado,” she said.
Ka Helen, when asked by the media, denied that she is the wife of Ka Allan, who is believed to be one of the top leaders of the BVC in the province.
“Ako? Hindi. Human rights worker ako kasama nila,” she said.
Ritas, when asked for any statement, also declined. He said he will only talk in the presence of a lawyer.
“Magsasalita na lang ako kapag may abogado na,” Ritas said.
As of press time, the group has been brought to the PPCPO Station 1 near the People’s Amphitheater in Mendoza Park for the documentation process.
This is a developing story.