Release 5 farmers accused of plotting Arroyo ouster–Beltran
They’re ‘illegally arrested, unlawfully detained’
CAMP VICENTE LIM, Laguna — Citing their victory from the landmark case they had filed before the Supreme Court, a militant congressman on Tuesday said the five Tagaytay farmers arrested for their supposed role in a plot to topple the Arroyo administration should be released from prison immediately.
Anakpawis Representative Crispin Beltran said the rebellion case filed by the Calabarzon police against the so-called “Tagaytay 5” was principally the same charges filed against members of the “Batasan 6” or the six militant congressmen who had been charged for allegedly planning to oust President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in February last year.
The five farmers — Riel Custodio, Michael Masayes, Aris Sarmiento, Axel Pinpin and Rico Ybañez — were held incommunicado for almost a week after they were arrested by the intelligence units of the Cavite police and the Philippine Navy last April 28, 2006.
Their captors alleged that Sarmiento was the leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in the province and that the five were part of the conspiracy of the Leftist and Rightist elements to unseat the President. The five have vehemently denied the allegations.
“Frankly speaking, the ‘Tagaytay 5’ has been illegally arrested and unlawfully detained,” Beltran told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of the INQUIRER.net.
He argued that since the SC justices decreed that the criminal complaints filed against them by the government were politically motivated, it was just proper for the judge hearing the case of the five farmers to dismiss the charge.
The labor leader-turned-lawmaker noted that the circumstances regarding his hospital arrest and the detention of the farmers had both been based on the same military claims that leaders of the progressive Left were talking with some Rightist soldiers to bring down the President.
“Practically, the case that the ‘Tagaytay 5’ is facing is the same rebellion case charged against us. In fact, they were arrested only two months after the government ordered our detention,” Beltran said in Filipino.
He added: “When the high court ruled that the case against us was just meant to harass the perceived political opponents of the administration, it follows that the accusations against the ‘Tagaytay 5’ is nothing but political repression also.”
Together with his staff, Beltran made a surprise visit to the cramped detention cell of the five farmers inside this camp.
Beltran, who was released from his 16-month hospital arrest at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City two weeks ago, said his visit was for his fellow militant lawmakers who attended the conference on extrajudicial killings convened by Chief Justice Reynato Puno.
Still reeling from his ordeal during his hospital detention, Beltran said he planned to visit the Anakpawis chapters and political prisoners all over the Southern Tagalog region, which has the highest number of documented killings and enforced disappearances of political activists since Ms. Arroyo rose to power in 2001.
The veteran activist chatted with the detainees just outside the prison cell as the farmers were not allowed to stay out of the jail during the visit.
“In my own way, I want to bring hope to my fellow political detainees who suffer injustices from this callous government. I want to tell them that there’s still light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
He said although his situation inside the hospital was much better than the prison conditions that the five farmers were experiencing, “the pain and the agony [of being detained] were no different.”
Turning to Sarmiento, Beltran jokingly said: “Ako nga tumagal ng halos isa’t kalahating taon sa hospital arrest, kayo isang taon mahigit pa lang. Kakayanin n’yo pa yan [I was able to last being under hospital arrest for almost a year and a half; you have been detained for only a year. You’ll survive].”
Meanwhile, Pinpin asked the high court to review the cases filed against the so-called political prisoners languishing in inhuman prison cells all over the country.
Pinpin also asked Puno to evaluate the performances of judges who have been remiss in their responsibility to deliver swift justice and act with fairness on complaints filed against activists.
“Sadly, some of the judges connive with the military and the police to delay the hearings of the cases of activists just to prolong their unlawful detention,” he alleged.