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Thomasians, progressive youth groups welcome Lakbayan delegates

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Various minority groups under the banner of Sandugo march towards Mendiola to protest their rights to self-determination in this year’s Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya. Photo by Mark Darius Sulit/TomasinoWeb.

Various groups of indigenous peoples and cultural minorities trooped to Mendiola and Liwasang Bonifacio last Thursday, Aug. 31, for the third year of the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya.

Under the banner of Sandugo, the groups marched through the streets of Manila despite scattered rain showers to demand an end to the attacks on their communities and to lobby their right to self-determination

“Kami ay pagod, gutom, at pinipigilan sa aming pagpunta dito [sa Maynila],” said Windell Bolinget, leader of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), regarding their struggle.

Several students and progressive youth groups welcomed and joined the protest of more than 3,000 members of national minorities as contingents marched from Blumentritt and Vito Cruz before converging at Mendiola and Liwasang Bonifacio.

Progressive groups from the University led mainly by Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students and STAND join the mass mobilization at Mendiola. Photo by Audrey Janelle Fontilla/TomasinoWeb.

 

Progressive groups from the University joined the mass mobilization at Mendiola and led the Thomasian community in welcoming delegates from CPA along España.

They were joined by the UST Yellow Jackets, the Central Student Council (CSC), UST SIMBAHAYAN, various University student organizations, and progressive student groups from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in front of the Arch of the Centuries, where they held a short program.

Bolinget expressed gratitude for students that welcomed their delegation.

“Kapag may sumasalubong tulad ninyo at may maalab na pag-welcome sa amin, nakakatulong ‘yun para matagumpay naming maisulong [ang] Lakbayan 2017 para sa makatarungang kapayapaan at sariling pagpasya ng pambansang minorya,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

“We are happy at nagagalak na may kumikilos na kabataang estudyante sa loob ng University of Santo Tomas,” Bolinget added, “sana tuloy-tuloy ito.”

Windell Bolinget, leader of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), hopes that the satellite camp in the University will enlighten Thomasians on the plight and struggles of national minorities. Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo/TomasinoWeb.

 

The Igorot delegation will be hosted by the University in a satellite camp at the Central Seminary Gym from Sept. 11 to 21, where programs and discussions will be held as part of the month-long caravan.

University of the Philippines (UP) — Diliman will continue to host the Lakbayan main camp.

CSC Public Relations Officer Francis Santos said that the satellite camp will be enlightening for the Thomasian community.

“Para sa akin, malaking tulong ito para sa ating [mga] Tomasino para mamulat [tayo sa] kung ano ba talaga ‘yung sinisigaw ng pambansang minorya at kung bakit kinakailangan pa nilang pumunta dito sa Maynila,” Santos stated in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

CSC Secretary Therese Gorospe delivered a solidarity message on behalf of the Council in an earlier program.

Delegates from CPA hold a short program in front of the Arch of the Centuries. Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo/TomasinoWeb.

 

Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Jane Elago, who was present during the program, told TomasinoWeb that she was pleased with the welcome of the students.

“Nagagalak ang Kabataan [na] ang University of Santo Tomas ay nagbukas ng pintuan para salubungin ang pambansang minorya, partikular ang delegasyon ng Cordillera,” said Elago.

She added, “Malaking bagay na makita ng mga estudyante na meron tayong mga mamamayan na naglakbay pa nang malayo upang mapagtanggol [ang] kanilang isyu at kanilang panawagan for their right to self-determination and just peace.”

Student activist groups call for an end to martial law and intensified military aggression on Lumads in Mindanao. Photo by Audrey Janelle Fontilla/TomasinoWeb.

 

Nicolo Bongolan, Tanggulan Youth Network UST convenor, also called for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

According to Bongolan, indigenous peoples and minority groups are often red-tagged and harassed by the military for demanding and fighting for their rights.

“[The peace talks are] already part of [the minorities’] struggle for just and lasting peace because, in the first place, all the things they ask for are clearly stated: Land, [fair] salary, work, education and rights,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

However, Bongolan acknowledged that the hope of resuming the talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF “is low right now,” given that Mindanao is currently under martial law.

Nonetheless, Bongolan stressed that the peace talks are a necessity to end poverty in the country, which he deems as “the main root of our nation’s woes.”

A Lumad woman raises her fist to rally for Lumad schools which are consistently being red-tagged by the military. President Rodrigo Duterte has openly threatened to bomb Lumad schools. Photo by Mark Darius Sulit/TomasinoWeb.

 

Since 2015, national minority groups have conducted and organized the Lakbayan to protest the spate of harassment, killings, red-tagging and intensified militarization in their communities.

Last May, Lumad communities fled to camp in the UP International Center following President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao on May 23 and its subsequent extension until Dec. 31.

The said communities are planning to continue camping in UP beyond the Lakbayan due to intensified military and paramilitary threat in their areas, and threats of bombing Lumad schools coming from the President himself.

They expect to return to their communities by the end of the year, when martial law is expected to be lifted.— A. Ortega, with reports from P. Jamilla and T.D. Aquino

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DOJ reopens investigation on Atio’s hazing case

The Department of Justice reopened the investigation on the death of freshman law student Horacio Castillo III after the witness Marc Anthony Ventura submitted his affidavit.

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Photo grabbed from Horacio Castillo III's Facebook account.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) panel of prosecutors reopened the preliminary investigation on the death of hazing victim and UST freshman law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo III after suspect-turned-state witness Marc Anthony Ventura submitted his affidavit. 

The panel received Ventura’s affidavit last Jan. 3 and was not taken into consideration in the preliminary investigations of the case. The affidavit contained the names of Aegis Juris Fraternity members who executed the hazing rites on Castillo.

“In the interest of justice and in observance of due process, the Panel hereby motu propio reopens the preliminary investigation of these complaints in order to give them the opportunity to submit their countervailing evidence,” the order issued by the panel said.

Fratman John Paul Solano submitted an affidavit stating that the death of Atio was not due to hazing but instead of a pre-existing heart condition.

Ventura is the only fraternity member who has admitted participation in the hazing rites which Atio’s mother, Carmina, considers as a “breakthrough.”  

“As I understand they are already accepting the testimony of Ventura as part of the evidence, strengthening our case against the many respondents in our anti-hazing complaints,” Carmina said.

She added,“This breakthrough can definitely speed up the case when filed in the proper courts. They cannot deny the fact that a crime was committed and there is a vital witness to the crime.”

Carmina attended the hearing yesterday, Jan. 12.

Revelations

In his affidavit, Ventura said that he only participated in the rites when they were thumping Atio’s arm with a spatula to ease the swelling.

Ventura then revealed the members who hit Atio. They were Zach Abulencia, Daniel Ragos, Sam Cagalingan, Alex Cairo, Luis Kapulong, Edric Pilapil, and one unidentified member, who he couldn’t remember because the lights were turned off during that time.

In addition, Ventura said that the spatula round was composed of the same people with the addition of Miguel Salamat, Robin Ramos, Mhin Wei Chan, Oliver Onofre, Marcelino Bagtang, Hans Rodrigo, Ralph Trangia, Joriel Macabali, Grand Praefectus Arvin Balag, and Master Initiator Axel Hipe, and with the exemption of Kapulong.

The paddling, or the final stage of the hazing rites, was done by Hipe, Trangia, Balag, and an unidentified member whom Ventura cannot recall. According to Ventura, Atio went down on his knees after the third hit.

Atio was given time to rest before being hit by the unidentified member and Balag. Yet he already collapsed but was still making sounds as he was unable to speak.

Ventura said that Balag was the one who was giving orders, including the decision not to immediately bring Atio to the hospital.

Atio was already loaded inside Trangia’s truck, but he was taken back to the fraternity library where the medical technologist Solano tried to revive him.

After his testimonies, Ventura has been admitted to the Witness Protection Program run by the DOJ.

by Heather Marian Amoroso

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Student, youth groups condemn activist crackdown, Lumad food blockade in walkout protest

Progressive student groups marched to Mendiola to condemn the intimidation, harassment, and deaths of student-activists as well as the military food blockade and attacks on Lumad communities in Mindanao.

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Progressive groups from different schools and universities stage a walkout protest against the government’s crackdown on activists at España and Mendiola, Thursday, Dec. 7. Photo by Von Ozar/TomasinoWeb.

Militant youth and student groups once again stormed to Mendiola last Thursday, Dec. 7, to decry the government’s intensified crackdown on civilians and progressive groups, as well as other “fascist attacks” on the youth.

Unfazed by recent cases of intimidation and harassment of student activists, students walked out of their classes to stage local actions in their respective schools before gathering along España at noon.

“Kung nagkacrackdown si Duterte, dapat magkaisa ang kabataan,” urged John Paul Rosos, national spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students (LFS).

Last Tuesday, Dec. 5, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), as terrorist organizations due to the NPA’s recent skirmishes.

With it, he also threatened to arrest members of progressive groups — which he referred to as the CPP’s “legal fronts” — for terrorism and conspiracy.

The military had reportedly completed their list of targeted individuals and personalities, and were merely awaiting directives from the Malacañang to conduct the arrests.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Jane Elago retorted in a statement: “If anyone’s a terrorist here, it is the US-Duterte fascist dictatorship,” as she pointed at the spate of extrajudicial killings (EJK) and human rights violations committed by police and vigilante forces under the government’s vicious war on drugs.

Elago continued that the government’s attacks on progressive groups would be “the new drug war,” warning the public to “expect not just activists but [also] civilians to be affected and victimized.”

“Justice for all the victims of extrajudicial killings!” reads a placard from Anakbayan. Photo by Kennelf Monteza/TomasinoWeb.

Harassment, intimidation, red-tagging

Over the past few months, progressive groups from different schools and universities have reported cases of harassment and intimidation of their members and leaders.

Last Sept. 28, a member of Anakbayan — Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) was attacked and robbed by suspected military agents just outside the PUP campus.

Meanwhile, Tanggulan Youth Network— Vito Cruz reported last October that two policemen in plainclothes visited the house of one of its conveners to inform the convener’s parents that their child was under surveillance.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines had also denounced the red-tagging of its member publications in Bicol, which are allegedly being included in the “watchlist” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

However, a few days after the declaration of the CPP-NPA as terrorist groups, National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) National Spokesperson Mark Vincent Lim stated they began receiving “numerous reports of harassment towards student leaders.”

Last Dec. 4, Monday, a senior high school member of LFS-UST received a death through a phone call. The same number also sent threats to a member of poetry collective KM64 (READ: Militant student group decries death threat on SHS student amid activist crackdown).

Lim also slammed the recent death threats and harassment of the chairperson of Anakbayan — UP Diliman and the chairperson of the UP Manila College of Arts and Sciences Student Council.

Lumad student Beverly Gofredo condemns the ongoing military food blockade and intensified attacks on Lumad communities. Photo by Mark Darius Sulit/TomasinoWeb.

Lumad schools, food blockade

Meanwhile, Lumad student Beverly Gofredo said the resumption of intensified counterinsurgency operations in their communities were merely excuses by the military to drive the Lumad away from their ancestral lands.

“[K]ung nasaan ang presensya ng malalaking kumpanya ng mina, nandoon din ang presensya ng Armed Forces of the Philippines dahil sila ang protektor at nagseserbisyo hindi sa mga mamamayang Pilipino kundi sa mga malalaking kumpanya ng minang [nandoon] sa Mindanao,” Gofredo said.

Lumad schools — along with its students and teachers — have been persistently tagged by the AFP as “training grounds of the NPA” and their communities have been accused of harboring communists.

However, Gofredo denounced these tags as attempts to justify the military attacks and atrocities on their schools and communities.

“Winawalan nila kami ng karapatan na makapag-aral. Wala na ngang ibinigay ang gobyerno ni piso sa mga eskwelahang Lumad, pinapatuloy pa ang pang-aatake dito,” she exclaimed.

Last Sunday, Dec. 3, militant human rights group Karapatan reported the killing of eight Lumad farmers in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, allegedly by military forces. Gofredo, along with the activist groups, decried the killings.

They also condemned the reported food blockade on 345 displaced Lumad families that were forced to relocated to an evacuation center in Lianga, Surgiao del Sur due to the counterinsurgency operations.

Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) said military checkpoints were restricting the entry of food and relief goods being sent by non-government organizations and civil society groups to the families in the evacuation center.

The families were also barred by the military from returning to their communities, according to ALCADEV. AFP Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, however, denied the military food blockade.

Protesters carry a bloodied portrait of Duterte. Photo by Kennelf Monteza/TomasinoWeb.

Youth wasting time on ideology

While the protest was being conducted, Duterte mocked the progressive youth groups in a speech before a food festival in Pampanga, saying they were offering their lives and dying for “useless ideologues.”

“Mga bata, nagpakamatay for the belief, for the ideals, for the ideologues na wala naman talagang macontribute,” Duterte said.

His remarks came in the midst of the death of student activists from UP and PUP, who were killed in a military clash in Nasugbu, Batangas last Nov. 28, five days after the government terminated the peace talks with the CPP-NPA.

The AFP tagged all 15 casualties in the Nasugbu clash — including the students — as members of the NPA, based, supposedly, on the high-power firearms recovered from their personal belongings.

However, Youth Act Now Against Tyranny Convenor Raoul Manuel lambasted these claims during the protest as futile attempts by Duterte and the AFP to further accuse activists of “terrorism” and justify his crackdown.

“[K]ahit na bansagan na mga terorista itong mga kabataang ito na wala naman palang mga armas at ang tanging armas ay paninidigian at mga placard, hindi kami natatakot na ipagtuloy ang paglaban para sa ating mga karapatan,” Manuel said.

Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo also slammed the President’s remarks in a statement posted Dec. 8, saying: “As always, our hope lies in the idealism and activism of the youth who, open to new ideas and filled with optimism for a better future, are willing to serve the people and fight injustice even it means risking their very lives.”

Crisostomo also warned the President that “[his] repression will only compel more and more Filipino youth to join the Filipino people in struggling against his tyrannical and terrorist regime.”

As of Dec. 3, Karapatan had recorded 25 alleged EJK cases related to various counterinsurgency operations in the country during Duterte’s first year as president.

The group is now looking into the case of the Lake Sebu killings as well as the deaths of pastor Lovelito Quiñones, who was killed by military forces in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro last Sunday, and activist-priest Marcelito Paez, who was shot down by unknown assailants in Jaen, Nueva Ecija last Monday.

With the proposed extension of martial law in Mindanao and the recent declaration of the CPP-NPA as terrorists groups, Karapatan expects the numbers to rise.— P.J.

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Transport group cancels two-day strike, promises bigger strike in January

PISTON will instead conduct a transport caravan on Dec. 4 and march with other militant groups from Welcome Rotonda to Mendiola.

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PISTON led a nationwide transport strike last Oct. 16 and 17 in protest of the jeepney modernization program, prompting Malacañang to suspend classes and government work nationwide.Photo by Genelaine Urbano/TomasinoWeb.

Transport groups Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) and No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition called off their strike set tomorrow, Dec. 4 and on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

In a press briefing earlier today, Dec. 3, PISTON National President George San Mateo stated that they decided to cancel the strike “nang sa gayon [ay] mabigyan din, maharap namin yung public hearing sa December 7.”

Yesterday, Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services, appealed for the group to cancel the strike, vowing to file a resolution tomorrow to call for the said hearing on Thursday for concerned parties to discuss the proposed jeepney modernization program.

“I understand that certain issues in the modernization program still need to be carefully studied and threshed out with the concerned government agencies. We hope this can be done during the committee hearing,” Poe said.

In a statement released today, the senator welcomed the group’s decision, saying: “Issues can be better discussed and resolved when sobriety and judiciousness are exercised, in pursuit of the highest public good.”

Despite Thursday’s hearing, San Mateo still hopes that the modernization program will not push through, claiming “Ito ay isang malaking marketing program [ng] mga mamahaling sasakyan na nais nilang ipilit sa ‘tin.”

PISTON will instead conduct a transport caravan to UST tomorrow and march with other militant groups from UST to Mendiola, where they will hold a vigil in preparation for Thursday’s hearing.

San Mateo also promised that PISTON and No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition will stage a bigger transport strike January next year, in time for the government’s rollout of modernized jeepneys.

Nonetheless, the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) will continue to monitor PISTON’s terminals and routes tomorrow morning.

“We will not rely on the [press conference]. We cannot afford surprises for the riding public,” LTFRB board member Atty. Aileen Lizada said.

The groups recently led a nationwide transport strike last Oct. 16 and 17 in protest of the jeepney modernization program, prompting the Malacañang to suspend classes and government work nationwide on both days.

The proposed jeepney modernization program aims to phase out 15-year old units and replace them with “more convenient, more comfortable, and environment-friendly” units, according to the Department of Transportation.

Changes in the public transport franchising system, routes, and training for drivers are also eyed by the program.

Nonetheless, several transport groups have slammed the program as “anti-poor,” saying that drivers cannot afford the costly price tag of the new units, and that the program will lead to loss of jobs for drivers and operators, as well as higher fares for commuters.

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