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Senate passes new anti-hazing bill

Senate Bill No. 1662, which seeks to amend the Anti-Hazing Law by strengthening existing measures and regulating other forms of initiation rites, was approved with 19 affirmative votes on Monday.

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Photo courtesy of Joseph Vida/Senate PRIB.

The Senate approved on Monday on the third and final reading a bill prohibiting hazing as a prerequisite for admission into a fraternity, sorority, or organization.

Senate Bill No. 1662, which seeks to amend Republic Act No. 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995 by strengthening the existing measures and regulating other forms of initiation rites, was approved with 19 affirmative votes, no negative votes and no abstentions.

The bill defined hazing as “any physical or psychological suffering, harm or injury inflicted on a recruit, member, neophyte, or applicant for admission or continuing membership into the fraternity, sorority or organization.”

The existing law permits hazing during an initiation rite, provided that there is a written notice addressed to the school a week before the activity.

The House approved a counterpart bill on Jan. 22.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who sponsored the bill as chair of the Senate public order committee, said the amendments would now require organizations to submit an application to school authorities, with the initiation rites outlined seven days prior to the scheduled date.

School authorities should then supervise and report that no hazing was conducted in the initiation rites.

The bill penalizes with reclusion temporal or a fine of P1 million the officers and members of a fraternity, sorority, or organization who would participate in hazing rites.

The school would be held accountable and be fined P1 million if its officials failed to prevent hazing.

Lacson added that aside from rites in schools, the measure will also cover hazing activities in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Philippine Military Academy, and Philippine National Police Academy.

The filing of the bill was prompted by the fatal hazing case of freshman law student Horacio Castillo III during the  initiation rites of the Aegis Juris Fraternity September last year.C.N. Dumaua

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Media groups protest attacks on press freedom

During the Black Friday for Press Freedom protest, journalists were on the other side of the story.

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Photo by Alecsandra Go/TomasinoWeb.

Journalists were on the other side of the story last Friday as they gathered at the Boy Scouts Circle in Quezon City to protest the state-sanctioned closure of online news site Rappler.

Around 350 veteran journalists, media practitioners, and members of the campus press and the academe took to the streets wearing black shirts and ribbons for the Black Friday for Press Freedom protest, as they decried the government’s actions on Rappler as a major blow in a series of attacks on the press under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We’re just journalists, and yet there is a lot of effort being put to turn journalism into a crime. There’s certainly many more crimes for the government to look at,” Rappler Chief Executive Officer Maria Ressa said during the protest.

Last Jan. 11, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the online news site’s license to operate due to alleged evasion of constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of mass media entities.

The SEC said an internal probe was done as early as December 2016 when it received a complaint from the Office of the Solicitor General when Rappler Holdings, Inc., the online news site’s parent company, issued depositary receipts for shares that were sold to Omidyar Network, a foreign investment firm.

Rappler dismissed the SEC ruling, saying that they maintain editorial independence and that the investment did not give investors a say on editorial matters.

The National Bureau of Investigation also summoned Ressa over a cybercrime libel complaint for an article written in 2012.  Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II stated that the Department of Justice would also look into other laws that the online news site might have violated.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and media alliance Let’s Integrate for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) condemned these actions as blatant attempts to stifle critical coverage of the government’s brutal crackdown on illegal drugs.

“Ang trabaho ng media ay magkwento ng katotohanan. Hindi kasalanan ng media kung ang katotohanan para kay Duterte ay masama […] Ito ang dahilan kung bakit kinikitil ang Rappler,” said LODI’s Tonyo Cruz, a blogger and columnist for the Manila Bulletin.

Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) also reminded that “Ang press freedom po, dito po nakasandig ang ating people’s right to know.”

Ressa was unfazed with the threats, however, saying that would continue to work and that they would not stop challenging the SEC’s decision.

“We will hold the line. We’re doing journalism. We’re speaking truth to power. We are not afraid and we won’t be intimidated.”

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The SEC said Rappler is still free to continue its operations within 15 days while its decision is not yet final and executory

 

Martial law déjà vu

Rappler has been consistently attacked by Duterte’s supporters and even by the President himself.

During his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) July last year, Duterte accused Rappler of being “fully owned by Americans.” In the same address, he also blasted other major media outlets such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and broadcasting company ABS-CBN for supposed biased reportage.

Duterte had also expressed intentions of blocking ABS-CBN’s application for franchise renewal as well as threatening to expose the Inquirer’s owners, the Prieto-Rufino families, for alleged unpaid taxes. Two weeks after the SONA, the Prietos sold their shares to business tycoon Ramon Ang, a known close associate of Duterte.

Lawyer Melencio Santa Maria slammed Duterte’s open attacks on the media, which he said was a “déjà vu” of the martial law era. Martial law victim and director Joel Lamangan expressed similar sentiments during the protest.

“Ako po ay biktima ng martial law at nalulungkot ako na hanggang ngayon, [kalayaan] ang ipinaglalaban,” Lamangan said.

College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) National President Jon Callueng likewise recalled the era, saying “Ang pag-atake sa mga mamamahayag ay pag-atake sa demokrasyang ipinaglaban ng kapwa natin mamamahayag noong martial law.”

In a protest in Mendiola led by CEGP Wednesday last week, Callueng also urged student journalists to remember CEGP alumna Liliosa Hilao, the first martial law political prisoner to die in detention.

Hilao was an activist and the associate editor of Hasik, the student publication of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, when she was arrested by elements of the Philippine Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit in 1973.

In their year-end report, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders declared the Philippines the “deadliest country” in Asia for journalists after recording four journalist killings in 2017.

NUJP, PCIJ, and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility recorded the killings of six journalists in the first 16 months of Duterte’s term, along with eight attempted murders and death threats, and six major cases of threats from local officials and pro-administration bloggers.

Duterte claimed last May that journalists were killed for being corrupt.

CEGP also condemned in a statement the red-tagging of alternative media reporters and even campus publications, which they deemed as signs of “Duterte’s looming dictatorship.”—A. Ortega, P. Jamilla

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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.

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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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