The Assert Socio Economic Initiatives Network of the Philippines (ASCENT) vehemently condemns the illegal arrest and detention of its Convenor and Senior Consultant Jeremy G. Ang and his staff Rita C. Espinoza by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).
ASCENT is a non-government organization advocating for economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) or the right to development. It was primarily established to campaign for the defense of socio-economic initiatives of people and its member NGOs, amidst the series of attacks against them by alleged state security forces. Among the programs of its member organizations include: humanitarian aid, sustainable agriculture, appropriate technology, cooperatives, schools for indigenous peoples, health services, and community-based disaster risk management. ASCENT also provides technical assistance in the conceptualization of socio-economic projects for people’s organizations.
ASCENT had assembled a team including Ang and Espinoza to provide assistance to NFSW in its campaign for higher wages and better working conditions for the sugar plantation workers. They were also able to identify, design, and plan productive and economic activities for the NFSW members. Knowing the importance of consultations and working with the affected sugar workers, the team stayed in an NFSW area in La Carlota, Negros Occidental for community discussions on current issues affecting sugar workers from October 14-15. Post consultation activities ensued up to October 17.
On October 19, at around 12:45pm, the ASCENT team stopped by Tingting’s Native Restaurant in Kabankalan to have their lunch. Upon leaving the restaurant Ang and Espinoza were forcibly boarded in separate vehicles, handcuffed and blindfolded by around 10 elements of the CIDG-PNP and ISAFP. Their companion, a development management consultant lost grip of Ang’s arm when one of the CIDG operatives pointed a gun on her face and ordered her to lie down on her stomach. All their personal belongings were also taken away from their vehicle.
Ang and Espinoza were not shown any warrant of arrest and their lawyer was not allowed to see them on the day that they were arrested and detained at the Police Regional Office-Negros Island Region at Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. in Bacolod City. Ang was then solitarily confined in a small cell while Espinoza was handcuffed inside a room.
On October 21, their lawyers, Atty. Cesar Biloria and Atty. Maria Sol Taule were able to confer with them for only 30 minutes. The CIDG did not give them copies of the alleged warrants of arrest claiming that they do not have these in their possession.
Both lawyers told the CIDG that they should be informed of the inquest proceedings. However, at about 4:00pm on that day, the victims were brought to Kabankalan for their inquest proceedings. And at about 11:00 pm, they were again moved out of Camp Montelibano. They were transferred to Camp Crame in Quezon City. All these were done without their lawyers’ knowledge.
According to Renmin Vizconde, spokesperson of ASCENT, “it is ironic that those who opt to help the poor and impoverished through consultative and participatory methods and are not limited to air conditioned offices are the ones whose rights are being blatantly being violated.”
Among the cases of attacks against development and humanitarian workers include the killings of Willem Geertman, Executive Director of Alay Bayan Luson (ABI-Luson); Emerito Samarca, Executive Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV); Romeo Capalla, Chairman of the Board of the Panay Fair Trade Center (PFTC); and numerous cases of harassment, vilification, threats, and red-tagging of the staff and projects of ASCENT’s member organizations.
In 2011, Rogina Quilop, who was then the Administrative Officer of the Center for People’s Resources and Services, an NGO based in Bacolod City, was also illegally arrested by the CIDG for an alleged arson case. She was incarcerated for more than 4 months before being released on bail, and the case was later dismissed.
“Jeremy Ang has been a staff of ASCENT since its establishment. Together with Espinoza, they have since been conducting consultations with our member organizations, in order to lend their expertise on the advancement of socio-economic projects in various regions. Their knowledge, skills, and years of experience on development work have become invaluable in our advocacy of promoting economic, social, and cultural rights.”, added Vizconde.
“Ang and Espinoza’s illegal arrest and continued detention at Camp Crame are blatant violations against their rights. We therefore call for their immediate release. The military and police must be held accountable for the human rights atrocities they continually commit against development workers and red-tagging of development projects!”, concluded Vizconde.