Urgent Appeal

Labor leader and human rights defender faces false charges

UA–120418-03   The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights is writing you to seek support for Ronald Ian Evidente, a labor leader and human rights defender and 29 other political activists who are now facing false charges of robbery of firearms in connection to an alleged raid of Sagay Aqua Venture Corporation (SAVECOR) by members of the New People’s Army (NPA). We ask your support to condemn this act of persecution and call for an end in rights violations of labor leaders and human rights defenders which remains a serious problem under the Aquino administration.   Case Summary On April 4, Ronald Ian Evidente, union organizer and Spokesperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno Negros has informed and sought CTUHR’s assistance following information that a warrant of arrest was issued against him on charges of robbery in band in connection with an alleged NPA rebels’ raid  of Sagay Aqua Venture Corporation , Sagay city, owned by the nephew of Negros Occidental Gov. Alfred Marañon.   Evidente only learned of the charges in April 3 when one of the accused, Christian Tuayon- secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Negros, was arrested in a rally in Bacolod City.  Evidente eluded the arrest with the help of workers and fellow activists and was forced into hiding while trying to get as much details of the case as he can. The charges and subsequent arrest warrant came as a surprise as Evidente and the 14 others did not receive a subpoena from the Regional Trial Court Judge Renato Muñez. There was no preliminary investigation either. Instead, the RTC issued an arrest warrant on January 20, 2012 and bail equivalent to Php 40,000 each of the accused for their temporary liberty.   Case documents gathered by KARAPATAN-Negros and CTUHR show a page and half case information and affidavits of supposed complainants. In a sworn statement of the private complainant, Mr. Arn V. Bellonio, he received a phone call in July 16, 2011 at around 10:09 pm from Ricardo Almecion, the fishpond technician,  telling him that “an undetermined number of armed men” broke into the fishpond and illegally took firearms (M16 rifle, shotgun, 22 caliber revolver, six (6) pieces magazine with ammunitions, two (2) M14 rifles and 12 pieces spare magazines with ammunitions) plus a radio transceiver all of which approximately cost a total of Php270,000.00.   In his sworn statement as witness, Ruel Bulanon, said that on his way to SAVECOR’s main building after feeding the shrimps, at 9:15 pm of July 16, 2011, he heard shouting near the storage room. Upon checking the place, he saw an “undertermined number of armed men” who were on their way to enter the tower. As he tried to stop them, he was made to lie face down the ground together with other workers until the men took the firearms and left. He immediately run to Almencion’s house who called up Belonio. In the police report, he only identified two perons Rogelio Dañoso aka Gido/Estong and Joefrel Along alias Dodong Pocky as among the group of men who raided the fishpond.   Saudi Quinto, also a worker at the fishpond, also issued an affidavit stating that at around 9:45 pm of July 16, 2011 he heard commotions at the ground level. Upon going down, he saw his co-worker being pointed at with a gun by three persons whom he did not identify. He tried to fight by grabbing an M16 rifle however, he was already surrounded by several other men. So he was subsequently held hostage together with two other co-workers until the men took the arms and other personal belongings of the watchmen with them.   A certain Freddie Sanchez who said that he was a former Squad Leader of New People’s Army, also issued an affidavit identifying 29 individuals including Ronald Ian Evidente aka Ramon as “behind the planning and implementation of the said raid of the Fish Farm of the Sarrosa Family at Sagay City.” He claimed the squad he led was “tasked to augment the squad of Ka Adoy, who will be in charge of implementing the plan…” and that the raid was set at 8 o’clock in the evening of July 16, 2011.   Sanchez also claimed that he was “required to be present” in the meetings and that on the very night of the raid his squad, coming from Escalante, stationed in the “outskirts of the [Sarrosa] property” because they were “assigned to serve as lockout just in case there are AFP or PNP personnel responding to the Fish Farm.”   Sanchez identified Ka Adoy’s (Hernando Llorente’s) squad as the principal group that executed the raid. He did not however identify the number of the squad members led by Adoy and the names of the other members of the squad.   Evidente, issued a statement on his Facebook account on April 5, and in several CTUHR interviews,  denying all the charges and reiterated that  he was busy organizing and assisting workers in Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, in Bacolod City who at the time were beset by issues of suspension ad termination.  He and the workers’ effort bore fruit as they became successful in clinching a collective bargaining agreement after arduous negotiations and concerted actions.   Tuayon posted bail couple of days after his arrest on April 3.  Evidente who was to sit in the signing of collective bargaining agreement on April 10  with the union in a hospital he has been assisting since 2009  missed the event and was able to post P15,000 bail through a surety bond only in April 13 for his temporary freedom.   Background Filing of fabricated criminal charges has been standing tactic of the state to harass, immobilize and persecute political activists and human rights defenders. This has been the subject of the International Labour Organization High Level Mission to the Philippines in 2009, where the Philippines was directed to ensure that trade unionists and labour rights activists are not hampered in their functions.  Despite the change in government and commitment to the ILO recommendations, this practice continues as part of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) or widely known as Oplan Bayanihan, the state’s counter insurgency program, that continue to malign legal organizations, trade union organizers and activists by grouping them with the rebels as one and the same.   It can be recalled that Evidente is not the only labor leader who had been subjected into this form of harassment. Labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr. of the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE) together with other activists was slapped with fabricated multiple murder and frustrated murder charges several times since 2008. The case however, was recently dismissed for lack of substance.   Being slapped with criminal charges is not new to Evidente. In 2004, when he was a nominee of the Anak ng Bayan Partylist (a youth Partylist group), he was also charged with murder under the regional trial court in Negros Oriental. He was detained for 15 days and was allowed to bail because of weak evidence. The case is still pending to date.   About Evidente Ronald Ian Evidente or Ian as he is known to his colleagues was a youth activists and morphed into a dedicated labor leader and human rights activist. As a Kilusang Mayo Uno Spokesperson in Negros, he has not only helped echo the issues of Negros workers from the local to the national level, he also organized workers’ union.   The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights has worked with Ian in many projects in the province. Ian assisted the organizing of Human Rights Documentation and Campaign Training and the Right to Food Workshop which were co-sponsored by the CTUHR, the Asian Human Rights Commission(AHRC-HK) and other local organizations in April and July 2010 respectively.   Ian was also CTUHR’s local partner and coordinator in the Visayan leg of the Psychosocial Workshop and Children’s Workshop to rehabilitate families of victims of extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations. The workshops were held on November 2010 as part of the European Union-funded project of CTUHR.     Suggested Action Please write letters to the authorities and Philippine Embassy in your countries asking them to:   1) Thoroughly investigate the case, and drop the criminal charges against Ronald Ian Evidente and other human rights defenders facing false charges.   2) End the persecution of labor leaders, human rights defenders and political activists.   3) Put an end to the state’s counter insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan, which is the culprit to all human rights violations against human rights defenders as it targets both armed and civilian groups.   Please send your letters to the following:   His Excellency Benigno Simeon Aquino III President Republic of the Philippines Malacanang Palace JP Laurel Street, San Miguel Manila 1005, Philippines Fax: +63 2 736 1010 Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80 E-mail: corres@op.gov.ph / opnet@ops.gov.ph   Hon. Loretta Ann P. Rosales Chairperson Commission on Human Rights SAAC Bldg., UP Complex Commonwealth Avenue Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines 928-5655, 926-6188 Telefax: 929-0102 Email:  chair.rosales.chr@gmail.com, lorettann@gmail.com   Ret. Lt. Gen. Voltaire T. Gazmin Secretary, Department of National Defense Room 301 DND Building, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, E. de los Santos Avenue, Quezon City Voice:+63(2) 911-9281 / 911-0488 Fax:+63(2) 911 6213 Email: osnd@philonline.com   Hon. Leila de Lima Secretary Department of Justice Padre Faura St. Malate, Manila, Philippines 1000 E-mail: soj@doj.gov.ph   Sincerely,         Center for Trade Union and Human Rights