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Kin find activist tortured in Army camp in Cagayan province

by Pesante-USA Friday, Sep. 25, 2009 at 7:36 AM
magsasakapil@hotmail.com 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

Pesante-USA , an environmental and a human rights advocacy group based in Los Angeles learned today through news sources in Manila that relatives and friends of a youth activist who was reported missing for more than a week. They found him in a military camp in Cagayan province, allegedly beaten and tortured into admitting that he was a communist rebel. Noriel Rodriguez, 26, a member of the militant youth group Anakbayan, was held for 10 days in various camps of the Army’s 17th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Masin in Alcala town in Cagayan, according to the Tanggulan Youth Network for Human Rights and Civil Liberties.

Pesante News

Sept. 24, 2009

Kin find activist tortured in Army camp in Cagayan province



MANILA, Philippines—Pesante-USA , an environmental and a human rights advocacy group based in Los Angeles learned today through news sources in Manila that relatives and friends of a youth activist who was reported missing for more than a week.

They found him in a military camp in Cagayan province, allegedly beaten and tortured into admitting that he was a communist rebel. Noriel Rodriguez, 26, a member of the militant youth group Anakbayan, was held for 10 days in various camps of the Army’s 17th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Masin in Alcala town in Cagayan, according to the Tanggulan Youth Network for Human Rights and Civil Liberties.

The group said in a press statement Wednesday that Rodriguez had been found alive but suffered from torture on Sept. 17.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., Armed Forces spokesperson, denied the allegation, saying it was the young man who asked for the help of the military.

In explaining the delay in announcing the release of Rodriguez, Cristina Guevarra, Tanggulan spokesperson, told the Inquirer that “ample time was spent by the family in talking to their lawyer, drafting their affidavits and planning what actions are to be taken.”

The group also sought “psychological help” for Rodriguez because he appeared to be traumatized, Guevarra said.

Abducted

Rodriguez, described by his colleagues as an activist and peasant organizer, was reported to have been abducted at gunpoint by armed men on Sept. 6 in Gonzaga town in Cagayan.

His family went to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Sept. 17 and were told by its investigator, Anton Cruz, that Rodriguez was alive and being detained at the 17th IB camp, Guevarra said.

Accompanied by four CHR staff members, the family went to the camp and was met by a certain Lieutenant Colonel Mina, she said. The officer told the group that Rodriguez was a New People’s Army (NPA) member who had surrendered to the military.

After the brief conversation, Guevarra said, the military “presented Noriel.”

Rodriguez “was scared that the [NPA] might do him harm for breaking away from the group so the military protected him,” Brawner quoted Mina as saying.

When allegations started to spread that Rodriguez was abducted by military agents, Mina decided to hand him over to his mother with the assistance of the CHR, Brawner said.

Excerpts from affidavit

The Tanggulan statement cited excerpts from Rodriguez’s affidavit in which he recounted his ordeal in the hands of soldiers who forced him to admit that he was a communist rebel.

“They wanted to put my fingerprint on a piece of paper that said I was a surrenderee. When I refused, they hung me. A soldier tied a yellow nylon rope around my neck and pulled it up, while another held me at the back and my torso down,” Rodriguez was quoted as saying in Filipino.

In another instance, Rodriguez said he saw at least four soldiers despite being blindfolded and, for 30 minutes, someone blew air into his left ear using a straw while his right ear and mouth were covered.

Inside a vehicle, Rodriguez said someone cocked a .45 cal. pistol at the back of his head when he refused to answer questions. The person with the gun threatened to kill him and his family, he said.

Rodriguez said he was beaten up heavily inside the vehicle. For a whole day, Rodriguez said, he was kicked and beaten. Two men angrily punched him because he supposedly gave the soldiers a hard time.

“They forced me to tell them where an NPA camp was. They repeatedly punched me on my side, my jaw, and they also repeatedly kicked me,” Rodriguez was quoted as saying in Filipino.

Military ‘asset’

A document that soldiers wanted him to sign indicated that he was a communist insurgent who took part in an encounter with the military in Cumao and that the soldiers did not shoot him because he was their “asset,” Rodriguez said.

He said he signed the paper because the soldiers beat him up for an hour. Guevarra told the Inquirer that a day after he was released, Rodriguez and his family returned to Manila accompanied by the CHR and a military unit led by one Colonel Matutina.

She said an unidentified man in the group gave Rodriguez a SIM card and a mobile phone. The same way they did to an American activist Melissa Roxas last May 2009.

“They said they gave him a phone so they can contact him in the future to work for them which is what they were claiming right from the start, that Noriel surrendered and was their asset,” Guevarra said.

Rodriguez, she said, threw away the SIM card but kept the phone.

“At first, the family was quite relieved that Noriel is already with them, yet they continue to fear for their safety. Please note that the military actually accompanied them all the way to their house in Manila,” Guevarra said.

Two soldiers also took pictures of the Rodriguezes’ house and even the framed photographs of the activist’s cousins.

“They left 30 minutes after surveying the house,” Guevarra said.

Conspiracy theory

In the statement, Tanggulan denounced what it said was the conspiracy between the CHR and the Army in claiming that Rodriguez had surrendered to the military.

The CHR office in Cagayan Valley declared the case “closed” after Rodriguez was turned over to his family, it said.

“How can the case be closed if Rodriguez was tortured and threatened of his life while being in the military camp? It was an outright complacency on the part of the CHR not to conduct an investigation,” Guevarra said.

CHR Chair Leila de Lima said that the human rights watchdog was investigating Rodriguez’s case and denied that it was colluding with the military.

“May I just assure the public that CHR can never be a party to any conspiracy to conceal the truth in matter under its investigative mandate. Ours is a very sensitive and crucial mission which we try to fulfill with utmost fidelity to our constitutional mandate,” De Lima told the Inquirer.

Tanggulan expressed fear that the CHR had already “whitewashed” the case because it was “conniving with the Army in claiming that Rodriguez is a surrenderee.” “It turns out that the CHR was already aware of Rodriguez’s case even before the team went to its regional office,” Guevarra said.

She said Rodriguez’s brother recounted that CHR officials made the activist sign an “affidavit that he sought security from the military because he was a surrenderee.”

In a previous interview, Anakbayan chair Ken Ramos said Rodriguez was the 15th member of the group who had been abducted or killed under the Arroyo administration. Other members were University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, who were last seen in 2006.

*******

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