A Catholic bishop in the central Philippines called for an impartial investigation into the recent arrest of at least 57 individuals, including minors, who were accused of being communist rebels.
Bishop Gregoria Alminaza of San Carlos made the call even as authorities have already released 32 of those who were arrested on Nov. 6 after prosecutors cleared them of the charges.
“There were reported irregularities in the said arrests,” said the prelate. He noted that only one judge issued the numerous warrants for the search of offices of activist groups.
Even Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta called the attention of court judges “to exercise prudence in issuing warrants” in the wake of the arrests.
Bishop Alminaza said an “impartial probe” must be made to scrutinize what he described as government tactics “that aggravate the culture of fear and silence on our island.”
The prelate said even media workers who covered the conduct of the police search before the arrests were asked to step out. “There were no witnesses during the search,” said the bishop.
The government touted the arrests as “a major victory against armed rebels,” claiming that the offices where the people were arrested were “rebel training facilities.”
Of those arrested, 21 were workers of a bus company who were filing a complaint, 11 were members of a theater group who were rehearsing for a play.
Lawyer Neri Colmenares said the release of the 32 individuals substantially weakened the cases against the remaining 11.
“The release of the majority of the people arrested during the raids essentially means that the charges against them are not true,” said the lawyer.
“We are alarmed of these arrests of members of ‘red-tagged’ organizations because most of those summarily killed in Negros were also red-tagged,” said Bishop Alminaza.
Earlier this year, the four Catholic bishops of the island of Negros issued a joint statement calling for a stop to the killings, an end to the “culture of fear;” and to “work for integral and sustainable peace.”