Rights groups seek justice for abducted cultural worker, Cavite raid

UPDATE : Cultural worker Jonathan Mercado has been released from police custody on March 11, peasant network Tanggol Magsasaka-Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA-TK) announced on March 14. The copy has been edited on March 14 to reflect this change.

Rights groups and progressive organizations called for the immediate release of missing cultural worker Jonathan Mercado after he was arrested ‘for unclear causes’ in Silang, Cavite by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Office 4A on March 10.

Mercado sent his latest message on March 10 at 8:30 a.m. before he was taken in by the police. After he was held incommunicado for 14 hours, he was released on March 11.

Rights alliance Defend Southern Tagalog said in a statement on March 10 that Mercado was assisting farmers in their area to understand issues related to their right to land. But the alliance worries that he is being held incommunicado by police as ‘human rights teams have not located Mercado yet.’

Defend Southern Tagalog members said at a press conference that the police stations gave Mercado’s family the runaround by ‘pointing fingers’ at each other.

His arrest happened hours before ten residents from Brgy. Talaba VII in Bacoor, Cavite were taken in without any warrant by agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as part of an alleged anti-drug operation. 

The agents harassed Anakpawis-Cavite members, including volunteers Charlie Aquino and Richard Felipe, and officers Johmelda Lucernas and Joel Salabania.

Mercado is the regional campaign coordinator of Anakpawis-Cavite and spokesperson of Teatro ng Kabataan Mula sa Nayon.

In Anakpawis-Cavite Vice Chairperson Salabania’s interview with the media, he said an armed man wearing a PDEA shirt barged into his family’s home, where the man kicked him and threatened to shoot. When Salabania’s wife attempted to stop the shooting attempt, the man fired the gun upwards in the presence of Salabania’s children.

Salabania recalled the PDEA agent intimidating them: “May pinatay na ako rito. Gusto niyo ba hulihin [ko kayo] at kayo ay sumunod?” Even after the armed man left Salabania’s home, the agent threatened to ‘come back (to Talaba VII) just for him (Salabania).’

Aquino, 19, was kicked in the head and handcuffed. Four cellphones and P1,300 cash were also nabbed in the raid.

In a statement, Anakpawis Party-list denounced the show of ‘fascist abuse’ and condemned the state’s continued attacks against the poor.

“Malinaw ang kawalang pagkilala ng PDEA sa karapatan ng mamamayan, [dahil sa] paghuli ng walang warrant o probable cause, pananakit at pagtutok ng baril at pagpapaputok nito,” Anakpawis added.

The detained residents in Bacoor have since been released.

Members of Anakpawis recall the harassment they faced from the police. Photo from Anakpawis’ Facebook page.

Talaba VII is at the center of aggressive development projects of fishing corporations and offshore gaming companies. The community regularly confronts demolition and reclamation threats amid Cavite’s plans of converting their land into a redeveloped urban and heritage area

Mercado’s arrest and the Bacoor raids were met with condemnation from various progressive organizations, including DEFEND Southern Tagalog.

“These are not isolated cases. These are orchestrated attacks to disenfranchise activists and the people against legitimate calls and demands. Progressives are being targeted,” the alliance said in yesterday’s press conference.

DEFEND Southern Tagalog added that the Cavite attacks came as they were commemorating a year after the Bloody Sunday massacre, which resulted in the death of nine activists and the arrest of seven more on March 7, 2021.

READ: Kin of ‘Bloody Sunday’ victims call for justice for slain activists

KASAMA-TK said the attacks on the region are part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on marginalized sectors and the progressive groups who join them in their struggle for human rights.

“Tayo po ay magtulungan upang labanan ang pasismo, ang atake ng gobyernong Duterte sa mga aktibista at magsasaka na naninindigan para sa karapatan ng mga magsasaka, mangingisda at katutubo,” KASAMA-TK said in the press conference yesterday.

Representatives from KASAMA-TK added that Mercado’s family left Quezon province because of heightened red-tagging attacks and militarization since 2000. Mercado’s aunt, Eden Marcellana, was killed in Oriental Mindoro in 2003 by elements of the Philippine Army under the leadership of Col. Jovito Palparan Jr.

Jonathan’s brother Jay-Ar Mercado was also murdered by state agents on Jan. 31, 2020.

The Anakpawis members constitute part of the MAKABAYAN congressional coalition and campaign for presidential candidate Leni Robredo and her running mate Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.

The attacks came after the tandem’s campaign sortie in Silang, Cavite last week, which was red-tagged by Cavite representative Crispin “Boying” Remulla and presidential candidate Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.

Pangilinan has released a statement earlier today condemning the raid and Mercado’s arrest, vowing to provide legal aid to Mercado and others who were harassed in the incident.

“Sa pagkakakila ko kay Athan (Jonathan), napakahusay niya bilang isang organisador, bilang isang [mang-aawit]. Napakagaling at napakabait niya. Ituloy natin ang laban kagaya ng hinahanagad ni Athan,” said multisectoral group Tanggol-Quezon.

Tanggol-Quezon called for justice to those who were harassed in the raid and for Mercado’s immediate release. They added that as long as attacks persist in the country, they will continue their work in campaigning for peasants’ right to land, better living conditions and just pay.

“Hindi titigil ang mamamayan anuman ang gawin nila na panggigipit sa mga magsasaka. Hindi titigil ang mamamayan na inaapi. Hindi titigil hangga’t may mga karahasan na nangyayari kahit saang sulok ng bansa,” Tanggol-Quezon added.

The PNP also arrested a 72-year-old Anakpawis member in Sorsogon on Mar. 6 without a warrant. A couple, both members of Anakpawis-Sorsogon, were gunned down by two unidentified men on Jan. 15. These shootings are despite a gun ban that began on Jan. 9, put in place in the run-up to the national elections this year.

Talaba VII residents said raids have been more frequent since Duterte’s term started in 2016. But they say that yesterday’s raid has been “the worst drug raid operation they have seen in their community.”