If you think that the disappearance and persecution of activists at the hands of state forces is a bygone fear left during the Martial Law period in the ‘70s, activist Kemuel Ian Cometa’s alleged abduction proves otherwise.
On May 31, human rights alliance Karapatan Southern Tagalog announced that it had identified the fourth victim of a May 21 raid, dubbed the “Sta. Rosa massacre,” as youth organizer Kemuel Ian “KI” Cometa. The group believes that the former Kabataan partylist Laguna chapter coordinator is in the hands of the police and military, and called for his release.
“Hindi pa rin matiyak ang kasalukuyang [kalagayan] ni Cometa, subalit malaki ang [tsansa] na siya ay sugatan o sumasailalim sa matinding tortyur. Nasa kamay ng 202nd Infantry Brigade ng Philippine Army, PNP SAF (Philippine National Police-Special Action Force), at PRO4A (Police Regional Office 4A), mga namuno sa madugong reyd, ang kalagayan ngayon ni Cometa,” the group alleged.
“Nananawagan kami kay AFP SOLCOM (Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command) Chief Antonio Parlade, 202nd Brigade Commander Gen. Alex Rillera, at sa mga hepe ng PRO4A na si BGen. Eliseo Cruz, at PNP-SAF na si BGen. Felipe Natividad na kagyat na ilitaw at palayain si Cometa,” Karapatan-ST added.
In a June 1 statement, Karapatan-ST also claimed that “[Cometa] was last seen wounded during a joint operation of military and police forces for a supposed service of a warrant of arrest to a certain ‘Rommel Rizza.’” The May 21 police operation led to the deaths of three individuals whom Karapatan-ST identified as Christopher Boton, Cristina Estocado, and a certain “Rommel Rizza.”
According to PNP’s report, the slain individuals were members of a three-man hit squad believed to have been deployed by the New People’s Army (NPA) and that they opened fire when a team of officers attempted to approach their Buena Rosa Subdivision dwelling. The officers were fromPNP’s Special Action Force, Intelligence Team, Police Regional Office 4’s Regional Mobile Force Battalion, Sta. Rosa Police, and soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Southern Tagalog human rights groups are critical of the so-called death warrants and have appealed for an end to the spate of recent killings and arrests of activists in the region.
“What happened in Brgy. Macabling, Sta. Rosa, Laguna was a summary execution, there was no gun fight or shootout but rather state agents went there to kill. All the narratives of recent killings are one and the same, police and military forces claim that individuals who are killed in their operations fought back but then witnesses would say otherwise. It is alarming how these operations for service of warrants often end up in deaths,” Defend Southern Tagalog spokesperson Charm Maranan told Preen in a statement.
Regarding Cometa’s disappearance, PNP Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar has since denied that he is in their custody. “We need to talk to the parents of Kemuel and establish if he is really missing and, if verified, find leads to his possible whereabouts. Base sa natanggap nating report mula sa local police, wala silang nadatnan na Kemuel Ian Cometa sa raid na kanilang isinagawa noong May 21, at wala din kabilang na Kemuel Ian Cometa sa mga subject ng kanilang operasyon,” said Eleazar. He also warned against “spreading unfounded rumors.”
The demand to surface Cometa follows the “Bloody Sunday” police raid that led to the killing of nine activists and arrest of six individuals in March. The Department of Justice has since endorsed the investigation of the “Bloody Sunday” case, with Justice Menardo Guevarra stating that “there is sufficient evidence that the victims were members of cause-oriented groups carrying out legitimate dissent.”
We stand in solidarity with the demand to investigate possible cases of political persecution as well as the fight for social justice and freedom to express dissent.