Four leftists who face arrest warrants in the northern Philippines claimed on Friday that the court action was part of the government’s persecution of political opponents.
The former members of the House of Representatives, Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño, former agrarian reform chief Rafael Mariano and national anti-poverty commission secretary Liza Maza were ordered arrested earlier this week by a local judge in Nueva Ecija province.
The four allegedly played a role in the killings of leftist critics in the province, their lawyer Rachel Pastores said, describing “trumped-up murder charges” filed more than a decade ago.
“From the very start, it is clear that this was an incredible story,” Pastores told reporters, adding the issue was first used against her clients in 2007, when they ran for Congress.
The government’s independent elections commission threw out the charges after doing its own investigation.
“What is happening is a big injustice and we are preparing for this case,” Pastores said, adding that her clients would file a motion for consideration next week seeking to dismiss the indictments.
Mariano branded the charges against the four as “baseless, malicious and fabricated.”
“Political persecution under the Duterte regime is a part of the worsening attacks on the fundamental rights and freedom of genuine agrarian reform advocates and human rights defenders,” he said.
The charges, Mariano said, were meant to stop legitimate dissent against President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime, which has overseen the killings of thousands of alleged drug pushers and addicts in its war on drugs.
“I demand the dropping of this trumped-up case to rectify the injustice committed against an innocent person like myself who is falsely charged with a criminal case,” Mariano said.
Maza, for her part, said some of Duterte’s supporters in government could have orchestrated the move because they “want me out of my position.”
She did not name anyone, but several left-leaning members of the government were forced out of office under intense lobbying by his close political supporters.
“Almost from the very beginning, the rightists and militarists have tried to make it difficult on us – myself and other progressives who have joined the Duterte government – opposing or obstructing the reforms that we have pushed for, and maneuvering to have us removed one by one, from our positions,” Maza said.
She was referring to Mariano, who had tried to implement agrarian reform law but clashed with political leaders. He was removed from his post after the commission on appointments rejected his qualifications.
Apart from Mariano, another prominent leftist, Judy Taguiwalo, was removed as social welfare secretary.
Ocampo served three terms in the house, leaving office in 2010, while Casiño left in 2013.
Duterte, a self-described leftist, courted members of the political left when he assumed the presidency in 2016. He appointed several leftists to his government and immediately launched peace talks with the country’s communist insurgents.
That soon soured after leftist organizations questioned some of his policies, including his drug war and the decision to transfer the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to a heroes’ cemetery in Manila.
He subsequently canceled peace talks with the left, and engaged exiled communist party founder Jose Maria Sison – his one-time college professor – in a war of words.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.