By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
A federation of teachers on Friday denounced the “continuing harassment” of their fellow educators who were victims of a shooting incident in Bukidnon.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) vehemently condemned the police and military forces for the “continuing harassment, denial of civil liberties, and deprivation of much-needed support” on teachers Ramil and Zhaydee Cabañelez who were survivors of a shooting incident inside their classroom at Dalit Elementary School, Valencia City, Bukidnon last October 15.
ACT alleged that the incident involving the Cabañelez couple was a case of “frustrated extra-judicial killing” (EJK). As witnessed by ACT leaders and members in their solidarity visit last week, the couple – who is currently staying at the Adventist Medical Center in Valencia City for Zhaydee’s gunshot wounds treatment – was being “held hostage by state forces inside their hospital room” and are being “denied of their right to accept visitors.”
The ACT also alleged that eight uniformed and armed policemen and few others in plain clothes, and allegedly headed by Lt. Angel Vergara (who identified himself as the intelligence officer) “blocked” the Cabañelez’ hospital room door to supposedly “prevent” the ACT team from visiting the couple.
“Despite the assertions of the ACT contingent and two personnel of the Commission on Human Rights, Lt. Vergara strongly rejected the visit, purportedly upon orders of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon who was simultaneously holding a press conference in Cagayan de Oro to spread lies about the Cabañelez case and red-tag anew our organization,” ACT said. “This is despite ACT’s prior securing of consent from the Department of Education, hospital authorities, and Ramil himself, with whom ACT’s advance team was able to coordinate a day before the solidarity visit,” the group added.
ACT condemned the police’s “denial of access to the victims also prevented the much-needed moral, financial, and legal assistance from reaching them.” Earlier, ACT noted that the Cabañelez couple “has shared their anxiety” over the incident involving a “sudden visit and ambush interview in their hospital room of a reporter from a government news agency who falsely reported last October 19 that the couple denied any link to ACT.”
“The couple complained of the news report’s twisting of their statements and prior police media and social media releases, which spread baseless claims regarding the gun attack perpetrated against them,” ACT said. “Also, the couple complained about being deceived by the police who took photos of Zhaydee in the hospital supposedly for police investigation, but were later released to the media without her consent,” it added.
ACT noted that the Cabañelez couple also shared their fear over “suspicious-looking persons surveilling the hospital as well as police and military personnel frequenting Zhaydee’s hospital room, thereby limiting their privacy and time to rest.” ACT added that “out of fear, pain, and stress, the couple has refused to entertain media interviews and has requested for security” from the Office of the Mayor.
The group stressed that, contrary to the claims of Valencia City police and Esperon, “state forces did not immediately respond to the school shooting and made efforts to secure neither Teacher Zhaydee nor the rest of Dalit Elementary School.”
“The absence of a prompt and thorough investigation coupled with the unreasonable treatment by the police and military forces of the ACT contingent, especially with the interest of no less than Gen. Esperon on the Cabañelez case, cannot help but put into question their motives,” ACT said. “Conversations with fellow teachers and community residents of the Cabañelezes reveal that the couple has no known enemies and are well-loved for their service and sacrifices for the education of the community children,” the group added.
As relayed to ACT, Cabañelez couple that “the only armed groups that frequent the community are the members of the 88th Infantry Battalion of the AFP, another armed group it has formed composed of 16 alleged surrenderers, and the CAFGU unit in the area.”
“It is important to note, as well, that the couple are active teacher-unionists of ACT whose members and leaders have been subjects of state profiling, red-tagging, vilification, harassment, intimidation, and threats since late last year,” ACT said. “As if the couple has not suffered enough in the brazen and heinous attack against them, state forces continue to subject the Cabañelezes to harassment, curtailment of their basic rights, and deprivation of humanitarian aid,” the group added.
For ACT, such “abominable acts by the police and military forces and by Gen. Esperon of repeatedly victimizing the Cabañelez couple exacerbate the injustice inflicted upon the teachers” and “exposes the monstrosity of the Martial Law imposed by the Duterte regime in Mindanao and its Executive Order No. 70 that persecutes legitimate organizations and genuine people’s servants under the guise of counter-insurgency.”
Meanwhile, ACT once again denounced such “grievous attacks to our ranks” because as educators, the group believes it is “our utmost duty to defend human rights and uphold peace, justice, and democracy.”
Amid all the recent developments on Cabañelez couple, the group demanded for state security forces to “lay their hands off” the teachers and schools. “We implore the police to do their job of conducting a genuine and earnest investigation of the case and pursue the perpetrators of the crime,” ACT added.
ACT also called on concerned government institutions such as the Department of Education (DepEd), the Civil Service Commission (CSC), the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the two branches of Congress to “exert all efforts to protect” the Cabañelez couple from “continuing threats and attacks” and secure their welfare and well-being. “We will remain steadfast in this fight until justice is served to our colleagues,” it ended.