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KMU leader Vincent "Bebot" Borja freed from jail, proven innocent after 3 years

Heightened repression still feared after Human Security Act approval

Vincent “Ka Bebot Borja”, KMU National Council member representing Eastern Visayas, and also Anakpawis coordinator for that region when he was arrested three years ago, was freed from jail after the military’s lone “star witness” did not recognize him in a hearing on Wednesday (Oct. 13).

Ka Bebot was forcibly arrested at the height of the last electoral campaign on May 7, 2007 after being charged with murder by the military.

“It took more than three years before the military’s so-called star witness testified in court, only to say that he does not recognize Ka Bebot and he was not involved in the crime he has supposed to have seen. The military has not just confirmed the innocence of Ka Bebot, but also their malicious intent to invent charges against progressive leaders to jail them and prevent their noble advocacies,” KMU General Secretary Roger Soluta said.

“Our persistent protests and collective action all over the nation and even around the world pressured the military and government to finally release Ka Bebot. We celebrate Ka Bebot’s release with joy that he can now serve the people outside jail, and with passion to further expose the military’s lies,” Soluta added.

Legalizing repression

“While one of our labor leaders has been finally freed from detention, we still expect heightened repression against our ranks with the recent court affirmation of the legality of the Human Security Act,” Soluta said.

“The HSA will legitimize red-tagging and malicious interpretations of the military on critical actions against the government. The right to protest and to advocate genuine changes is still in danger under Aquino.”

KMU also denounced the Aquino administration’s continued implementation of Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya program, which incorporates legal offensives and concoction of criminal charges to detain hundreds of activists.

Harsh arrest

Ka Bebot just came from a whole-day caravan of Anakpawis, Cong. Teddy Casiño, and other progressive candidates in Ormoc on May 7, 2007. Together with other electoral coordinators in the region, they settled in a house of a local official in Brgy. Malinao, Ormoc City, and held a meeting to discuss the electoral campaign.

In the middle of the meeting, at around 9:00 pm, the house’s gate was forced open and around ten armed men in civilian clothes carrying M-16’s and caliber .45’s barged into the house. Outside were two six-by-six trucks, two vans, and several motorcycles with around 40 uniformed soldiers in full battle gear wearing bonnets and without nameplates. They were from the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The armed men, led by the 19th IB commanding officer himself Lt. Col. Lope Dagoy, immediately took hold of Ka Bebot. When confronted, Col. Dagoy showed a defective warrant of arrest with “Tata Borja” as arestee. The warrant was issued by the military, not the Philippine National Police which is the body empowered by law to issue warrants. When questioned about the warrant, Col. Dagoy snapped that he can present other warrants of arrest just to get Ka Bebot, and threatened those who questioned his actions, saying they can be arrested with Ka Bebot for “obstruction of justice.”
 
Cong. Casino and the partylist coordinators present decided to accompany Ka Bebot to ensure his safety when he was brought to Camp Downes, Altavista, Ormoc City.

Past midnight of May 8, Ka Bebot was brought to PNP-Ormoc City jail. On the same day, a murder case was filed against him.

Responding to clamors for his transfer of jail, Ka Bebot was transferred to the Tacloban city jail so his family and colleagues can visit him more easily in a nearer detention.

Concocted charges, delayed hearings

Ka Bebot was accused of murdering a certain Marianito Calibo, a military man, on July 8, 2006. Three others were filed with the same murder case, together with Ka Bebot. One of them is Florencio Agunos, who was already dead five months before the date of the said murder.
 
The other one is “Junie Maningo” – whose name is suspiciously close to that of a KMU union officer in Leyte. And the other is Simeon Cabonegro, also an organizer of the National Federation of Labor Unions-KMU (NAFLU-KMU), who has never encountered the person he is being accused of murdering.

The hearings have been rescheduled one after the other. The lone “star witness” who is Tito Lagarit, never appeared to testify until the recent Oct. 13 hearing.

Unhindered service
 
Ka Bebot is suffering from asthma and has had attacks every month since he was jailed. He has also lost considerable weight.
 
But despite this, Ka Bebot was able to lead a hunger strike in the Ormoc City Jail on August 2008 to protest the inadequate and indecent food served to the prisoners. The strike forced the jail administrators to serve inmates more decent food.

Ka Bebot also continued to educate and organize people behind bars. He has been the consultant of inmates and people who visit the jail on various cases they were facing.
 
Ka Bebot is 41 years old. He started working as a bus conductor when was still at elementary school. He became a worker of the Philippine National Oil Company-Leyte in 1994. He was a leader in the union when it launched a strike in October 2004. He was among those dismissed because of the strike. Since then, he became a full-time organizer of the KMU. #

Reference Person: 
Roger Soluta, KMU general secretary
Contact information: 
0928-721-5313; 0919-416-3451(KMU public info department hotline)

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