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ONE BILLION RISING | Women activists push for release of Bayan campaigner Ferdinand Castillo

Monique Wilson holding Free Ferdinand Castillo placard. Photographed by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, actress and activist Monique Wilson, and former beauty queen Maria Isabel Lopez were among those who clamored for the Philippine National Police (PNP) to release Bayan-Metro Manila campaign officer Ferdinand Castillo, 57, who was arrested at the weekend.

At the One Billion Rising rally Tuesday held at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila, the three women joined hundreds of others holding up placards conveying their demand, even as they called for an end to violence against women, and pushed for the continuation of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

The rights group Karapatan assisted Castillo, alongside Bayan-Metro Manila and the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL). He was apprehended on Sunday by elements of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-National Capital Region Office, and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at around 4:00 p.m. at a 7-11 store in Caloocan City.

Castillo was reportedly handcuffed and blindfolded for almost four hours, and brought to a safe house, where he was interrogated.

He was then brought to the CIDG office at PNP General Headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Asked for a statement, NCR Police Office Regional Director PCSUPT Oscar Albayalde acknowledged via text message to InterAksyon that Castillo had, indeed, been apprehended by the CIDG.

Karapatan secretary general Tinay Palabay told InterAksyon in a telephone interview that Castillo was being accused by the police of being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and that he was not shown an arrest warrant at the time he was apprehended; only when he was already being interrogated.

The warrant accused him of being the same person as one who had committed murder and attempted murder in Calauag, Quezon.

When he was brought to the Caloocan City Prosecutor's Office on Monday morning, he was charged with a different crime: illegal obsession of firearms and ammunition, Palabay said.

He declined to sign the inventory of firearms supposedly confiscated from him by the CIDG, and steadfastly denied the charges. His lawyer, meanwhile, questioned if there was probable cause for the accusation that his client was facing.

Palabay said that NUPL was still deciding which lawyer would handle Castillo's case, although it immediately came to his assistance after they learned of his arrest.

Karapatan would be addressing his medical needs, as he had rheumatic heart disease and hypertension, and has twice suffered stroke already.

Palabay stressed the importance of giving him appropriate medical attention, especially since he was confined in cramped quarters along with other criminal offenders.

She likened them to chickens trapped in a pen.

"He is in a difficult situation. He should be released... There is no valid reason [for his arrest] with a questionable warrant of arrest," she said.

She added that the government and the NDFP had agreed to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, which includes a doctrine where those who commit offenses in line with their political beliefs should be charged not with criminal offenses, but with rebellion.

Palabay also noted that Castillo's right to due process had been violated, beginning with not being shown a valid arrest warrant when he was apprehended.

She said that the calls to release political prisoners were not mere tantrums of "spoiled brats," as President Rodrigo Duterte had referred to the rebels after he called off the peace talks on February 4. Rather, she said, their cases were instances of "clear injustices", their arrests being questionable and flawed, or based on made-up accusations or planted evidence.

To illustrate, Palabay pointed out, over 150 political prisoners out of the 392 in Karapatan's record were charged with illegal obsession of firearms and ammunition.

Aside from Castillo, the rights' group recorded 15 political prisoners arrested swiftly after Duterte called off the peace talks.

For her part, Taguiwalo said, in Filipino: "Since 2012, One Billion Rising had stood for the fight opposing violence against women, and for the peace talks to continue. We want there to be talks, with or without war, and President Duterte knows where we stand."

Monique Wilson calls for the release of Bayan-Metro Manila campaign officer Ferdinand Castillo. Photograph by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon.