On September 14, 2019, Karapatan received information from its regional chapter in Southern Tagalog that Alexandrea Pacalda, a human rights worker affiliated with the organization, was abducted by six operatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in General Luna, South Quezon. She was initially brought to the 85th Infantry Battalion headquarters, and then later to the General Luna police station. At the police station, Alexandrea was coerced to sign a certification indicating that she voluntarily surrendered. Thereafter, she was taken to the 201st AFP Brigade camp in Calauag, Quezon.
During the past days, Karapatan got in touch with Alexandrea’s family. Karapatan legal counsel Atty. Maria Sol Taule was also able to talk to the victim herself. Amid all the false reports circulating online, Karapatan would like to clarify a few matters:
- Alexandrea Pacalda, 23, was a human rights worker of Karapatan. She is currently affiliated with Pinag-isang Lakas ng Magsasaka sa Quezon (PIGLAS-Quezon), a local peasant organization in the region. She was abducted by elements of the military and she continues to be under military custody. She was arrested without a warrant and continues to be under detention for five days now.
- As of this writing, there have been no charges filed against Pacalda, unless they start planting evidence or put her name under Jane Does or ludicrous aliases in outstanding warrants of arrest. She is being held without charges for more than 36 hours now. Particularly, 118 hours have already passed. This already qualifies as arbitrary detention and the military should be held accountable. Alexandrea should be immediately released to her family.
- Alexandrea Pacalda signed the affidavit of voluntary surrender while under duress. In a signed statement to her lawyer, the victim said that she was subjected to mental torture, and was merely coerced to sign the affidavit. She added that she was not allowed to sleep and was starved for 24-30 hours.
- Alexandrea’s family was likewise forced to affix their signature. While there was no physical coercion, Karapatan asserts that the coercive circumstance wherein the family was subjected to invalidates the giddy claims of the PNP and the AFP that she “voluntarily surrendered.” The military threatened the family with a criminal case to be charged against Alexandrea if they don’t agree to sign the affidavit. This signed document, though far from voluntary, is making the rounds in social media.
- Alexandrea’s father broke down after meeting with Karapatan’s legal counsel. He said he signed the affidavit and convinced her daughter to do so, as they were held in a hostile environment. They were fearful of what the military can do to Alexandrea, given that she remains under military custody.
- The father of Alexandrea was presented to the media. He initially stated that his daughter was a good person and that he was the one who convinced his daughter to sign the papers. The father was coerced to change his account because the military merely wanted the father to talk about the so-called “surrender” of Alexandrea. The family was also invited to join the parade of parents who claim their children are missing, despite being defied and opposed by the children themselves. The Pacalda family refused, and is currently in coordination with the Commission on Human Rights and Karapatan for her release.
- Alexandrea was taken to the notary public on September 17, 2019. She was not provided a copy of the said affidavit. She was subjected to custodial investigation, yet an affidavit was drafted without the presence of a counsel of her own choice. The said affidavit, which has likewise been circulated online, was signed without the presence of her lawyer, and was done so while the victim was under pressure. All statements taken from any victim without the presence of his/her counsel of choice should be deemed inadmissible.
- After Alexandrea was taken to the notary public and while in conversation with Atty. Taule and her family, she signed a short statement recounting how she was coerced to sign the affidavit, as well as her mental and emotional disposition while under military custody. This statement supersedes previous claims by the military and the police about her alleged surrender.
- Until now, the military refuses to release Alexa Pacalda. She is currently under the custody of the 201st Brigade in Calauag, Quezon.
- On September 19, Capt. Benedict Alfonso Cagain, a civil military officer of the Army’s 201st Brigade, released a statement saying that Alexandrea is not being detained, and that she is free to return home to her family. As of press time however, Alexandrea’s family, accompanied by CHR, is asking continuously demanding for her release. The military refuses to heed the family and the CHR’s request, despite the lack of a case against Alexandrea.
This is the devious maneuver of the military. We reiterate that this is a case of forced surrender. Using its machinery and resources, the military tries to break down the spirit of activists like Alexa, and her family, to bow down to their false narratives. Despite initial accounts and documents already circulating online, it is nonetheless imperative that the real story of Alexa’s ordeal drowns the zealous crackle of state forces. They think that they have won, but a brave family puts them in their place.
Karapatan also adds that despite the criminalization of acts of torture, including psychological torture, it remains a prevalent practice by the military. The case of Alexandrea Pacalda proves this. It is also indicative of how other cases of “voluntary surrenders” came to be.