An opposition lawmaker and a human rights group slammed the Philippine Naitonal Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for arresting over 50 persons and seizing high-powered firearms in regional offices of progressive groups based on four search warrants issued by a Quezon City judge.

The rights group Karapatan said among those arrested were peasant leaders, human rights defenders, and women’s rights activists.

Detained opposition Sen. Leila De Lima said the arrest of the activists reflected the Duterte administration’s attempt to stifle growing dissent.

But she added that this won’t stop activists and critics from fighting the alleged repression of the administration.

Karapatan said the arrest of 59 individuals in one day is an alarming sign of the government’s intensifying efforts to crack down on its critics amid the people’s growing clamor to mobilize against the “fascist regime”.

The group Movement against Tyranny accused the Duterte administration of targeting legal organizations and mass leaders in alleged anti-terror operations. The group is demanding the immediate release of the detained activists.

Others were also voicing out their concerns.

Kung ang mga magsasaka ay nagtatanim ng palay, butil, ang PNP at AFP ay bihasa sa tanim bala, tanim baril, tanim explosive. Malakas ang kinokendana ng KMP ang massive crackdown ng rehimeng Duterte,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

“Hindi pagpapakita ng lakas, kundi pagpakita ng kanilang desperasyon ng gobyernong Duterte itong ginagawa nila,” former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said.

Authorities, however, insisted that the operations were legitimate.

Army Capt. Cenon Pancito III, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division said they have to establish that this is part of the military training of people who have been recruited by the rebel group. They believed that the rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) are training these individuals to become their fighters.

He added that some of those arrested are considered “high-value” targets because of their supposed ties to the NPA.

Pancito also denied the progressive group’s claims that Malacañang ordered the arrests.

The Supreme Court earlier said that Executive Judges of Manila and Quezon City are authorized to issue search warrants that can be implemented nationwide.

The High Court added that Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta has immediately ordered the court administrator to remind judges to be “deliberate, circumspect, and prudent” with the issuance of warrants.

The arrested activists are currently detained at the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office. They are facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

All arrested suspects denied the charges, claiming authorities planted evidence against them. (Jasper Camilo)