DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A National Fact-Finding Mission on the reported 14 farmers killed in Negros Oriental said that the raids conducted on March 30 were part of a well-orchestrated and broad counterinsurgency operation carried out by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) aimed at either killing or arresting on trump-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, persons suspected of being members or supporters of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
Leaders and members of the three-day National Fact-Finding Mission (NFFM) presented the findings of their mission in a press conference at the UCCP CENDET in Cebu City on Monday, April 08.
The mission that ran from April 04 to 07 visited the communities of Canlaon City, Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina in Negros Oriental.
Despite the insistence of the PNP officials of a legitimate operation to enforce search warrants for loose firearms and explosives and that the persons killed during the raids resisted arrests; the mission spoke of irregularities and operational rules violations.
The mission said that the victim except for Sonny Palagtiw sustained multiple gunshot wounds showing the use of pre-meditated lethal force as seen on the following victims.
• Valentin Acabal was shot in his genital area and his right thigh was riddled with bullets it was completely destroyed.
• Ismael Avelino’s torso had at least eight gunshots that his intestines burst out of his stomach
• Edgardo Avelino was shot twice in the chest and once in the center of the forehead
• Steve Arapoc was shot both in his back and chest while he was lying on the floor
The NFFM pointed out that the elements of the raiding teams in combat attire with high powered firearms wore masks and bonnets to hide their faces. None of their uniforms bore visible nameplates that could be used for identification.
The group added that the victims were unarmed and were later taken by the raiding teams without SOCO or police investigators having processed the crime scenes.
The fact-finding and solidarity mission was led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Piipinas, Unyon ng mgaManggagawa sa Agrikultura, and Karapatan. The mission was composed of 53 members and individuals from Makabayan, Anakpawis, Kabataan Partylist, Gabriela, ACT Partylist, Amihan, FARDEC, KAUGMAON, NCCP, CTUHR, Altermidya Network, NNARA Youth, Pamalakaya, NFSW, Bayan Negros, Bayan Cebu, Bayan Panay, Piston Negros, Pamanggas Panay, and Bishop Fely Tenchavez of UCCP Cebu.
Irregularities on Search Warrants
The report said that the numerous search warrants used in the operation were issued by a single judge, Judge Soliver C.Peras of Branch10 of the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City.
“This is a significant departure from standard court procedure which, as a general rule, requires applications for search warrants to be filed with the trial court which has jurisdiction over the territory where the crime is being committed. In this case, the applications for search warrants for the seizure of loose firearms in Canlaon City, Manjuyod, and Sta. Catalina should have been filed with the Regional Trial Courts in Negros Oriental,” the team said.
They added that the search warrants used during the March 30, 2019 operation fail to describe the places to be searched with sufficient particularity. The said warrants do not include sketches or other details that should confine the search to a limited location; violating a procedural requirement that search warrants must particularly describe the place to be searched.
They also referred to the case of Nestor Kadusale as a product of false information and fabrication of testimony.
According to the PNP’s application for a search warrant against Kadusale whom undercover police officers met during the market day of Sitio Sampiniton in Manjuyod. They said that Kadusale pretended to be a businessman who showed his .45 caliber pistol and a .38 caliber pistol.
Kadusale denied these allegations, pointing out that: (a) Sitio Sampiniton’s market day fell on a Friday, a fact known to all residents of Barangay Bantolinao, and (b) Kadusale spent the entirety of March 14 harvesting sugarcane along with other farmers who could testify to this fact.
Flaws in execution of search warrants
The Fact Finding Team said the operatives forcibly broke into the victims’ homes without expressing their intent to enforce the search warrants.
The operatives also ordered the occupants to leave their houses as they supposedly searched the different rooms.
“Both the rules of criminal procedure and the PNP’s operational rules strictly prohibit the conduct of a search of a house, room, or any other premises except in the presence of the lawful occupant, a member of his family or, in the absence of the latter, two witnesses of sufficient age and discretion residing in the same locality,” the team said.
They described that family members were kept outside the premises and the barangay officials arriving hours after the raid.
The Fact Finding team also discovered that family members were made to sign inventories bearing the firearms and explosives found by the AFP and PNP joint operatives.
Accounts from witnesses said that the raiding team allegedly planted firearms and explosives to the victims’ houses.
They added that the warrants issued for the search of the victims’ homes do not, in any way, justify summary execution.
Call for justice
Members of FFM demand for justice for the 14 slain farmers and the calls for the unconditional release of the 15 farmers detained under PRO-7’s anti-insurgency Oplan Sauron.
They added that Regional Director of Police Regional Office (PRO)-7 PSupt. Debold M. Sinas, Negros Oriental Police Chief Colonel Raul Tacaca, Canlaon City Police Chief Lieutenant Colonel Patricio Degay, Manjuyod Police Chief Lieutenant Roy Mamaradlo, Santa Catalina Police Chief Captain Michael Rubia, the 94th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, Judge Soliver C. Peras of Branch 10 of the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City, PNP Spokesperson Bernard Banac and PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde should be held accountable on the killings.
“Scrap all the anti-insurgency programs including the Executive Order 70 establishing a whole-of-nation approach in ending the local insurgency, the Memorandum Order 32 placing Negros Island, Bicol, and Samar, under the “state of emergency”, the local synchronized enhanced management of police operations (SEMPO) and its sequel SEMPOII dubbed as “Oplan Sauron,” the NFFM report said. (davaotoday.com)