DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Progressive groups determined the same pattern of attacks among peasant communities in the country as widespread killings continue under the current administration.
The bloodshed in Negros Island is now attributed to the implementation of “pseudo martial law” which targets mostly peasants and members of progressive groups.
Starting with the massacre of nine sugarcane farmers in Hacienda Nene in Sagay City, Negros Occidental on October 20 last year, Negros Island has since turned into “the new killing field” after President Rodrigo Duterte issued the Memorandum Order 32 last November 22, 2018. The order aims to “suppress lawless violence” in the areas of Negros, Samar, and Bicol.
Following the order of the President, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) started its joint operation called Oplan Sauron to conduct an operation against suspected communist rebels, criminals, and those who are involved in illegal drugs.
Since the implementation of Oplan Sauron, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Negros (Bayan Negros) has listed 40 deaths. This brings the tally of “politically-motivated killings” under the current administration to 87, in the Negros Island alone.
Mike Dela Concepcion, secretary-general of Bayan Negros, has said the context of killings in Negros Island is based on the long-time struggle of the peasantry to claim their rights to own the land.
Dela Concepcion also added that “the active land struggle of the people became the target of the attack as it is also being linked with the underground organization in Negros”.
However, Negros Oriental Police Chief Colonel Raul Tacaca, has denied the allegations saying, “Negros police are still conducting a thorough investigation to identify the suspects and the motives of the killings”.
The authorities, he said, are looking on drugs, personal grudges, and political involvement as the possible motives of the killings happening in Negros. He also told Davao Today that one of the possible causes of the deaths is the involvement of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Col. Tacaca added that Negros police have already nabbed three individuals suspected to have involvement in the recent killings last July 30, 2019.
“In some instances [like with] Atty. Anthony Trinidad, we see his case as a work-related killing,” he added.
Atty. Trinidad was shot dead in Guilhulngan City last July 23 on his way home after attending a hearing in court when two gunmen in a motorcycle shot him and his wife.
Bayan-Negros says the lawyer was recently accused of having a link with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDF), along with other progressive leaders in Negros, in a list released by Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Komunista.
Despite being the home of the President, Davao region topped the list of most killings with 96 cases of killings known to have “political” motives since 2016, the year President Duterte assumed power.
Out of these cases, 66 individuals were killed during martial law, when the President signed Proclamation No. 216, suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao.
Karapatan Southern Mindanao Secretary-General Jay Apiag stressed that most of these “government-orchestrated killings” target peasants and indigenous people who are active members of local progressive organizations under the umbrella group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
“We have recorded 74 peasants and 15 Lumads killed under this administration,” Apiag said.
Apiag also confirmed the “similarity of attack” against individuals critical of the current administration, members of progressive organizations, or those alleged to have links with the communists as the target of killings under then Oplan Kapayapaan, now known as Oplan Kapanatagan.
Apiag added that police investigations would always have a scratchy report on the anonymity of the suspects “despite evidence that leads them to the members of the military” while considering the killings as an “isolated case”.
Peasant leader Tony Salubre called the killings as a “crackdown” on legitimate peasant organizations. The crackdown, he said, is a way to silence the long-time struggle of the people to own land.
Salubre also noted that aside from the “bloody attack” on farmers and indigenous people, they are also forced to surrender to erase their names in the list of identified members of supporters of the NPA in their community.
“These patterns are being done by the military all throughout the country. They target peasant organizations who have been struggling for the right to own land and in defense of human rights,” he said.
Two matters of evidence would point out that the recent cases in the country can be considered as “state-sponsored killings” says human rights lawyer and Makabayan Chairman Neri Colmenares
Colmenares who came from Negros said there is strong evidence pointing to State forces as the perpetrators of killings.
He identified the “direct evidence” from the statement of witnesses pointing to the police as the gunmen and the “indirect evidence” which is the pattern of killings which publicly vilify the target.
Colmenares clarified that public vilification comes in two forms, first is the existence of the list and the vilification of activists and their organizations.
“Why do we see this as State-sponsored? The brazenness with which the crime was committed as is the perpetrator was not afraid at all of being accosted by the police. The way it was done in public places with so many witnesses, the killer is not afraid to be caught,” he explained.
The continuous bloodshed in Negros has called the Roman Catholic Church’s attention.
Four Catholic bishops in Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental issued a joint pastoral statement last July 27 condemning killings happening in the island. They also called on the public to pray an Oratio Imperata or obligatory prayer to end the killings in Negros.
The Oratio Imperata reads: “Heavenly Father, the source of life and foundation of peace, we, your children mourn, worry and are anxious because of the successive murders of our brothers and sisters. We beg you, awaken the minds of those who don’t even care, disturb the conscience of those who author the killings, touch the hearts of those who support the murders, and comfort those who mourn. Give us the strength to fight evil with good, and to reject crooked ways. Protect us from the lies of the devil, and free our country from the power of Satan. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
On July 28, the Church began the daily tolling of bells at 8:00 PM in all parishes, chaplaincies, mission stations, and religious houses in remembrance of the victims of the killings and to call for an end to the bloodshed. (davaotoday.com)