Bicol EJKs: Continued ‘state-sponsored’ killings in communities

By Angel De Mesa

The government stated that there were no extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under the present administration.

Weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement on the concluded ASEAN summit, he refused to talk about EJKs in the Philippines saying that there was no such thing as state-sponsored killings because state-agents would not do it so.

Amid government’s claim, human rights group insisted hundreds of their documented EJK’s around the country placing Bicol region as second in the highest rates of EJK victims.

Due to the skyrocketing victims of EJKs in Bicol, Karapatan Bicol conducted a Legal Clinic last November 15-16 to gather all the documents of human rights violations in the region and submit to the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC).

Currently, a total of 31 EJK victims in the region and most of them are from the peasant sector. Karapatan Bicol has documented consecutive incidents of civilian killings especially in Sorsogon province this just few months.

According to the rights group, there were already 91 peasants killed nationwide under Duterte administration starting from July to September. These numbers are quite chasing the total rank from the past regimes like Pnoy who had 207 and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with 603 EJK victims during their whole terms.

Doomed cases

As of July 2016 to March 2017, Karapatan documented only 1 case of extrajudicial killing in Bicol. But today, it already reached 30 documented victims and 1 unidentified victim. These rights abuses continue in communities targeting peasants and indigenous people under Oplan Kapayapaan or the counter insurgency program of the government.

Sorsogon province has the highest number of victims that already resulted to 20 casualties.

The most recent case was the killing of Edwin Pura, former leader of Bayan and PORTA-Piston and also a paralegal assistant of NUPL member in their province. His companion Wilfredo Bronio was also killed in the incident while waitress Grace Merillo was wounded and rushed to the hospital but died a week later.

They were killed by two armed men at Angie Resto Bar in Barangay Paradijon, Gubat, Sorsogon past twelve in the morning of October 25, 2017.

According to the family of Pura, the 2 suspects whom they believed is a state-agent were already seen roaming and parking in front of their house. They suspected the military who was boarding near their residence.

Meanwhile, Masbate has 7 documented victims of EJKs. Most known incident was the massacre in Sitio Buri, Barangay San Carlo, Milagros. The massacre happened last April 15, 2017 that took the lives of Rodulfo Tagalog Jr., Jerry Cuyos, and Josel Rosales.

Based on the fact finding mission done by Karapatan Bicol, the victims were killed by the AFP troops from 2nd Infantry Battalion. They have been suspected as members of New People’s Army (NPA) which their family strongly opposed.

In Camarines Sur, there were at least 2 documented EJK victims while Camarines Norte’s rights group reported a documented victim and unidentified victim of EJK.

Initial step for justice

Sadness and anger are the usual state of a family grieving for the loss of their love ones. But for the families of those EJK victims, tears wont be enough for them to get justice.

In Camarines Sur, wife of slain farmer Renel Miraballes of Bagong Sirang, Sipocot filed a murder complaint at the Provincial Fiscal Office against the 9th IB which allegedly killed Renel.

Renel was killed last March 30 because he was suspected to be a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
To support the case, people of Bagong Sirang together with its neighboring village conducted a petition signing to prove that the allegation of the military to Renel was wrong.

Renel was just one of those victims whose family were not at peace. Until now his family is still longing and hoping for the violators to be punished.

Karapatan Bicol and National Union of People’s Lawyer (NUPL) provided legal assistance to register and address the grievances of the families of the victims.

“We are conducting fact finding missions, a quick response team that will immediately act upon the incident and know the certain data that will help build real scenario upon the human rights violations that is mostly done by the state agents,” said Nida Barcenas, secretary general of Karapatan Bicol.

OpKap: Counter-insurgency program

Decades have passed but no suspect has been convicted or held accountable on the human rights violations until now.

Human rights group pinpoints AFP under the Operation Oplan Kapayapaan (OpKap) who facilitated rights violations in the countryside, especially in the areas allegedly with strongholds or are heavily influenced by the NPA.

On the accounts of the 4th ID, OpKap is a people-centered campaign based on the plight of the people with the implementing rules and guidelines that is said to be created by the communities and being complied with the AFP and all agencies.

Contrary to this statement, Karapatan stated that OpKap is a counter-insurgency strategy used as an effective framework to legitimize killings on the national minorities, peasants, progressive leaders particularly those tagged as NPA or NPA supporters.

Continuous militarization in the countryside at the face of legalized missions has said to be the stepping stone of the military that eventually threatens the villagers according to Karapatan Bicol.

Different Infantry Battalions under the 9th Infantry Division of Philippine Army are conducting military operations in six provinces of Bicol.

In Sorsogon, there is the 31st IB based in Bgy. Rangas, Juban; in Masbate 2nd IB is basing in Sitio Baclay, Brgy. Bacolod, Milagros; 9th IB in Camarines Sur is based in Gaongan, Sipocot; Camarines Norte province has 902nd IB based in Mahawan-hawan, Labo; in Albay, 83rd IB is basing at Cabraran, Jovellar; while Catanduanes has the 902nd IB.

In Karapatan’s Legal Clinic, majority of the perpetrators were addressed to the AFP and PNP.

“Although they have declared that Bicol region is already conflict manageable, it turns out from the gathered documents from all the provinces of Bicol, the complains to the GRP was pinpointed to the AFP and PNP to their human rights violations and violations on the international humanitarian law,” said Barcenas.

Addressing root causes, Pondering long-term solutions

It was historical when GRP President Duterte opened up for the possible peace talks since it became a success until the fourth round.

Unfortunately, the fifth round was canceled. The gap shown when Duterte unilaterally canceled the talks that showed the AFP’s propensity for complete disregard of people’s rights, escalating their attacks on rural communities by indiscriminate firing, harassment and killing leaders and civilians according to Karapatan Bicol.

Duterte recently announced that he would classify the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), as a terrorist group, yet threatens his foes to declare a revolutionary movement.

Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes Jr. said that only the resumption of peace talks would address all the issues of Duterte with the NPA.

NDF Bicol earlier stated that they supports peace talks but will not engage in localized peace talks, same with the reasons of militant group Bayan in the region.

Bayan Bicol strongly opposed localized peace talks saying that it will not resolve the roots of armed conflict and it is outside the framework of the Hague Joint Declaration.

” Its objective is to decapitate the head of the revolutionary movement and to arrest the leaders of it. It is also a security risk on behalf of the NDF personnel, because JASIG will not be operational. If in national level they were still arrested, what more in the local?,” Dan Balucio of Bayan Bicol explained.

Karapatan Bicol believes that the possible resumption of national peace talks between the NDFP and the GRP will be a great venue to discuss the injustices happening and must put on the negotiating table, addressing the human rights violations, how to deal with the perpetrators and the victims.

However, Bayan Bicol reiterated that despite the need for the resumption of peace talks, if GRP will continue to disrespect the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), human rights violations will still rise and killings will still continue. (BaretangBikolnon.com)

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