While the nation feasted on the election canvassing in Congress, the offices of the Joint Monitoring Committee of both government and the National Democratic Front were inaugurated in Quezon City June 4. Expect the Macapagal-Arroyo government to face a deluge of criminal charges by families of victims of human rights violations in the next few weeks.
by Dabet Castañeda
Expect the Macapagal-Arroyo government to face a deluge of criminal charges by families of victims of human rights violations in the next few weeks. Reason: The offices of the Joint Secretariat of the Joint Monitoring Committee of both government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have been inaugurated.
On June 4 alone – the day the JMC offices located in a building in Cubao, Quezon City were inaugurated – 51 cases were filed by surviving families and human rights groups before the JMC of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). The main respondent in the cases was the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
None was filed so far with the NDFP-JMC against the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Among the early complainants who also witnessed the JMC inuaguration was Dee Ayroso, wife of former student activist and political detainee Honor Ayroso. Honor, together with Johnny Orcino Jr., was abducted by suspected soldiers from the 71st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) on the night of Feb. 9, 2002. The two have not surfaced since.
Fighting back tears as she filled up the complaint form, Dee said “Mabuti pa sila may bangkay, kami wala,” Dee said referring to families of other victims whose bodies were recovered. “Alam ko naman na ang estado ang may kasalanan sa pagkawala ng asawa ko pero nasasaktan pa rin ako hanggang ngayon kasi kahit hinanap ko sya, hindi ko sya nakita” (I know that government is behind my husband’s disappearance but I still feel bad because I haven’t seen his body), she said.
Other complainants were families of victims killed in the militarized province of Mindoro Oriental. Orly Marcellana and Roseann Gumanoy filed a case against Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. for the twin killings of human rights leader Eden Marcellana (Orly’s wife) and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy in April 2003. Until he was promoted to brigadier general by Macapagal-Arroyo, Palparan was a colonel who served as former commanding officer of the 204th Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army (IBPA) operating in Mindoro Oriental.
Ediberto Napoles Sr. filed a case against the same military officer for the murder of his son, Bayan Muna coordinator Choy Napoles.
Nympha Magsino, sister-in-law of assassinated Naujan vice mayor Juvy Magsino, and Erlinda Manano, mother of Anakpawis coordinator Isaias Manano, filed two separate cases of murder against Col. Fernando Mesa who took over the post of Palparan.
Ariel Casilao, secretary general of the human rights alliance Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region (SMR) flew all the way from Davao in southern Philippines to file cases in behalf of the victims in the region. He arrived at the inauguration just in time to file 10 cases including one against Lt. Col. Edgardo Gonzales, commanding officer of the 60th IBPA which operates in SMR. The same Army unit, Karapatan said, was responsible for the “Mawab Four” massacre in 1999 that killed Godofredo Guimbaolibot, Roland Jubajib, Engr. Edwin Asion and Mariano Diamante.
Karapatan-SMR filed other charges against Gonzales including the Laac massacre and forced mass evacuation in New Bataan in 2004. Maj. Nixon Fortes was charged with the Bagangga massacre on Aug. 18, 2003 where three minors were killed.
Karapatan-SMR also filed a case against Col. Alen Capuyan, former chief of the Military Intelligence Group-SMR, whom the group found accountable for the Maco Four massacre in 2003. Four members of the militant youth party Anak ng Bayan (nation’s youth) were killed in that incident: Marjorie Reynoso, Lito Doydoy, Jonathan Benro and Ramon Ragare Jr.
Casilao also filed a case in behalf of the family of slain human rights worker and journalist Benjaline Hernandez. Hernandez, an Ateneo student and vice president of the College Editors of the Philippines (CDGP), was mowed down along with two others without mercy in April 2002 in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato by paramilitary men, villagers testified.
Girlie Padilla, acting secretary general of the church-based Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP), filed 36 cases including one in behalf of the family of Leonardo Rodriguez, a peasant organizer also from Mindoro Oriental.
The Mindanao-based human rights group InPeace (Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao) filed cases in behalf of the victims of the bombings in the Davao Domestic Airport and the Sasa warf both in 2003.
Members of the GRP peace panel were apparently surprised at the number of complaints that swamped their JMC office. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, member of the panel, herself was seen puzzled by the throng of complainants who began filing murder charges against the AFP.
Families of victims protested over the fact that the GRP’s Joint Secretariat made them wait for almost an hour before they could file a complaint over the lame excuse that no complaint forms were available. “Pinaghintay nila kami, parang hindi naman sila prepared” (We were made to wait, it looked like they (GRP) were unprepared), said the irate Marcellana.
Carla Munsayac, head of the Nominated Section of the GRP-JMC, explained that the forms were left at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in Ortigas, Pasig. Complaint forms were made available at around 2 p.m.
Until offices were closed at 5 p.m. the Nominated Section of the NDFP-JMC had received no complaints of human rights and international humanitarian law.
Despite being alluded to as a human rights violator by the international human rights group Amnesty International (AI), no cases were filed against the communist guerillas on opening day.
The AI, in its 2004 report, included the NPA in its list of human rights violators in the Philippines particularly pertaining to the case of Romulo Kintanar, former NPA cadre-turned-military asset. The NPA had owned up to the killing that took place in 2003.
In an exclusive interview with Bulatlat.com, Fidel Agcaoili, chair of the NDFP-Monitoring Committee, said any member of the Kintanar family or organization can file a case against the NPA at the JMC if they think there was a violation of the rights of Kintanar.
But the NDF leader was quick to say “We don’t believe there was any violation of human rights in that particular case.” He said the case underwent the judicial process of the NDF: a case was filed before the people’s court, people’s prosecutors looked into the case and found sufficient basis in filing a case against him.
“Unfortunately, the warrant for his arrest was not immediately served because he had armed himself to the teeth,” he said. He added that when there was an opportunity to arrest him, Kintanar fought back and that caused his death.