Mass organizations have become victims of political repression because they are the most outspoken and consistent in exposing human rights violations and defending people’s rights. The killings can no longer be viewed as isolated, however. These could be part of a planned and systematic campaign of terror against members and leaders of mass organizations in Negros.
BY KARL G. OMBION AND RANIE AZUE
BACOLOD CITY – Can a person be killed because of his or her organizational affiliation? The answer is yes in Negros.
From April to June this year, four activist-organizers belonging to the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement in the Philippines) became victims of summary execution.
First to fall was NFSW leader Edwin Bargamento who on April 10 was killed allegedly by members of the paramilitary Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA). The RPA members, rights watchdogs and cause-oriented groups said, were backed by the Philippine National Police’s Regional Mobile Group (PNP-RMG) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Seven days later, Renante Alesna, a local organizer of KMP-Negros, was shot dead also allegedly by members of the RPA in Barangay (village) Lalong, Calatrava town, 120 kms north of this city.
Last June 10, Mario Fernandez, 22, an organizer of NFSW covering hacienda (vast tracts of land) communities in Silay City, 20 kms north of Negros, was mowed down by unidentified armed elements while on his way to Silay City.
On June 13 at around 7 p.m., Manuel Batolina, 50, was resting inside his hut at Hacienda Sangay, Barangay Purisima, Manapla town, 40 kms north of Negros, when unidentified armed elements barged into his hut and open fired at him. He died on the spot.
According to Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights), Fernandez who was with a companion at around 9 a.m. was on his way to Hacienda Salanap to follow up organizational assignments related to the NFSW’s preparations for the June 12 Day of Mourning rally in Bacolod. About eight unidentified armed elements hiding in a nearby sugarcane field suddenly opened fire at them.
Fernandez died on the spot while his companion managed to flee.
Karapatan noted that a day before the shooting of Fernandez, a composite team of PNP-Silay and RMG from Aidsisa and Bagtic detachments started a three-day operation in the area. Residents said that they were on a hot pursuit mission against “a group of bandits” who ransacked a house in the area last June 8.
However, sources told Bulatlat that this group of bandits is a death squad composed of rebel returnees and RPA elements coddled reportedly by the RMG and police officers. This group is said to engage in crimes like hold-up and robbery for their uniformed bosses. Its objective is also to sow terror among organized masses in the area.
“If plain bandits killed Fernandez, why were his belongings and money still intact and why were they still within the area considering that the composite team of RMG and PNP has been in hot pursuit since Thursday afternoon?” the source said.
Meanwhile, an initial autopsy report showed that Batolina sustained multiple gunshots wounds with varying points of entry indicating that more than one person fired at him. A police blotter report from PNP-Manapla showed that eight empty shells and two slugs of caliber .45 pistol were recovered from the crime scene.
Batolina was an active mass organizer and federation president of the NFSW in the haciendas of Begonia, Candelaria and Navidad in the municipality of Manapla.
As of presstime, PNP investigators have yet to present any findings on the case and have only promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.
However, NFSW, KMP and Karapatan pinned the blame on the RPA, PNP-RMG and units of the AFP. John Lozande, secretary-general of NFSW-Negros, said that they have witnesses to pin the RPA rebels and the government troopers. In addition, Lozande said, circumstances prior to the killings showed attempts from the RPA to silence the militant organizers.
Bargamento was nabbed and detained by RPA elements in Talisay in the middle of 2004. While detained, Lozande said, Bargamento was interrogated and harassed, with a threat that he would be killed if he continued organizing for the NFSW. Bargamento’s cousin, Eduardo, a local president of NFSW, was visited by the RPA a week after Edwin’s killing and was threatened to stop organizing in the haciendas.
The same was experienced by Batolina and Fernandez. In February 2004, they were nabbed by RPA elements in Hacienda Salone 2, Barangay 10, Victorias City. They were forced to walk blindfolded for hours through the sugarcane fields up to upland Barangay Concepcion, Talisay City.