Rights Groups Blame Killings on Military’s Oplan Bantay Laya

Bantay Laya

Girlie Padilla, acting secretary general of the church-based human rights group Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP), said the deplorable human rights situation in the country is a result of the military’s Operation Plan Bantay Laya (Defend Freedom).

In its draft primer, the EMJP and the human rights organization Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights) said the implementation of Bantay Laya started in 2002 and was originally aimed at neutralizing the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group and other Muslim Secessionists Groups in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

The primer showed that Bantay Laya is being implemented in accordance with the U.S. war on terror. The Macapagal-Arroyo administration has, in fact, received a $4.6 billion military and economic package in 2004 and a $30 million budget for anti-insurgency military exercises.

In 2003, however, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shifted its anti-insurgency campaign towards the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), the primer revealed.

The main target of Bantay Laya, the primer added, is to destroy the CPP’s political infrastructure and its so-called legal fronts. “At this point, the military do not differentiate legal and illegal armed groups anymore. That meant legal personalities are considered fair game,” Padilla said.

Padilla said Bantay Laya targeted seven priority regions considered by the military as strongholds of the CPP-NPA, namely: Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Central Visayas, Bicol, Northern Mindanao-CARAGA, Southern Mindanao-Compostela Valley and the Ilocos-Cordillera Region.

Implementation

The official documentation of EMJP and Karapatan showed that the said regions suffered the biggest number of political killings.

From January to May 2006 alone, it documented a total of 22 victims of human rights violations in Central Luzon, 10 in Southern Tagalog and seven each in Bicol and Southern Mindanao.

From January 2001 to May 17 this year, EMJP and Karapatan tallied a total of 601 victims of extra-judicial killings, 151 victims of enforced disappearances. The human rights group is still completing its documentation of hundreds of victims of arrests, torture and detention, and tens of thousands of victims of forced evacuation and other forms of human rights violations.

In its record, the rights watchdog documented that 243 victims of human rights violations were activists who belonged to what the military considered “Left-wing organizations” such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Alliance in the Philippines) and their local affiliations. The number includes 93 members and leaders of Bayan Muna.

The rest of the victims who had no known organization were civilians who were named by the military as “sympathizers” of the CPP-NPA, Padilla said.

Of the 243 victims who were members of legal organization, 83 were high-profile leaders who had top positions such as president, chairperson or secretary general. Jose Doton, the latest victim who was gunned down on May 16, was secretary general of Bayan in Pangasinan, a province in Central Luzon some 170 km. north of Manila.

Of the 83 leaders, 27 came from Central Luzon, 16 from Southern Tagalog, eight from Eastern Vizayas, seven from Bicol, four each from Ilocos-Cordillera and Southern Mindanao, three each from Northern Minadanao-Caraga and Central Vizayas, and two each from Central Vizayas, Far South and Western Mindanao.

Death squads

In a separate interview, Karapatan secretary general Marie Hilao-Enriquez said their investigations show the involvement of the military’s death squads in the killings and failed murder attempts.

Death squads, Hilao-Enriquez said, were motorcycle-riding men wearing dark clothes and ski-masks and armed with high calibre pistols or rifles. Karapatan records show that there were 41 killings that involved this kind of operation, and were implemented nationwide.

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