Unrelated Killings or an Undeclared War?

“He was not a member of any group,” he told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project.

This was also the claim of national task forces assigned to investigate extrajudicial killings.

In a phone interview, Major Henry Libay, secretariat member of the Philippine National Police’s Task Force Usig said Qualbar, Antolihao and Dotarot were not members of Bayan Muna or any other left-leaning group.

Task Force Usig was formed in May 2006 to investigate incidents of slain party list members, activists and media practitioners.

“We have affidavits of the victims’ families, neighbors, village leaders and even the local elections commissions saying that the victims were not members of Bayan Muna. The group claims they are their members but could not present any documents proving such,” Libay said.

Since they do not fall under the mandate of Task Force Usig, these cases are relegated to the local police for resolution. They are classified as murder or homicide cases, Libay said.

Justice undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor, who heads the Task Force 211, told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project in a separate phone interview: “The general view is that aside from their organizational work, they also did some part time work in buying and selling of gold.”

Formed by the President on November 2006, Task Force 211 is officially mandated to “harness and mobilize” government agencies, civil society, and the public to prevent, investigate and prosecute political violence.

The two task forces converge with other government agencies in cases that are identified as extrajudicial killings.

Blancaflor implied that the victims may have been killed due to their involvement in mining operations in the area, not because of their political affiliations. “They have their businesses, too,” he said.

These claims are flatly contradicted by Qualbar’s widow Aurelia, the Karapatan, and by a local member of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or the Philippine Peasant Movement) who maintains she had known him since 2001.

As well as being the local coordinator of Bayan Muna, Qualbar was also the information officer of the KMP-affiliated Compostela Farmers Association according to these same three sources.

If Qualbar was indeed a businessman or gold miner, he was not a very successful one. His house is found a tough one hour off-road drive up high in the hills in the tiny hamlet of Sitio Nursery in Barangay Ngan. His home was a wooden shack on stilts decorated only by a large poster of Britney Spears. The ground 10 feet below is clearly visible between gaps in the floorboards.

With quiet determination in her voice, Mrs. Qualbar insists her husband’s death followed on from and was directly related to a local radio report she heard announcing the army was launching “clean-up operations”‘ after an October 24 clash between the military and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in nearby New Bataan town.

Compostela Valley is a known stronghold of the NPA and a key focus for the Philippine military’s campaign Oplan Bantay Laya 2, the publicly declared government attempt to end the long-running communist insurgency by 2010.

Mrs. Qualbar insists her husband was never an NPA member, but had been a frequent participant in ‘anti-militarization rallies’ in both New Bataan and in Davao.

“I know who killed him,” she says.

“On November 1, a week before he was shot, he came home and told me he had been identified out loud by two military intelligence officers as he passed the checkpoint (72nd Infantry Battalion) near here. I told him that his life was in danger and that he should leave.

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