Unrelated Killings or an Undeclared War?

According to a Karapatan map and report prepared at the scene of the Antolihao killing, two gunmen were dropped by a third accomplice on a motorcycle at the entrance to a thick banana grove and walked up to his house, knocking on the door and claiming to be his neighbor Manggoy.

Karapatan claimed the gunmen would have passed directly in front of Guadalupe Chapel and a small military camp from the AFP 60th Infantry Battalion behind it. The camp is just 50 meters from the victim’s house according to the map.

Colonel Luga confirmed that the army’s standing orders require soldiers to immediately respond to any shooting incidents. According to Karapatan however, the soldiers in Kapalong remained at their post.

“It was early evening and it is a very quiet and isolated place,” Delgado said. “It is impossible that they did not hear the shooting.”

According to a police report filed on November 11 by senior officer Jose Tanduyan of Kapalong police, the scene of the incident “was already totally altered and contaminated due to the presence of several curious persons.”

The police found a slipper and pair of sunglasses near the shooting and have linked them to the case, but report the motive of the killing “is still to be ascertained.”

The police also recovered several .45 bullet casings and one “deformed 0.45 slug,” according to their own report.

Karapatan also claimed a 0.45 caliber pistol was used to kill Qualbar — though no documentary evidence was provided.

Less than two weeks after the Antolihao killing, three unidentified men interrupted an evening meeting of farming activists in Paquibato District just outside Davao City on November 22 before they shot and killed Vicente Paglinawan, vice-president of Pambansang Kilusan ng Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA), a national confederation of 28 local peasant and farmers’ groups.

Delgado said that his group was still trying to investigate that incident.

The Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region secretary general says he himself received a death threat after publicizing the killing of well-known local activist and peasant leader Celso Pojas in May this year.

Delgado was one of the first to arrive on the scene after Pojas, KMP secretary general was gunned down in front of his office located less than two kilometers from Karapatan’s own modest headquarters here.

Pojas was reportedly preparing to go to Compostela the following day and had allegedly received a series of death threats before his killing. He was a highly vocal critic of the Philippine army and its operations in the valley.

Delgado, who took a series of photos of the body and drafted the initial report into Pojas’ killing, claims he in turn started receiving death threats the following day after appearing on a radio show in Kidapawan City to talk about the case.

The text that threats to put Delgado “in the ground” were sent to local Charm Radio station and were relayed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Free Expression Ambayi Ligabo. The UN sent letters to both the Philippine Foreign Ministry and Davao City police which resulted in Delgado being called into the headquarters there on August 1 and offered police protection.

“The three texts accused Karapatan of being a front for the NPA and said I would be the next one to be eliminated,” Delgado said. “They said that was what was wrong with NPA supporters. If something happens to the NPA they immediately blame the soldiers, but if a soldier dies, they don’t speak out. They said I was already six feet under the ground.”

Despite the threats, Delgado rejected the offer of police protection.

“Nobody would talk to us freely if we turned up with a policeman,” he said. “We couldn’t do our job like that.”

At the same time, Delgado takes the threats seriously as Karapatan’s policies for traveling into Compostela Valley suggest. He also claims the group in Davao is being monitored by people in a black 4 x 4 Lancer with the license plate PPN 665.

“It follows us around – especially when we have events like pickets or assemblies,” he said. “We don’t know who is inside it as we are afraid to go up and knock on the window.”

Given the recent spate of killings, Karapatan members may have good reason to be both cautious and alarmed – both for themselves and for the communities and people they claim to be serving.

Regardless of whether Karapatan and like-minded groups are or are not linked in some way to the NPA, it is a pattern of some sort that surrounds the killings –and it is a pattern that demands investigation.

At the very least, the victims and their families deserve that much.

None of the local police forces have clear descriptions of the killers, but they do have all the spent bullet casings and so can examine whether the same gun was used in two or more of the shootings. That in itself would point to some kind of conspiracy: Even if tests came back negative, it would at least show the authorities were taking the series of incidents seriously.

Until they do, Bayan Muna members, peasant groups and human rights activists here in Southern Mindanao are probably right to feel scared and wonder what is behind all the killings and who may be next. Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project/Posted by Bulatlat.com

(The author is Director of the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project and also Institute for War and Peace Reporting special projects.)

Share This Post