Protesters commemorated the massacre of 20 activists and wounding of tens of others in Escalate town during Martial Law. Twenty-one years after the massacre, the military perpetrators in the killing remain unpunished, while the massacre survivors and the families of those killed are yet to be indemnified.
BY KARL G. OMBION
BACOLOD City – While Sept. 21 was marked by protests in different parts of the country and of the world to commemorate the declaration of Martial Law, in Escalante City, the protest was particularly significant as it also commemorated the killing of 20 activists in what was called “Escalante massacre” 21 years ago.
Escalante City, some 96 kms. north of this city, was where around 1,000 massacre survivors, victims’ families, friends and activists gathered to remember those who fell in the carnage, also called “Bloody Thursday.”
In mid-afternoon on Sept. 20, 1985, tensions were high at the Escalante public plaza just 50 meters across the town hall as thousands of sugar workers, farmers, fisherfolk, students, urban poor, professionals and church people, carrying placards, some bamboo sticks, and chanting anti-government slogans were staging a protest in commemoration of the 13th anniversary of martial law.
The protesters were tightly encircled by some 50 combat-ready Regional Special Action Forces (RSAF), plus local policemen, members of the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF), and unidentified armed civilians.
Minutes after town mayor Braulio Lumayno, with former congressman Armando Gustilo and their armed bodyguards left the town hall, a volley of gunfire from automatic rifles and a caliber .60 machine gun suddenly burst. A few minutes after, the streets were littered with blood and scores of terrified protesters were moaning as they lay on the ground.
The shooting claimed 20 lives – their bodies found sprawled at the rally site and in nearby sugarcane fields. Thirty others lay wounded. A bank, concrete walls, and some houses in front of the town hall were peppered with bullet holes.
Three low-ranking policemen were later jailed for their role in the massacre, but were released on parole in 2002. A ranking police officer in command of the RSAF unit was reportedly redeployed in other provinces and was recently promoted to the rank of senior superintendent.
No local officials and other dignitaries present in the “Bloody Thursday” of September 1985 were ever summoned for investigation or trial.
Fred Cana, National Council member of Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), said that 21 years after, not a single victim – nor any of their relatives – of the Escalante Massacre, also known as “Bloody Thursday,” has been given justice or indemnified.
Cana said that their commemorative protest action aimed not only to draw the public attention to the continuing cry for justice of the victims’ families, but above all, to warn them that the conditions that led to the tragedy remain basically unchanged, if not worse.
Twenty one years after, there have been more political killings, massacres, salvaging, mass dislocations caused by the state’s oppressive and repressive policies and programs, said Cana.
He added that the worse turn came from the time Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted by people power to the presidential post, to the present. “She is not only an embodiment of Marcosism without Marcos, but a worst reincarnation of Marcos open fascist rule,” he added.
Worse than Marcos
At the Sept. 21 protest rally at the Bacolod public plaza, Felipe Gelle, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance)-Negros said, “We are under a de facto martial rule even if government insists that democracy reigns in this country.”
Gelle told Bulatlat that this is shown by the widespread extra-judicial killings of left activists, the stifling of the voice of dissent of the critics of administration, the accommodation of retired generals in key civilian posts, the strengthening of GMA’s cronies and their control of economies, the stepped up militarization in the rural areas, the intensification of assaults on the economic rights of workers and farmers.
In many ways, Gelle said, GMA is worse than Marcos. “What Marcos did in terms of political killings and dictatorial rule in more than 20 years, GMA achieved only in four to five years, and her crimes against the Filipino people continue,” he said.
Gelle said that the democracy that government claims is nominal and bogus; it is “a mere cover up for its puppetry, dictatorship and fascism.”
“This government has not only failed in heeding the lessons of the past, but trampled the rights of the people, and bungled most opportunities along the way for our people and nation to grow and develop,” he added.
Gelle however stressed that the people are not cowed, and instead will continue to muster the necessary strength despite all the hardships and repression, to put an end to this hated regime ruling by the sword of terror.
“Certainly, GMA and her fascist clique will suffer the same fate that befell Marcos,” he concluded. (Bulatlat.com)