Developments in the Bayles Case
Coming back to the Bayles case, the arrest of the suspects by the Kabankalan police appears to be the result of a ‘lack of communication’ between the AFP and the PNP. Luckily, the police officers simply did not know whom they were pursuing. When the context of the killing became apparent after the arrest, the PNP started to display reluctance and inertia. If not for the work of civic groups, witnesses would not have been spotted and the prime witness would not have identified the suspects as those two men who committed the crime.
The military denied that the suspects are members of the AFP. Yet they tried to get them out of prison and generated pressure towards their release. There are strong clues that the suspects did not reveal their true names and identities.
Original police responsibility includes putting together jigsaw pieces of information and professionally following traces and details. But again, it was up to the same civic society groups to collect the information that led to knowledge on who the suspects actually are.
There are two important case-related developments that emphasize how politically explosive the Bayles case actually is.
Firstly, in the Bayles case the ballistic examination of the guns seized by the police and the slugs taken from the victims cadaver are crucial. Human rights advocates expressed their concerns that they fear possible manipulation of evidences. Meanwhile, the results are out.
And indeed, the ballistic examination and the paraffin tests in this case returned negative results. Civic society groups are not surprised by these findings.
Secondly, Larry Trinidad of Radio Mindanao Network and Jaime Lim, a Bacolod-based journalist, are reported of receiving death threats for having indicated the involvement of the military in the killing of Benjie Bayles.
The military’s pressure on Fred Caña, KARAPATAN Negros Occidental, may be of help for completing the picture of the repressive and aggressive atmosphere within which human rights advocacy is taking place. Fred Caña is kept under surveillance. He is followed when leaving the house or office; he is followed when travelling. Military agents approached Caña’s relatives and pressured them to convince him of stopping his human rights advocacy work. Moreover, the military uses the same channel for continuously asking him for a meeting to discuss ways and modes of cooperation. Military circles repeatedly denounced Caña to be a supporter and recruiter of the underground NPA. The scenario very much resembles the situation preceding the EJKs of Bayles and other civic society activists. It is dangerous indeed. There is ample reason to be concerned about his safety and life.
Human Rights Violations and Counter-Insurgency in Negros
The situation in Negros remains complex. Fighting an enemy who is largely invisible, the military tends to perceive civic emancipation processes as subversive undertakings. Already a self-organizing attempt of a community is risky. The military is unable to distinguish between legitimate structures that are off the control or influence of traditional – and frequently unconstitutional – power centers, on the one hand, and structures of the underground movement, on the other hand. To them, it is all the same.
And even worse: The military guards and aggressively enforces corporate and clan interests under the cloak of counter-insurgency up to the very point of taking over corporate security functions. This becomes particularly visible in mining areas. Furthermore, deep-rooted red-scare reflexes within and outside the government support and perpetuate this particular configuration and abuse of power. Considerable segments of the administration and the society are seen as having a questionable stance towards human rights violations and the perpetrators of the same. Military and political circles openly or covertly tend to indicate that victims of EJKs and other human rights violations were/are enemies of the state and, thus, were/are legitimate targets.
Consequently, the people on the ground experience a constant neglect of their concerns and very rights. This invariably leads into a process of further estrangement between the people and those structures and organizational bodies that are supposed to advocate, serve and protect.