Oplan Bantay Laya Continues: 16 Victims of Extrajudicial Killings

Human rights groups believe that President Benigno Aquino III has sanctioned state-perpetrated killings by extending the OBL, the bloodiest counterinsurgency program the Philippine government has ever implemented.


MANILA — Just five days after Benigno Simeon Aquino III assumed the presidency, an activist was shot dead by suspected state agents. Fernando Baldomero, Bayan Muna officer and municipal councilor in Lezo, Aklan became the first victim of extrajudicial killings under the new administration.

Four days later, on July 9, the 78-year peasant leader Pascual Guevarra was killed in Laur, Nueva Ecija. The number of killings has increased in the next days, especially after the Aquino administration publicly announced the extension of the Arroyo government’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).

Karapatan has documented 16 victims of extrajudicial killings since June 30. The latest incident happened in the morning of Oct. 1, claiming the life of Rene Quirante, former political detainee and peasant leader in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental.

“Practically there is one victim of political killing every week and this is a very alarming trend considering that Aquino has been in office for barely three months. If this trend continues, Aquino’s record may even surpass the 17 extrajudicial killings during Arroyo’s last six months in office,” Roneo Clamor, Karapatan acting secretary general, said.

Human rights groups believe that Aquino has sanctioned the state-perpetrated killings by extending the OBL, the bloodiest counterinsurgency program the Philippine government has ever implemented.

During the campaign period, Aquino promised to put a “closure” to extrajudicial killings. On his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), Aquino said that 50 percent of cases of extrajudicial killings under his administration have been resolved.

“For the families of victims, it is not acceptable,” said Evangeline Hernandez, spokeswoman of Hustisya!, an organization of families of victims of extrajudicial killings. “Resolved? How do they define it [resolution of cases]? They consider a case resolved when the authorities have merely identified suspects,” she said in an interview with Bulatlat.

In July, Aquino claimed that extrajudicial killings are not part of government policy and went on saying that many of the cases were personal feuds.

“By saying that, Aquino is clearly covering up state-perpetrated killings,” Hernandez said.

All cases documented by Karapatan were allegedly carried out by soldiers and paramilitary forces. The massacre of four farmers in Mabo, Masbate on Sept. 7, for example, is attributed to soldiers of the 9th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army operating in the area. The victims were branded as members of the New People’s Army (NPA). Two farmers in Paquibato, Davao City namely Julius Tamundez and Reynaldo Labrador were killed by a military-sponsored tribal group in separate incidents.

At least three of the victims Baldomero, Casiano Abing and Vicente Felisilda are active officers and members of Bayan Muna. Abing was killed on Aug. 25 in Balangiga, Eastern Samar while Felisilda was shot dead on Sept. 9 in Mawab, Compostella Valley. Under the OBL, Bayan Muna is labeled as a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Before they were killed, all of them were openly accused of being NPA members or supporters.

Also in July, the Aquino administration created a “super body” to address the killings. It is composed of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Justice, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). No word has been heard from the so-called super body ever since.

In his inaugural speech, Aquino never mentioned extrajudicial killings or human rights but he said: “To those who talk about reconciliation, if they mean that they would like us to simply forget about the wrongs that they have committed in the past, we have this to say: there can be no reconciliation without justice. When we allow crimes to go unpunished, we give consent to their occurring over and over again.” Many thought that this refers to the abuses of the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, including human rights violations.

But the prosecution of Arroyo seems to be remote. The Truth Commission is saddled with many legal loopholes and other defects. Up to now, no case has been filed against Arroyo.

“In his first 100 days, Aquino failed to fulfill his promises and instead revealed his true color. Under this administration, we can expect a more vicious campaign against the Filipino people,” Hernandez said, adding that after the OBL, Aquino is poised to implement a new counterinsurgency program patterned after the US Government Counterinsurgency Guide (US COIN) in 2009.

“The US has propped up dictators and regimes which violated the rights of peoples so long as these regimes protect US interests,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairwoman, said.

Enriquez said the US security establishment has come out with successive tactical and strategic materials and doctrinal revisions on “counterinsurgency” which include a new Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual in 2006, a new Joint Operating Concept on Irregular Warfare in 2007, a new Army Field Manual on Stability Operations in 2008, the and the renewed Joint Vision 2020, the conceptual framework for continued US military dominance worldwide for the next decade.

These tracks draw heavily from the US experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as from its wars in Vietnam, Korea, Philippines, El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala, among others. “Sadly, Philippine presidents, even after the fall of Marcos, have kowtowed and followed these impositions of the US with human rights suffering heavily because of such,” Enriquez said.

Enriquez warned that if Aquino follows the footsteps of his predecessors, “he may be causing his own dip in popularity, less than satisfactory ratings, and eventual downfall.” (Bulatlat.com)

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