By JOAN GARCIA
CANDON, Ilocos Sur — It was hot on the morning of December 10 as protesters marched in the streets to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
More than 250 protesters, mostly farmers, came from different provinces of the region to challenge President Benigno S. Aquino III to protect and uphold human rights.
At the rally, a portrait of Aquino is merged with that of former President Arroyo’s to show that the there has been no change in the situation of human rights under the present administration.
Antonio Pugyao, vice chair of the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop Exploitation), said the Aquino administration has been in power for only six months yet there are already 22 victims of extra-judicial killings.
“Maybe you are asking what crime did the victims commit; they have none! Their only crime is that they organized themselves into unions and associations in their own sectors. I am telling you, my countrymen, it is not a crime to organize because it is written in the 1987 Constitution that it is the right of every citizen to organize themselves,” Pungyao said in Ilocano.
There are already two victims of extra-judicial killings in the Ilocos region, farmers Nicholas Ramos and Elmer Valdez, both shot by alleged members of the Philippine Army.
Elmer’s father, Rizalino, was present at the rally and recounted how his son, who was only gathering bamboo for their house, was killed by the military and then later tagged as a member of the New Peoples Army (NPA).
It took Rizalino and his family three days before they were able to find and retrieve Elmer’s body.
“Is this a good government? The military kills civilians, and then tags them as members of the NPA? The military who comes to our place and wears wigs to pass themselves off as NPA steals our crops and vegetables,” said Rizalino in the local dialect.
Rizalino then addressed the military, “It is rightful to seek justice for my son whom you killed without mercy. You know that he was a civilian, why did you kill him? You have no mercy. Now that it has been proven that my son was only a civilian, let us be! Because our place is peaceful. If you want to look for the NPA, look for them in the mountains, fight them if you can so that it is not us civilians that you make to suffer.”
Progressive groups in the region have repeatedly called for the pull out of the 50th and 86th Infantry Battalion and the 503rd Brigade of the Philippine Army because of their human rights violations in Ilocos Sur.
For Rev. Agosto Dosdosen, chair of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA-Karapatan), said the commemoration of the UDHR is a good time to “call for and assert it and to hold accountable the people who violated the rights of the masses”.
Dosdosen said even as the Philippines is the primary Christian country in Asia, it is laden with corruption and human rights violations. He then called on all people, especially Christians, to join the fight in seeking justice for the victims of human rights violations.
“I hope that you join us in upholding and fighting for justice for the victims of human rights violations who were killed by the same people who said that they would help. Those who are in power, the one who created the law, they are the primary violators of the law that they made. It is for that reason, that on this day, the church people are fighting for the masses,” said Dosdosen.