All the farmers who became political prisoners were arrested under different circumstances, and all of them insist on their innocence and decry the charges made against them. They assert that they were never part of the armed offensives of the military said that they were involved in. They were, as they termed it, “ ordinary barrio folk.” One said that he was in fact at home when the NPA offensive which the military said he was part of took place. Another was in far away Manila, trying to make a living employed in a few menial jobs. As for the others, they were as should have been expected of farmers, tending their farms when the NPA actions transpired. It just so happened that their homes and farms were located in the interior barrios of Samar marked as “NPA guerilla zones” by the AFP.
In the meantime, if for a moment the possibility that the five farmers were actually involved or have been civilian supporters of the NPA is admitted, given that their homes and farms were located in the interior barrios of Samar marked as “NPA guerilla zones” by the AFP, human rights groups insist that the detainees should be accorded humane treatment and their rights to receive legal counsel should be upheld. The groups point out that ordinary farmers always suffer the brunt of military abuse: they suffered under the killing spree that was the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration’s Oplan Bantay Laya, and now they are being subjected to intensified militarization under the guise of “team work and solidarity” courtesy of the Aquino regime’s Oplan Bayanihan.
Observers say that the least that could be done is for the arresting police and military forces in the cases of the Catbalogan 5 be charged under Republic Act 9745 or the Anti-Torture Law.The Anti-Torture Law criminalizes all forms of torture — physical, mental, psychological and pharmacological. It disallows any justification for torture and other inhuman punishments. Torturers will be penalized as principals, as well as their superiors in the military, police or law enforcement establishments who ordered the torture.
The law orders a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Other penalties range from a minimum of six months to a maximum of 12 years of imprisonment depending on the gravity of the offense.
When Aquino took his oath as the county’s 15th president, he projected himself as a defender of human rights. In his first State of the Nation Address, he declared that the three of the six cases of killings which happened under his then month-old administration had already been solved.
Now, almost a year after, the number of political killings is pegged at 44. In the meantime, nothing has been done to arrest and charge Oplan Bantay Laya architect and butcher Palparan and other military perpetrators of the thousands of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo regime. As human rights groups assert, nothing has changed. Aquino carries on Arroyo’s legacy of state terror and violence.