Two years ago, Daisy Ayo, 37, said she was visited several times by men in uniform. “They told me they would like to investigate my involvement in our campaign for the land.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – A local leader of progressive women’s group Gabriela was lucky to have escaped death.
On October 14, Daisy Ayo, 37, was selling fish at a local public market in Luksuhin village in Calatagan town in Batangas. At around 2 p.m., she noticed two men riding in tandem on a motorcycle. The men stopped in front of her; she thought they would buy some fish. Suddenly, the man at the back seat wearing a red cap and black jacket pulled out a 45 caliber gun.
Three gunshots were heard. Ayo said she did not know how she managed to come out alive. She sustained a gunshot wound on her left leg. She was brought to the Madonna General Hospital in Balayan town for treatment.
“Because I have been fighting for our right to our land, I had been threatened that I would be abducted or killed,” Ayo, a mother of four children, told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview.
Ayo’s family lives in Sambungan village, which is part of the 2,000 hectares of land in ten coastal villages that was claimed by the rich Ayala-Zobel clan and then sold to third parties.
Jobert Pahilga, legal counsel for the Calatagan farmers and fisherfolk and executive director of Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), said Ayo and other fisherfolk families in Calatagan are legal owners of the land.
In its March 1998 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the disputed land taken by the Zobel-Ayala is classified as public land. Thus, under the Public Land Act, Pahilga said the families living there for more than 30 years are considered legal owners of the land.
Pahilga said the fisherfolk families have, for more than a decade, been asking the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to complete the process of entitling the land in favor of the fisherfolk families. Under the Public Land Act, the DENR is tasked to “perfect the title.” However, Pahilga said the agency has been sitting on the petition of Calatagan farmers and fisherfolk families and the land has not been distributed to the farmers and fisherfolk up to now.
Ayo has been active in the dialogues and other activities in defense of their land. She deemed that the attack on her has everything to do with their campaign.
Before the incident, Ayo said, she knew she was being monitored. “For several times, I noticed men tailing me; they wore bonnets,” Ayo said.
One time, she said, a man who refused to identify himself asked one of her children about her whereabouts.
She said soldiers from the Philippine Air force are stationed in their villages. The soldiers, Ayo said, “protect portions of the land being claimed by wealthy families.”
Two years ago, Ayo said, she was visited several times by men in uniform. “They told me they would like to investigate my involvement in our campaign for the land.”
Asked about the particular unit of the military, Ayo said she was not able to identify them. “I was afraid to ask them. They were armed,” Ayo said. Some of the soldiers held long rifles; others had handguns.
Ayo also related that leaflets maligning Gabriela as a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) were distributed in public places. She said she knew that the military was behind it.
“That’s a lie,” Ayo said. “Gabriela is a legitimate party list group elected in Congress,” she said.
Vilification of people’s organizations has continued under the Aquino administration. Many of the victims of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses belonged to organizations tagged by the military as CPP fronts.
Ayo was not the first Calatagan leader to be subjected to harassment.
On February 8, 2009, Wilfredo Gonzales, former president of Haligi ng mga Batangueñong Anak Dagat (Habagat), was driving an ELF-truck along Bukal Village in Calatagan, when he and his passenger Noli De Castro were shot at, according to a fact sheet from Karapatan. The two died on the spot due to multiple gunshot wounds.
The assailants were two men on board a motorcycle and whose faces were covered with ski masks. Gonzales was also active in protest actions related to the land dispute.
In a statement, Rjei Manalo, secretary general of Gabriela-Southern Tagalog, condemned the attack on Ayo. “Only the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Zobel clan have the motive to kill Ayo,” Manalo said in Filipino.
Manalo said that under the Aquino administration, 18 have been victims of extrajudicial killings from Southern Tagalog region. “Even women and children are not spared from state violence,” she said.
Ayo has come home yesterday and is recovering from the gunshot wound. “If this is what I get for defending our land and for helping others, so be it,” she said.