Progressive groups in Northern Mindanao noted the manner of attack is “a typical strategy of the riding-in-tandem death squads that haunted social justice activists in the Philippines.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – At around 10:45 a.m. of February 5, Julieto Lauron and Nermie Lapatis were on their way to a meeting with fellow farmers in Valencia City, Bukidnon when two unidentified men on board a motorcycle fired their guns at them.
Lauron, chairman of Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Bukidnon (Kasama-Bukidnon), was killed on the spot. According to a fact sheet from Kasama-Bukidnon, a bullet passed through Lauron’s nape and exited through his forehead. He had two other gunshot wounds in the chest and in the stomach.
Lapatis, secretary of Kasama-Bukidnon, survived with several gunshot wounds. She is still confined at a hospital.
According to Lapatis, the assailants wore black jackets, ski masks and were riding a red XRM motorcycle. The assailants overtook them, blocked their way and fired several shots at them. Progressive groups in Northern Mindanao noted the manner of attack is “a typical strategy of the riding-in-tandem death squads that haunted social justice activists in the Philippines.”
Three days before the incident, two suspicious men were seen taking pictures of participants in the general assembly of Kasama-Valencia. That day, Lauron was elected chairman of Kasama-Vintar village chapter. Lapatis also attended the said activity.
Lapatis is known as a seasoned land rights activist in the province. She actively campaigned against the entry of large scale mining in the municipality of San Fernando, Bukidnon. She also was one of the active participants and organizers of the series of camp-out protests in the province’s capitol building in 2012.
“Her staunch opposition to the continued human rights abuses in San Fernando put her in the cross hairs of paramilitary group New Indigenous Peoples’ Army for Reform (Nipar) and of the 8th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army,” progressive groups said in a joint statement.
Threats, harassments and intimidations forced her to leave home in Magkalungay subvillage, San Fernando and to relocate with her entire family to Valencia City.
Lauron and Lapatis initiated a campaign for farmworkers in Banlag, Valencia City last October 2012. The peasant organization succeeded, through successful negotiations with local landlords, in increasing the daily wage of the workers from P125 per day to P150 and subsequently to P200.
“We are outraged at the lack of concrete measures to stop the unabated rights abuses in the province,” Kasama-Bukidnon,?Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Northern Mindanao Region,?Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization,?Amihan Northern Mindanao,?Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights-Northern Mindanao Region,?Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region said in a statement.
“The pinnacle of impunity is manifested in the stagnant case of the killing of village chieftain Jimmy Liguyon, whose killer Alde Salusad is still, up to now, roaming the communities of San Fernando despite the fact that a warrant of arrest had been served against him by the formal courts,” the groups said.
Liguyon, a vocal critic of large-scale mining, was killed inside his home on March 5, 2012. Witnesses pointed to Salusad, the leader of paramilitary group Nipar. A warrant of arrest was issued against Salusad on April 30, 2012 but he remains at large up to now.
“Without fearing capture, Salusad has embarked on a Lumad killing spree,” the groups said. They held Salusad’s group as responsible for the deaths of Liguyon, Abundio Mantuguhan and Datu Erning Mantuguhan), and several cases of harassment against anti-mining activists.
“We condemn the criminal negligence of the law enforcement agencies in apprehending the warlord Salusad. Their lackluster effort is the direct reason why Salusad has become emboldened to commit grave rights abuses without fearing accountability,” the groups said.
The groups called on authorities to act on the incident.
They also demand the scrapping of President Benigno Aquino III’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan. The groups dubbed the program as a “a bloody political suppression campaign…militarizing rural and urban communities, and targeting civilian communities and activists.”