“We call on Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to extricate herself from these early election campaign activities of the Liberal Party and heed the cries for justice of the victims and their families.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – “We will not join in the happy celebration inside the Department of Justice as the human rights situation continues to worsen.”
This is what Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. told the media as progressives held a protest action outside the DOJ while vehicles of food, lechon, and flowers were delivered for the birthday celebration of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, who turned 55 today, Aug. 27.
De Lima is also expected to soon announce her candidacy for senate next year. Reyes asked, “What is her priority now?”
In the first half of this year, human rights group Karapatan documented 33 extrajudicial killings, with 11 victims killed in August. The group also documented 13 massacres under President Aquino, with 46 people killed, seven of them minors.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that in August alone, Karapatan documented two massacre cases in Masbate and Bukidnon, where nine civilians were killed, two of whom were children. The victims were tagged as members and supporters of New People’s Army (NPA), she said.
Palabay said that instead of holding accountable the implicated soldiers and ranking military officials, the Aquino government is “busy” campaigning for the Liberal Party. Instead of a birthday cake, Karapatan brought white crosses that bore the name of the massacres that took place under Aquino.
“We call on Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to extricate herself from these early election campaign activities of the Liberal Party and heed the cries for justice of the victims and their families,” she added.
Government inaction on killings
The protest outside the DOJ had to pause at least twice to give way to two vehicles – a truck owned by a bakeshop and jeepney filled with packed Kenny Rogers meals.
Activists jeered every time a lechon was brought in. “Baboy na naman!” one quipped.
Palabay, during the protest, said victims of extrajudicial killings would never have a chance of celebrating their birthdays again. Justice also remains elusive for these cases, she added.
Under Aquino, the DOJ formed an inter-agency group that would look into cases of human rights violations, particularly extrajudicial killings. But rights activists have long assailed that even supposed “priority cases” have not moved at all.
Palabay said that on top of unresolved killings are new cases of rights violations.
On Aug. 3, three Del Carmen village residents in Masbate were killed after offering help to wounded government soldiers.
Karapatan also documented five residents brutally killed in Mendis vilage in Pangangucan, Bukidnon. Their remains were found on Aug. 19. Those killed were: Herminio Samia, 70, his son, Jobert and grandson Norman, 13, and his nephews, Emer, 17, and Welmer.
Samia, a blind man, was found near a tree, with intestines exposed, Karapatan said. The human rights group said Norman’s right ear was removed and his jaw dislodged.
A 15-year-old witness reported that he saw soldiers shout, “You NPAs inside that house, get out now!” When Samia and his brood came out, the soldiers shot them one by one.
On Aug. 19, Karapatan Sorsogon spokesperson Teodoro Escanilla was shot dead in his own home. Last February, a certain Sgt. Rene Enteria of the Philippine Army’s 31st Infantry Battalion arrested and tortured Escanilla’s neighbour. The victim, whose name was withheld, was offered P50,000 by the soldier to kill the progressive leader. The victim instead reported the incident to Karapatan.
“These soldiers commit massacres with such shamelessness because of the policy outlined in Oplan Bayanihan, where activists are targetted and civilians are considered as collateral damage. The DOJ’s inaction on cases of massacres and extrajudicial killings encourages or even heightens the state of impunity,” Palabay said.
Apart from killings, Bayan also condemned the filing of trumped-up cases against progressive leaders, including Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, who has been at the forefront of assisting Lumads in Davao City.
The protesters also picketed in front of the Manila City Hall, where National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Adelberto Silva was to be arraigned. The arraignment was reset after his lawyers filed an omnibus motion for reinvestigation.
Silva is facing multiple murder charges in relation to the Hilongos mass grave. Among his co-accused are spouses Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and several NDFP peace consultants.
Silva told Bulatlat.com he never received a subpoena for any of the cases filed against him. Apart from the charges related to Hilongos mass grave, he said he is also facing charges in Cavite, Samar and Aparri, Cagayan.
Outside the court, progressives called for the release of Silva and other political prisoners.
Vencer Crisostomo of Anakbayan said Silva and more than 500 political prisoners were imprisoned because they were fighting for the welfare of the Filipino people, such as just and decent wages, and opposing policies such as contractualization.
“Are those implicated in corruption and the pork barrel scam sent behind bars? No, they are not,” he said.
Bayan said that De Lima should “take time to address these very urgent matters.”