“Instead of adequately addressing the sustainable livelihood needs of the farmers, the government trample upon the economic and human rights of the farmers. Following reports of indiscriminate firing from the military, farmers are forced to flee from their homes and sources of livelihood.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Ales Custodio, in her early 50s, was close to tears and her hands were shaking when she spoke about her son, Jefferson, during the conference of victims of human rights violations committed in the last two years since Haiyan. It was held Thursday, Nov 5, at Tacloban City, attended mostly by peasants from Samar and Leyte.
The Custodios live in Carigara, Leyte. Jefferson had been helping his father grow cassava, bananas and reeds. The latter is raw material for making soft brooms which the family sells. Jefferson is the elder of Ales’ two children.
A People Surge volunteer and community organizer, Jefferson was reportedly shot dead by perceived military men while delivering farm tools to farmers in Carigara, Leyte. Months later, People Surge said his uncle was also shot dead after the military was reported to have declared that someone’s going to be targeted next.
Nanay Ales, as she is called at the eastern Visayas human rights conference, recalled that Jefferson was also a member of a youth group in Carigara. She herself and her husband were members of MUFAC, or Municipal Farmers Association in Carigara, Leyte. It has more than 300 members in 22 villages in Carigara.
After Haiyan, this association spearheaded efforts to help each other recover, and they even tried sending members to help clear and bring aid to Tacloban City.
But to the military, such actions seemed to have been a cause for suspicion. At the conference, peasants talked in three languages — Tagalog, Visayan and Waray – but they voiced similar complaints of militarization of their farms and communities. They said the military does not want them to go to their farms; it keeps asking them about the associations they joined, if they were members of the New Peoples’ Army.
Nanay Ales said that with Jefferson gone, they could only plant reeds now as the father, Rodolfo Custodio, has lost a helping hand.
Mario Cayas, the secretary general of MUFAC, also had difficulty speaking when his turn came at the regional conference. He knew Jefferson and they had just met right before he was killed.
At the conference, it was reported that aside from the tragedy that Jefferson’s death has not been fully investigated by the authorities, Jefferson’s family and the rest of the village continue to be harassed to this day.
Soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines would come to their village, repeatedly asking the locals if they were members of MUFAC, and then, they would ask for Jefferson’s father, Rodolfo Custodio.
Custodio said these soldiers also conducted a “census” in Carigara shortly before Jefferson was murdered. The soldiers listed down their names and took everyone’s photo.
The Custodio family has not yet been able to file a case in court for lack of witnesses, but this week, after wrapping up their rights conference, they joined three other families in filing the first of what Katungod said would be many cases of human rights violations to be filed.
The CHR in Region 8 said they will investigate.
Nanay Ales said “I don’t regret that Jefferson had helped in the relief operation in Yolanda, even though he was killed for it.” But, she asked, “why do these things happen to people helping another?”
She expressed hopes that her son’s death will be given justice, that the military would leave Carigara so they could not threaten its people when they go to their farms, and so they could not accuse them anymore that they were NPAs.
Increased cases of rights violations despite Haiyan’s devastation
Jun Berino, spokesperson of Katungod (local organization of Karapatan), told Bulatlat.com that despite the still unrehabilitated devastations of Yolanda (Haiyan), cases of human rights violations are increasing in the region.
From January to August this year alone, he said Katungod has documented 13 cases of extra-judicial killings, not yet including the Calbayog massacre where a farmer and his family were strafed and killed this year by seven to nine persons wearing military fatigues and hoods to conceal their faces.
Berino said soldiers are encamped in their schools and houses. Last month, up to 2,700 individuals from two villages were forced to evacuate.
Non-government EVRAP (Eastern Visayas Rural Assistance Program) also reported at the conference the military efforts to take over their projects in various villages in this region. They shared feedback from the villagers where it has projects that the military red-tagged the agency as supporting or fronting for the communist New People’s Army (NPA). An EVRAP staffer said a civilian military officer also routinely visits their office in Palo, Leyte.
Last January, after EVRAP distributed relief goods in the Typhoon Ruby-hit Maydolong, Easter Samar, the military allegedly spread word that its staff were all NPA commanders.
The second conference on rights violations inflicted to Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors received largely similar reports from peasants about soldiers conducting house-to-house visits in their communities.
“Following reports of indiscriminate firing from the military, the farmers are forced to flee from their homes and sources of livelihood. Instead of adequately addressing the sustainable livelihood needs of the farmers, the government trample upon the economic and human rights of the farmers,” said Marissa Cabaljao, secretary general of People Surge.