By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Church groups and human rights advocates are holding the Duterte administration accountable for the spate of attacks which killed 10 activists in a span of two days. The slain victims were two religious leaders in Luzon and eight Lumads massacred in Mindanao.
In an indignation rally at the Boys Scout Circle in Quezon City today, Dec. 5, progressives decried the brazen killings of civilians and activists, either in military operations, or assassination-style by suspected military death squads. The attacks, they said, are reminiscent of the open fascist rule during the Marcos Dictatorship and during the “undeclared martial law” under the administration of President Gloria Arroyo.
The protesters, led by Karapatan, the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) vowed to also raise the level of opposition to “state terrorism” and call for justice in a big protest in Luneta, Manila on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
“Indeed, this fascist and terrorist regime has turned the entire country into a killing field,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay in a statement.
Since Sunday, Dec. 3, Karapatan has been sending out one urgent alert after another, about various human rights violations happening all over the country. The human rights group denounced how unarmed civilians have become “open targets by state security forces, emboldened and reassured by their commander-in-chief.”
At 10:45 last night, Dec. 4, Catholic priest Marcelito “Tito” Paez, 72, died from nine gunshot wounds in a hospital where he was rushed after being attacked by motorcycle-riding men. He was the first Catholic priest killed extrajudicially under Duterte.
On Dec. 3, Pastor Lovelito Quiñones, 57, was shot dead by the Police Regional Mobile Group in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro. Karapatan cited that the Army’s 203rd Brigade claimed the victim was a “New People’s Army guerrilla,” which his relatives countered and said the RMG planted a .45 caliber pistol as evidence. Quiñones, a pastor of King’s Glory Ministry, was on his motorcycle heading home in Don Pedro village when he was shot in the chest. The Army’s 4th Infantry Division alleged that there was an encounter in the area.
On the same day in South Cotabato province in Mindanao, eight Lumad residents were shot dead by a composite team of soldiers of the 27th Infantry Battalion and Philippine Marines in sitio (subvillage) Datal Bong Langon, Ned village, Lake Sebu.
Killed were: Victor Danyan, Victor Danyan Jr., Artemio Danyan, Pato Celardo, Samuel Angkoy, To Diamante, Bobot Lagase, and Mateng Bantal. Two others were wounded: Luben and Teteng Laod.
The protesters urged President Duterte to order a probe on the cases, and to stop “maligning activists.”
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is calling for a thorough investigation of the incident and demand that perpetrators be held accountable.
“Ultimately, we hold President Duterte responsible for the intensifying attacks against rural missionaries, activists and human rights advocates,” said Sister Becky Pacete, NMS, who read the statement of RMP national coordinator Sr. Elen Belardo, RGS.
Karapatan attributed the attacks to Duterte’s counterinsurgency program “Oplan Kapayapaan,” which it said has a similar pattern and manner of killings to the Arroyo administration’s Oplan Bantay Laya, or OBL. Karapatan documented 1,206 victims of extrajudicial killings under OBL, mostly activists and supporters who were tagged by government as NPA.
Since the start of his term, President Duterte, in his speeches, openly encouraged police and soldiers to shoot drug suspects “if they fight back.” Police claims to have killed some 4,000 drug suspects who “fought back” during anti-drug operations. In a speech on Nov. 29, Duterte exhorted soldiers to shoot armed members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Arrests, harassments, food blockade
Also today, Quezon City police forcibly arrested transport leader George San Mateo of Piston, even as he was already posting bail at the Quezon City Hall of Justice. A court issued a warrant for his arrest for violation of the Public Service Law, in connection to a transport strike in February. Police eventually released San Mateo.
Progressives condemned as “harassment” the mass up by QC police at the office of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) in Quezon city late last night, Dec. 4, purportedly, to serve the arrest warrant for San Mateo.
In Lianga, Surigao del Sur province, Lumad groups and advocates are calling for help to lift the military food blockade which have barred the delivery of relief aid to the evacuation site of some 1,300 Lumad in Diatagon village proper.
‘Servant of God and the people’
Among those present at this afternoon’s protest in Quezon City were Catholic nuns and young seminarians, Aglipayan and protestant priests and pastors, many of whom knew Fr. Paez personally. Former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo was also among the rallyists.
Speaking at the protest, Nardy Sabino, PCPR secretary general, recalled that the elderly priest was walking with a limp when he last saw him. Sabino was unable to hold back tears as he gave a speech in Filipino: “They pumped nine bullets into this priest who is already so vulnerable.”
He recalled that Paez would travel all the way from Nueva Ecija to Manila to join protests against the extrajudicial killings. He also gave sanctuary for anyone in need, specially farmers and the poor.
“It is but right that we condemn those who kill a servant of God and of the people,” Sabino said.
RMP expressed their condolences to Paez’s family and community, as they gave tribute to the slain priest: “His commitment to serve the rural poor is such an inspiration to Church people. He served the people to his last breath. He sought to align the social teachings of the Church with legitimate demands of the people. He fought for the people’s rights and interests.”
The groups enjoined the public to denounce the human rights violations.
“We are facing perilous times when no one is safe. Let us unite in raising our voices against this regime’s utter disregard for people’s lives,” said the RMP statement.
PCPR also called on the faithful to unite “against evil forces.”
“Let us thread the path of righteousness, let us not be cowered by the barrel of the gun. By standing firm and holding our ground, let the light of truth, justice and peace pierce through this time of darkness,” said the PCPR statement.