Peace consultant killing raises serious questions

He was fast asleep inside the bus, too tired perhaps to get out and stretch his legs during the stopover in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya, at about 2 a.m. Wednesday. So when a gunman boarded the bus to kill him in cold blood, the murder went very fast. The assassin then quickly left the scene on a waiting motorcycle driven by another man.

Randy Felix Malayao, 49, a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, was the first NDFP consultant slain in such a manner since late 2017. But his assassination followed a pattern.

In recent months, four other NDFP peace consultants – Rafael Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad, and Rey Claro Casambre – had been individually arrested by state security forces. All were similarly implicated in murder cases, filed in far-flung areas. To ensure their prolonged detention, they were slapped with non-bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. (Two weeks ago, however, a Quezon City trial court dismissed the charges against Baylosis, ruled his arrest as illegal, and ordered him freed.)

Randy Malayao may have been considering himself lucky because, unlike these others, no criminal charge had been filed or arrest warrant issued against him. True, he had been falsely arrested in 2008, heavily tortured, detained and prosecuted for four years on trumped-up charges. But the trial court cleared him of all charges and ordered him freed in 2012. He then joined the peace talks as consultant and one of the NDFP peace panel spokespersons in negotiations with the Duterte government.

Apparently not too worried about his physical safety, Randy had been travelling by public transport from his hometown in San Pablo, Isabela to wherever he needed to go and returning home the same way. He went about his business as a human-rights activist, unarmed and alone, like anyone who felt secure in his clean conscience.

That he was killed, rather than framed up and arrested on illegal possession of firearms and explosives, has raised alarm in the human-rights community. Their legalist moves now being exposed as shamefully contrived, are the state security forces now taking deadlier, offensive action against NDFP peace consultants?

Did President Duterte’s latest flip-flopping on peace talks with the NDFP induce Randy’s killer to hunt him down and pull the trigger?

Consider this shift in Duterte’s mood and outbursts. On Jan. 4, 2019, speaking in Camarines Sur, he indicated he was again open to talking peace with the Left revolutionary movement. He said:

“At this time, [Jose Ma.] Sison [NDFP chief political consultant] and I do not understand each other. But I’d like you to know that we are keeping the fire burning, and you cannot really close [the door on the peace talks]. You cannot afford to lose all channels of communication. You would have to leave even a small opening.”

On Jan. 29 that sober tone again changed. Condoling with the families of the victims of the twin bombings in Jolo, Duterte declared he would never negotiate with terrorist groups (referring to the Abu Sayyaf). But he added: “Same with the NPA [New People’s Army]. I will never talk to you. I can’t do anything about it.”

That sharp shift in stance harked back to his Christmas gift-giving talk to Philippine Army soldiers in Compostela Valley on Dec. 22. Speaking of “law and order,” he pointed to the Communist Party of the Philippines “including its legal fronts and infrastructure,” and barked out this order:

“Do not fight them. Destroy them. Kill them. Just destroy. Who ordered you to do so? I did.” After lambasting Joma Sison, he repeated: “We have to destroy them. Destroy them. Do not believe in human rights. I assume full responsibility.”

In consonance with that presidential stance, the Department of Justice has amended its petition for proscription, filed in a regional trial court seeking the declaration of the CPP and the NPA as “terrorist organizations,” to skirt the legal hurdles to the court’s early action on the petition. Meantime, former military and police officers sitting as congressmen have been pushing hard to amend the Human Security Act of 2007, the basis for filing the proscription petition. Their objectives: to delete the safeguard provisions and make it easy for the court to declare the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations, broaden the law’s coverage, and impose a harsher penalty (life imprisonment) on anyone deemed as a terrorist or member of a terrorist organization.

Mindful of these moves, NDFP peace panel chair Fidel V. Agcaoili, warned that Randy’s killing “may very well [be a] portent of worse moves against the NDFP consultants.” It indicates, he added, “an escalation of attacks against [them] and serves as further serious obstacle to the resumption of peace negotiations.” He voiced out the panel’s “outrage and strongest condemnation” of the murder while according Randy “our highest honor for his invaluable contributions to the revolutionary movement and the NDFP’s peace efforts.”

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who also chairs the GRP peace panel, expressed shock and sadness over the killing and his panel’s hopes that persons involved in peace negotiations would be spared from such attacks.

“It is our ardent hope that the life sacrificed by Malayao served to give new life to our common desire for that elusive peace,” Bello said. “We in the (GRP) negotiating panel remain unperturbed, even as the slimmest ray of hope for a just and peaceful settlement of the armed conflict with the CPP-NPA-NDFP is dimmed further with the silencing of the purveyors of peace.”

Bello recalled that Malayao, “a good personal friend” for whom he had lawyered in 2008, “would meet with me at my house in Isabela whenever we had time and we would talk [about] peace and human rights issues.”

Can the unjust killing of an ardent peacemaker personally lauded by his chief peace negotiator move President Duterte back to his sober stance? Can he give justice to Randy’s sacrifice of life by seriously resuming the stalled GRP-NDFP peace negotiations?

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in Philippine Star
Feb. 2, 2019

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