66 killed under Duterte, advocates call for defense of human rights in Negros

Israel weeps as he narrates how his father was killed by policemen on March 30, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Saka)

Under the Duterte administration, 66 farmers and activists have already been gunned down.

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Israel Avelino wept in anguish as he narrated how his father Edgardo was killed by police operatives three months ago inside their home in barangay Panubigan in Canlaon City in Negros Oriental.

On March 30, at around 2 a.m., Israel and his family were woken by the banging on the door. “A member of SAF [Special Action Force] pulled me and dragged me out of the house. He punched me here,” Israel said, his left hand on his abdomen.

Israel, his mother and his sister were taken to the nearby chapel while Edgardo remained inside the house. Later, they would learn that Edgardo was already dead, with multiple gunshot wounds, including one in the forehead.

Edgardo is one of the 14 farmers killed in Canlaon City, Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina towns in what police operatives dubbed as Oplan Sauron. A fact-finding mission revealed that the victims were summarily executed.

“I wanted to ask help from government but how could I if it is this very government which did this to us?” Israel, 22, said in Filipino.

Since Edgardo’s death, Israel’s mother has been forced to work as a domestic helper in Cebu City. His 16-year-old sister has not recovered from trauma until now. “She talks like a little child, mumbling words we do not understand,” Israel told Bulatlat.

Israel and his cousin Emmanuel whose mother was arrested and detained, and two survivors of the Sagay 9 massacre appealed for support in their quest for justice during the launch of Defend Negros, Stop the Attacks network, held June 22 at the Bulwagang Pepe Diokno, Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City.

The two survivors lamented that after the October 20, 2018 massacre in Hacienda Nene in Sagay City, authorities were quick to blame them for the bloodshed even before conducting any investigation. Members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) are now facing multiple murder charges over the incident.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, shares the fact-finding mission report to fellow advocates during the launch of Defend Negros. (Photo courtesy of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura)

Under the Duterte administration, 66 farmers and activists have already been gunned down, according to Defend Negros network. This includes Benjamin Ramos , lawyer of the Sagay 9 victims, Bernardino Patigas and Elisa Badayos.  Eleven of the victims were women and two were minor.

Defend Negros attributed the spate in human rights violations to Duterte’s memorandum order no. 32, which is part of the government’s counterinsurgency policy Oplan Kapanatagan. Duterte signed the memorandum on Nov. 22, 2018 ordering the deployment of more troops to Bicol, Samar and Negros purportedly to suppress lawless violence.

Farmers said they were not criminals and they were unarmed when they were attacked.

Cristina Palabay, secretary of human rights alliance Karapatan, said Negros is the worst in terms of impunity.

“State security forces even brag about what they did, with no attempt to hide their atrocities. It’s like saying, ‘We can get away with any crime.’” Palabay said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Palabay said, “We do not want this to become our new normal.”

Fighting back

Palabay said that amid the attacks, Negros farmers are determined to survive, to overcome difficulties and to fight back.

“They have the kind of resilience that teaches the whole nation how to fight back,” Palabay said.

Members of Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (Sinagbayan) perform a skit depicting the plight of Negros farmers during the launch of Defend Negros. (Photo courtesy of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura)

Veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona, who hails from Bacolod, also pointed out that while the island has become a laboratory of oppression, it is also a laboratory of hope and struggle.

“Sugar workers refuse to back down,” Espina-Varona said, citing the long history of Negrenses’ fight for land since the Marcos dictatorship.

Defend Negros is considering filing criminal charges against the perpetrators of killings and other human rights violations.

The network also plans to gather the broadest support for the campaign.

The fact-finding mission report has been submitted to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Office of the Ombudsman. The network will also send it to United Nations Human Rights Council, hoping for an independent investigation into the human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Auxiliary Bishop of Manila Broderick Pabillo, one of the convenors, vowed that the Catholic Church will continue supporting the farmers’ fight for justice. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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