“I am from Mindanao, the first island where Martial Law was implemented. All the killings that is happening in Negros right now, also happened in Mindanao last 2017.”
By DAWN PEÑA
MANILA — Human rights advocates and Manila-based Negrenses thumbed down President Rodrigo Duterte’s proposal to put Negros island under Martial Law.
In a forum dubbed as Pagdampig (Defend): a Human Rights Situationer on the Negros killings held on August 1 at the Asian Center in the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP), rights activists, professionals, and students expressed solidarity with the relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings.
Since President Duterte’s took office, 87 civilians, mostly farmers, have been gunned down. This number continues to rise as state security forces continue the implementation of Oplan Sauron, the government’s anti-insurgency campaign in the island.
One of the 87 was Carmela Avelino’s husband Edgardo. She travelled from Canlaon City to seek justice for her slain husband.
On March 30 of this year, 10 uniformed personnel entered their home at dawn.
“Five policemen told me and my child to get out of the house. The others went where my husband was lying down and blocked our view, for us not to see what they were doing with him,” Carmela narrated.
Minutes later, Carmela heard three gunshots, sounds she thought were coming from the streets. Her husband was shot three times, twice in the chest and once in the center of the forehead.
That night, six other people were killed in the City of Canlaon.
According to human rights groups, most of the killings happened in front of relatives. There have also been cases where bodies were encased in sacks and left in front of police stations.
Same situation in Mindanao
Manobo leader and Bayan Muna Representative Eufemia Cullamat, who hails from Mindanao, said the same brutal operations have been happening in Mindanao since 2017.
“I am from Mindanao, the first island where Martial Law was implemented. All the killings that is happening in Negros right now, also happened in Mindanao last 2017. Even before Martial Law was declared [in Mindanao], militarization was already rampant in communities, more so with the (areas of) national minorities because of their commitment to defend their ancestral lands,” Cullamat stated.
She also added that the national minorities strongly condemned the atrocities that are happening Negros Oriental. As a representative in Congress, Cullamat vowed to use her platform to bring the narratives of the Negrenses and other sectors on the margins to the forefront of discourse and policy development.
Several members of the audience also shared messages of solidarity with the relatives of the victims.
Van Sulitas, a member of the UP University Student Council and a native of Escalante City in Negros, encouraged students to join in establishing a youth arm of the Defend Negros Network to fight against red-tagging and senseless killings in Negros.
“Also, with the looming implementation of Martial Law in the province and the whole of Visayas, it is important for us students, Filipinos, to assert that there is no need for the Duterte Administration to declare such policy. It is not the answer, especially after Oplan Sauron,” Sulitas added.
Sulitas added that the support for alternative media is important in times like these, wherein disinformation overpower the narrative of the victims and mass organizations are blamed for human rights violations.
Dr. Diosa Labiste of the Defend Negros Network agreed with Sulitas, saying, “Disinformation is now linked to impunity. I think it needs a different response from us especially with social media.”
Earl, a representative from League of Filipino Students, narrated that friends from his hometown of Cadiz City in Negros Occidental would still witness a heavy presence of policemen and soldiers doing rounds in their area. “As students, we will continue supporting this cause, and we are taking a stand for the farmers of Negros.”
The program concluded with a short candle lighting ceremony for the lives lost in Negros Island.