“No peace can come out of violence against innocent lives.”
By JUSTIN UMALI
MANILA – A delegation of farmers, human rights defenders, and activists from the Southern Tagalog region participated in yesterday’s protest action in Manila to join the wider protest against human rights abuses and militarization of schools and communities.
“We can expect that these attacks will spread across other sectors, primarily the farmers and workers,” said Shirley Songlia, Defend Southern Tagalog spokesperson, adding that the incidents in Batangas, Rizal, and Laguna are manifestations of Duterte’s Oplan Kapanatagan.
Yesterday’s protest on Negros killings and the proposed deployment of state security forces in state universities and colleges culminated the two-day Southern Tagalog activists series of mobilizations in Metro Manila to condemn the recent spate of harassment and killings in their respective provinces.
“This is already apparent with the current evacuations in Quezon and the violent dispersals of NutriAsia and PEPMACO workers,” she added.
The delegation, led by human rights group Defend Southern Tagalog (Defend ST), filed three cases at the CHR offices: one concerning the seventeen NutriAsia workers still detained over spurious charges following their strike, one concerning the victims of harassment by AFP, PNP, and PDEA agents during an anti-drug saturation drive operation in Rizal, and one concerning death threats and red-tagging of human rights groups in Batangas.
Justice still elusive to Laguna workers
In Cabuyao, Laguna, striking NutriAsia workers are still calling on the local government and the police to release their fellow workers from jail, while also continuing their calls for regularization and wage increase.
A contingent of NutriAsia workers also filed a case before the CHR to help investigate the violent dispersal following their initial strike that led to the arrest of 17 NutriAsia workers on charges of arson, malicious mischief, alarm and scandal, and serious illegal detention.
According to reports, the NutriAsia strike was forcibly dispersed by a bulldozer, while police and armed guards pelted rocks and used water cannons at the striking workers. The workers insist that the strike is justified and lawful under the Labor Code, while their case is pending at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board.
During a strike, police and military must be stationed at least 50 meters away, as stipulated in DOLE’s Operational Guidelines 40-G-03.
Worsening drug war in Rizal
Meanwhile, residents from Rizal also came forward to file a case before the CHR regarding a recent implementation of President Duterte’s war against drugs in their community.
Last August 11, elements of the AFP, PNP, and agents from PDEA converged at Sitio Tanglaw, Brgy. San Isidro, Antipolo, Rizal to conduct a search operation for possible drug suspects.
Ernesto Llamera, a senior citizen and resident of Sitio Tanglaw, said, “They went house-to-house and interrogated us. They didn’t have any ID, or warrants, or any document. When we asked who was leading the operation, they didn’t answer.”
According to reports from Karapatan Timog Katagaulgan (Karapatan-TK), residents were forced to the covered court in Sitio Tanglaw to undergo mandatory drug testing.
A fact-finding mission sent by the human rights group was subsequently harassed and frustrated by Councillor Junie Elizaga, in one incident even pushing and threatening one of its members.
Karapatan-TK stressed that the August 11 incident was part of the administration’s Simultaneous Anti-Criminality Enhanced Operations between the police, military, and other government agencies, under the scope of Oplan Kapanatagan.
Death Squads in Batangas
Rights leaders and advocates in Batangas also filed a case, pertaining to the harassment and threats to their life and security.
Karapatan Batangas recently received information that rights workers and advocates were being tagged as communists by the 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force. The names identified were Petty Serrano Enriquez, BUKAL spokesperson, Gigi Bautista, secretary of Samahan ng mga Magbubukid sa Batangas, and Gimo Hernandez, Kaisahan leader.
The group also received information that a “hit-list” was being circulated among alleged death squads in the province. Among the names in the list are Pastor Edwin Egar of the Batangas Ecumenical Movement, former Brgy. Captain Ronald Ramos, and Fidel Lopez.
Recently, Willy Capareno, Anakpawis coordinator, was warned by AFP elements operating in Brgy. Quipot, San Juan, to not return else face arrest.
“We vehemently condemn these acts of terrorizing and demonizing legitimate organizations,” Enriquez said in a statement. “We condemn these malicious and baseless accusations tagging us as NPAs and communists.”
“This labeling is a clear violation of our rights and freedoms.”
Currently, farmers from South Quezon are forced to leave their homes following intensified harassment and abuses by the 85th Infantry Battalion. Meanwhile, PEPMACO workers on strike were violently dispersed by police while they were scheduled to attend a hearing at the DOLE NCMB, resulting in the arrest of 18 PEPMACO workers.
“We can only call on everybody to stay vigilant and put an end to these attacks,” Songlia said. “No peace can come out of violence against innocent lives. We are now in a state of de facto Martial Law, and the only way to stop this is if we band together.”