Contextualizing militarization and killings in Negros

National Day of Mourning, Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat)

The island of Negros has long been militarized supposedly to obliterate the revolutionary group Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.


MANILA – Sixteen years old, Lady* hopes to take up Nursing in college. But she is forced to put on hold college applications for now due to a death in the family. This is not your ordinary story.

Her father, the main breadwinner in the family, was among those killed allegedly by the police on March 30 in Canlaon, Negros Oriental. On this day, at least 14 people were killed – eight from Canlaon City, two in Manjuyod and two in Santa Catalina towns. Twelve others were also arrested in combined police and military operations.

Lady was compelled to stop school as she often suffers from chest pain and restlessness after the incident. She saw how her brother was being taken by the police. She held her brother so he would not be taken. She also heard the gun shots that killed her father.

Lady and her family cannot go back to their community and live a normal life they had as before, even if “normal” may not be the right word to describe abject poverty. The same fate was suffered by many more families whose loved ones were killed, if not arrested with trumped-up charges in the island of Negros.

Read: #JusticeForNegros14 | Probe reveals state security forces committed ‘murder, theft, other abuses’ 

In news reports, the police said those who were killed are accused of being supporters and members of the New People’s Army (NPA). For Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde, they were killed because they fought back, an accusation denied by the victims’ families who went in Manila to tell their side. Lady’s father for instance worked two jobs to feed his family. Aside from working in the rice field where he earned P150 ($3) a daily, he also worked in a sugar plantation to earn an additional P250 ($5) daily.

On Aug. 20, some of the families, as well as various individuals and groups, held the national day of mourning in the capital to condemn the rights violations in Negros and demand the scrapping of Memorandum Order No. 32.

Militarization in Negros

The island of Negros has long been militarized supposedly to obliterate the revolutionary group Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

It may be recalled that Negros, particularly Guihulngan, was declared a priority area around 20 years ago by the late President Cory Aquino and the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Total War policy. It was also a priority area under former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s counterinsurgency plan Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL). During the last phase of OBL, the AFP implemented its local version of OBL dubbed Oplan Cut-Wedge “which aims to stop the ability of the revolutionary forces to move from one island to another.”

Several units of the military had been deployed to the Negros island. Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) and Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) were also utilized to augment the military operations in Negros. RPA-ABB is a break-away group of the NPA.

Why Guihulngan often becomes priority area of military operations? According to the a report, Guihulngan, particular barangay Linantuyan, lies at the boundary of the provinces of Negros Oriental and Occidental, making it a strategic location for the NPA forces to move between two provinces. Historically, the said barangay had been known as a battleground.

Just like the present situation, local chapters of progressive groups like Karapatan and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) has been subjected to red-tagging and other human rights violations. There are also people who get rewarded for pretending to be fake NPA surrenderees.

Under Duterte, Negros Occidental and Oriental including Samar and Bicol region were put under Memorandum Order No. 32. The memorandum put the said areas in a state of lawlessness which justified military and police deployment in the areas. At least 90 people had been killed, including human rights lawyers Benjamin Ramos and Anthony Trinidad.

Read: 3 years of Duterte’s counterinsurgency: 250 civilians dead, thousands displaced 

National Day of Mourning, Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat)

Addressing the root cause of armed conflict

The basic problem of landlessness in the Philippines was not solved even in previous administrations. Former Agrarian Reform Secretary and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Chairperson Emeritus Rafael Mariano said this basic problem would only be addressed through the peace process which Duterte has unilaterally cancelled.

He said that up to now, lands are still monopolized by big landlords, making farmers the poorest Filipinos.

During his term at Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), he said that the provinces of Camarines Sur and Sorsogon in Bicol region, Leyte, Samar and Negros island have the most number of undistributed lands to the landless farmers under the government’s agrarian reform program. “This means that many private agricultural lands are not yet distributed to the beneficiaries of land reform program of the government.”

This fundamental issue would have been addressed in peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). This explains why the peasants group welcomed the Duterte administration’s initial commitment to resume peace talks with the NDFP.

When peace talks resumed during the beginning of Duterte administration, there was a spark of hope to address the landlessness as the second substantive agenda – the social and economic reforms was to be discussed on the negotiating table. During the January 2017 formal peace talks, both panels agreed on principle on free land distribution. Both panels also drafted its version of Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser).

But things got worse as Duterte not only cancelled the peace talks but also issued Executive Order 70 last year declaring the NPA as a terrorist group which resulted in massive human rights violations in areas covered by MO 32 as well as in Mindanao which is currently still under martial law.
Violation of civil, socio-economic and political rights

“The 1987 Constitution guarantees Filipinos democratic rights. We have the freedom to express our grievances to the government. There is no justification to these killings,” Mariano said.

According to Karapatan, 55 out of the 90 reported killings in Negros were confirmed to be perpetrated by the state forces. Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said that these are people and residents “targeted for their political beliefs or their affiliation to progressive organizations often already red-tagged by the government.”

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) also said that the PNP has also admitted the killing of at least 20 people when it said that police operations are legitimate on Dec. 27, 2018 where six are killed in Guihulngan and 14 others in Canlaon and in nearby areas on March 30.

Long fight for justice

For Mariano, justice will be achieved no matter how long it takes. He said that immunity from suit of Dutere only lasts during his term of office. The people can hold him accountable once his term ends in 2022. (

*Lady’s real name is withheld upon request and for family’s safety.

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