“Although it is so close to Christmas, [202nd Infantry Bridgade commander] Alex Rillera is still in the business of stealing corpses.”
By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – The five people killed by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) 2nd Infantry Division on Dec. 17 in Baras, Rizal were not members of the revolutionary New People’s Army (NPA) but civilian farm workers, according to human rights watchdog Karapatan Southern Tagalog.
The group said the military is still refusing to hand over the remains of the three of the five slain to their families.
Kyle Salgado, spokesperson for Karapatan ST, said, “Although it is so close to Christmas, [202nd Infantry Bridgade commander] Alex Rillera is still in the business of stealing corpses.”
On December 17, reports from the AFP said that a shoot out in Sitio Malalim, Barangay San Juan, Baras, Rizal province, resulted in the deaths of five NPA fighters. The AFP identified two of them as “Ka Sandra” and “Ka Onli.”
Karapatan ST’s fact-finding mission, however, revealed that the five individuals were caretakers and workers at a private mango farm in barangay San Juan, Baras. Through records from the morgue, the human rights group identified them as Vilma Salabao, Wesley Obmerga, Carlito Zonio, Jhonatan Alberga, and Niño Alberga.
In a post via Twitter, Marco Valbuena, information officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), also maintained that the five were not NPA guerrillas but farm workers.
“We denounce the AFP’s peddling of fake news to cover up their criminal responsibility in the Baras 5 Massacre,” Valbuena said.
As of writing, Karapatan ST has assisted families in claiming the remains of Jhonatan and Niño Alberga, who were farm guards working in the area. Zonio, Salabao, and Obmerga’s remains have yet to be returned.
The group condemned the AFP’s refusal to release the remains of the three remaining victims. “[The military and police] are groomed to be merciless murderers and terrorists toward their innocent fellow countrymen – far from their mandate to serve and protect the Filipino people,” they said in a statement.
“We are calling on to authorities, Commission on Human Rights, and concerned human rights organizations and individuals to investigate and assist the families of slain civilians as they are victims of cold-blooded massacre perpetrated by the state,” Karapatan ST also said. “The anguish caused by the lasting uncertainty of not knowing when they can retrieve the bodies of their loved ones constitutes psychological suffering.”
Karapatan ST added that three civilians, including one minor, are still missing. The group identified the two adults as Pamela Paña and her husband.
Part of a larger series
The incident in Baras, Rizal is part of a growing trend of killings perpetrated by state forces.
On December 20, Police Senior Master Sargeant Jonel Nuezca shot and killed Sonya Gregorio, 52, and her son, Frank, 25 years old. The following day, four people were killed in a drug buy-bust operation, when they allegedly shot at police.
A certain Andres Mirasol, 62, was also killed in Tacloban City, Quezon, after a similar buy-bust operation involving the police.
According to Karapatan, there have been over 91 politically motivated killings within this year, involving activists, progressives, and innocent individuals wrongfully tagged as “members of the CPP-NPA.” Instances of drug-related killings and other incidents involving the police this year are also on the rise: at least 201 people have been killed from March to August 2020 while the Philippines was undergoing a lockdown.
The recent series of killings involving police and military has received intense backlash from citizens nationwide. Groups and individuals are calling on social media to stop extrajudicial killings, as well as other calls of defunding the police and holding people like PNP National Chief Debold Sinas and President Rodrigo Duterte accountable.
In Rizal, Karapatan ST is hopeful that the families will be able to retrieve their loved ones’ remains in time for Christmas. They also condemn the ongoing spate of killings “which only serve to terrorize the masses.”
“We are hopeful that enemies of human rights who made the brutal crime possible will be put into jail and that families of the victims can finally bring home their loved ones to give them proper and decent burial as soon as possible,” said Karapatan ST.