“Is [Año] justifying the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and PNP’s [Philippine National Police] massacre of five farm workers and caretakers? The mutilated genitals and broken fingers of Jhonatan and Niño Alberga? Is he justifying how the PNP Baras and the AFP’s 2nd Infantry Division are fermenting Vilma Salabao’s remains and continued refusal to turn them over to her family after three weeks, seven requests, and superficial requirements?”
By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – Human rights watchdog Karapatan Southern Tagalog denounced Interior Secretary Eduardo Año’s claim that the five Baras massacre victims were members of the New People’s Army’s Special Partisan Unit (SPARU, “sparrows”).
In a statement released January 5, Año stated that they can now “confirm that the five NPA members killed in Barangay San Juan, Baras, Rizal were part of a death squad that was supposed to carry out the directive of Joma Sison to assassinate government and civilian leaders.”
Karapatan ST immediately slammed this remark, pointing out that testimonies from neighbors confirmed that the five were farm workers. One resident, who knew Vilma Salabao and Carlito Zonio, said that they never saw guns or cell phones inside the house where the massacre took place.
“Is [Año] justifying the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and PNP’s [Philippine National Police] massacre of five farm workers and caretakers? The mutilated genitals and broken fingers of Jhonatan and Niño Alberga? Is he justifying how the PNP Baras and the AFP’s 2nd Infantry Division are fermenting Vilma Salabao’s remains and continued refusal to turn them over to her family after three weeks, seven requests, and superficial requirements?” the group asked.
Karapatan-ST added that Año’s insistence on “shifting the conversation” echoes the AFP and PNP’s attempt of insisting that the victims of the Tumandok massacre in Panay “fought back”, and is the same tactic the military is using now to “deny the families their right to visit the two peasant leaders arrested in Atimonan, Quezon.”
Karapatan National Secretary-General Cristina Palabay, meanwhile, asserted that Año is “red-tagging the five farmworkers massacred by the military in Baras, Rizal in an evidently desperate effort to cover up the military’s cold-blooded war crimes.”
Karapatan-ST has also stated that police and military have been pressuring local government officials to deny support to the paralegal team.
A December 26 resolution from the barangay San Juan, Baras condemned the CPP-NPA-NDFP and “their activities against the government and the village’s peace.”
It also stipulated the formation of a Barangay Task Force to End Local (sic) Communist Armed Conflict (BTF-ELCAC), with the intention of “promoting peace and order against the leftist groups of the CPP-NPA-NDFP.” It then condemned Karapatan for “asking for certificates of residency and indigency to mask the true identities of the 5 slain NPA members.”
In a press conference last January 6, Karapatan ST called out barangay San Juan captain Martin Emmanuel Remolar on being “facetious.”
“You were ready to assist us before the police and military pressured you,” said Casey Anne Cruz, one of the members of the paralegal team. “You even offered us food.”
Karapatan ST pointed this out as “evidence that Año, the PNP, and AFP are insincere about caring for human rights.”
“We, alongside the people of Rizal, are calling on the DILG [Department of Interion and Local Government] and the local government to put humanitarian considerations first for the Salabao family instead of spinning more lies,” the group said in a statement.
Who are the Baras massacre victims?
On December 17, at around 2:30 am, a joint operation by the PNP ant the AFP’s 2nd Infantry Division attacked five farm workers in Sitio Malalim, barangay San Juan, Baras, Rizal province, on the site of a private mango farm. Reports from the police and military indicate that the firefight lasted up to four hours.
The five victims were Carlito Zonio, Vilma Salabao and Wesley Obmerga, caretakers and sprayers working at the mango farm, and Jhonatan and Niño Alberga, farm guards.
According to accounts from nearby residents, screams could be heard near the area throughout the night. The subsequent humanitarian mission revealed that Jhonatan and Niño Alberga were tortured before they were killed: their genitals were burned off, four teeth were missing, and their fingers were crushed.
There is also suspicion that Vilma Salabao’s remains were mutilated.
Karapatan ST is currently assisting the family of Vilma Salabao in claiming their loved one’s remains. The other four victims have already been buried before Christmas Day.
The PNP, however, is refusing to turn over Salabao’s remains to the paralegal team, saying that “no legitimate family member” has yet to claim the remains. They are refusing to acknowledge the Special Power of Attorney given to the paralegal team by Salabao’s daughter.