By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – Police have finally released the remains of farmworker Vilma Salabao to her family three weeks after she and four others were killed in a joint police and military operation in Brgy. San Juan, Baras, Rizal, Dec. 17.
“Although Vilma Salabao’s remains have been released, this does not absolve the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and PNP’s [ Philippine National Police] barbarity,” a statement from human rights watchdog Karapatan – Southern Tagalog read, “Including the three-week hostaging of Salabao’s remains, the arbitrary and unnecessary prerequisites placed by the PNP and the AFP, and the gruesome murder of the five victims, this is the latest in their list of human rights violations against the people.”
Salabao’s remains were turned over in Antipolo, Rizal to members of the Karapatan – Southern Tagalog’s paralegal team, which has assisting and representing the Salabao family. This after the police and military denied the release of her remains during at least seven attempts to negotiate from December 23 to January 8.
A day before Christmas, they were told that the remains will be released shortly, only to be told on Dec. 30 that the documents submitted were insufficient. However, the presence of immediate family, said a certain Corporal Tomagan, was required despite having secured a special power of attorney from the Salabao family, authorizing Karapatan – ST members to claim her remains.
On Jan. 7, the police said that Salabao’s remains may be retrieved from a funeral parlor in Antipolo. However, the Antipolo Memorial Homes said a death certificate was needed. The funeral parlor eventually agreed to release the remains.
Senseless, self-serving violence
The three-week ordeal in claiming Salabao’s remains “reeks of desperation,” said Karapatan ST spokesperson Kyle Salgado, “It served no purpose other than to prove that Duterte and his goons can make people suffer with impunity.”
During the series of negotiations, human rights defenders were also subjected to surveillance and harassment. Salabao’s relatives in Quezon province also assailed the same.
Rizal has long been the focus of the Philippine Army’s 80th Infantry Battalion’s counter-insurgency operations. Activists and grassroots community organizers in the province have been subjected to relentless red-tagging and graver abuses such as extrajudicial killings. On Jan. 7, agents of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) were seen handing out flyers, telling members of the CPP-NPA to “give up” the armed struggle.
Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr., head of the AFP’s Southern Luzon Command and spokesperson for NTF-ELCAC, has also claimed several times that the five killed in Baras were members of the NPA’s “urban hit squad”, echoing DILG secretary Eduardo Año’s earlier claims.
Apart from the Baras massacre, peasant leaders Renante de Leon and Ruben Estocado were also arrested. State forces claim they are top-ranking NPA members.
Meanwhile, a meeting between Duterte and Senate lawmakers revealed the former’s intentions on pushing through with charter change, including revisions to the party-list system in order to “solve the CPP-NPA problem.”
Salgado noted however that violence against the people does not solve anything. “What is needed is for the government to address the roots of the conflict,” he said. “Only then can we achieve just and lasting peace.”