Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay lamented that the justice department’s task force is not doing enough to resolve the extrajudicial killings in Calabarzon.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Two months into the killing of nine activists in the Calabarzon region and still there is no progress on their case.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said that two months is already too long since the Department of Justice’s Administrative Order No. 35 (AO 35) Committee has pledged to investigate the killings of the nine activists.
On March 7, nine activists in four provinces of Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) were killed in what is now known as “Bloody Sunday”.
Palabay added that the families of the victims are also experiencing harassment by state forces. She urged Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to step up and talk to members of the AO 35 to stop harassing witnesses.
“If the task force has shown interest in pursuing this case, they should show it,” Palabay said in an online press conference on Friday, May 7.
“We ask him to start with talking to those members of the AO 35 to back down in harassing the witnesses and the victims. That way they can talk about this issue (of harassment). Witnesses are very crucial in filing cases,” she added.
She said any outcome from the investigation of AO 35 on these cases is crucial with regards to the commitments made by the Philippine government to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“As we have said, domestic mechanisms are inadequate and ineffective unless there will be concrete changes,” she added.
AO 35 is the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty, and Security of Persons. The Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police are among the members of this committee.
Palabay said Guevarra, in a dialogue last month, enjoined the families to cooperate with the special investigation teams on its ongoing investigation.
Palabay said, however, that the problem of relatives and witnesses is security.
In particular, family members of slain activist Ana Mariz “Chai” Lemita-Evangelista are experiencing harassment since their area in Nasugbu, Batangas is highly militarized, said Charm Maranan, spokesperson of Defend Southern Tagalog.
“We are receiving reports that soldiers are going in and out of the community and asking people of their organization and their activities,” said Maranan.
Evangelista’s father, Armando, is a long-time activist and a peasant leader in Nasugbu, Batangas.
Armando is in the forefront in fighting against land-use conversion and ecotourism development in the Batangas-Cavite shoreline, which is expected to displace fishermen, farmers and small businesses thriving in the area.
Palabay added that Armando is included in the police’s list to be served with search warrants.
She also said that the wife of Melvin Dasigao also expressed fear for her life as soldiers were deployed in Kasiglahan Village and that they were threatened everyday.
“How can a truly independent investigation come out when the witnesses and the relatives were being harassed and intimidated?” said Palabay.
Eleanor De Guzman of Kilusang Mayo Uno, who accompanied the families in a dialogue with Guevarra last month, said that Evangelista’s mother was pleading to ensure their security and for the pull-out of military units in their community. She added that people were traumatized on that fateful day of March 7 when the Evangelista couple was killed.
Guzman said that Guevarra told them that he will talk to the state forces about the matter.
On the case of Nimfa Lanzanas
Meanwhile, the case of Nimfa Lanzanas, 61, who was arrested during the simultaneous raids in Calabarzon, also has no development.
Nimfa’s daughter said that her mother should be released immediately since she is a senior citizen.
“It is impossible (for my mother) to have firearms and explosives in our house. It is only her and her grandchildren who are in our house,” she said.
Palabay said that Lanzanas’s lawyers had just obtained the search warrant application documents from the court. This document, Palabay said, is crucial for lawyers to file an appropriate motion before the case goes into trial.
“Two months have already passed before (Lanzanas) can file for a remedy. That is very much part of the injustice that we are talking about,” Palabay said.
Aside from the nine activists killed in Calabarzon, six activists were also arrested including Lanzanas.
Police claimed they found firearms and explosives in the residence of Lanzanas and others. The activists and their families maintained that they are victims of evidence-planting.