By GABBIE CASTRO
BACOOR, Cavite — Trauma continues to haunt women relatives of farmers and activists who fell victims to extrajudicial killings in the last five years of the Duterte presidency. The pain they have to live with never really goes away and has turned their lives around.
Jennifer Palero, mother of slain activist Jaymar, shared with Bulatlat in an online interview that it was hard to come to terms with the death of her son. Especially when Jaymar’s child keeps asking for her father.
“All that my son did was to paint. That is not a reason to kill him. There are more who are wicked and still get away with it. How could they kill my son for what he did?” she said.
Palero is one of the two young activists in Bicol who were shot while painting graffiti a day before President Duterte delivered his last State of the Nation Address.
“It is painful to see, as a mother, to see your grandchild looking for their father. It pains me that they would grow up without their father. They asked me why he was killed,” Jennifer told Bulatlat.
The Bicol region has the second most number of extrajudicial killings in the country, per Karapatan’s April 2021 report constituting 13 percent (54 out the 394) of all documented extrajudicial killings under President Duterte. To date, however, there are now 414 documented extrajudicial killings where most victims have been either red-tagged or dragged into forcibly surrendering as members of the New People’s Army. Some of the victims just happened to live in communities where there is heavy militarization.
Farmers group Amihan-Albay, through council member Melanny Guavez, said the killings intensified following the signing of Memorandum Order No. 32, which deployed more government troops to several regions in the Philippines, and Executive Order No. 70, an executive action that institutionalized the so-called “whole-of-nation approach” in the current administration’s counterinsurgency measures.
Following the killing of Palero and fellow activist Marlon Napire, Guavez said state forces intensified their community visits, which usually entailed harassment of members of grassroots organizations. It was also a reminder that the difficult days are far from over, and somewhere, someone may lose their loved ones.
“There are a lot of people helping us now. But the pain has not eased, especially whenever I hear news of what happened to him,” Jennifer said.
Dealing with pain, struggling for justice
Palero’s wife Jessica said that she is still in disbelief that her husband was killed.
“We also lost our breadwinner with the killing of my husband. Our daughter is still small, and she lost the opportunity to grow up with her father,” Palero said.
Maricel, wife of Marlon, shared the same sentiment, saying that “the state robbed my children to be with their father.”
They have since relied on their families and friends for strength. After all, they are not just dealing with the pain of losing their loved ones, they are also embarking on a long and difficult journey of seeking justice.
The struggle for justice began the moment they attempted to retrieve the remains at the morgue, particularly that of Palero who sustained gunshot wounds on his back. Jennifer said their demands of seeing the remains of his son were refused. She also defended her son from police accusations of being a drug addict.
“It is painful that my son is being accused of being armed. The police said he fought back. But how is that possible when the gunshots he sustained were all on his back. My son is an activist and there is nothing wrong with that,” Jennifer said.
Women are also being targeted
In an Aug. 15 press conference, themed Behind the Numbers: Stories and Struggles of Peasant Women HRV Victims, Amihan said that due to red-tagging and its impact on their security and mobility, women, comprising majority of Bicol farmers, bear the brunt of putting food on their family’s table.
“Most of the farmers (in Bicol) are women. They work hard to provide for their family. And it has been difficult to buy food amid no government aid,” said Guavez.
This is worsened with red-tagging as it further limited their mobility and affected their livelihood. Women, too, are being targeted as they fight for their rights and welfare.
Farmers group Rural Women Advocates said 44 of those killed under President Duterte were peasant women. They were either red-tagged, dragged into forcibly surrendering as members of the New People’s Army, or were living in communities where there is heavy militarization prior to their killings.
In the province of Cagayan, north of the Philippines, women farmers and activists were also being forced to surrender as NPA fighters.
“They were attempting to have me forcibly surrender (as an NPA fighter). But I told them that I would rather be killed in my own home than surrender because I know that I am not doing anything wrong. All that Anakpawis has done is to conduct humanitarian relief operations,” said Jacquiline Ratin, chairperson of Amihan Cagayan.
Ratin was among those whose names and photos were plastered on tarpaulins, accused of being rebels. Their humanitarian efforts, too, which they organized during the pandemic, have been repeatedly blocked by state forces.
Meanwhile, in a community in Camarines Sur, Amihan said soldiers would “court” women and girls to get information from them. Some were left pregnant.
How activism is helping them cope
Guavez told Bulatlat in an online interview that red-tagging should stop, adding that their humanitarian efforts should not be labeled as acts of terror.
She said that through activism, many communities in the Bicol region learned to understand the bigger picture of what is happening to them.
“Like Jaymar, who was an activist, worker, farmer, and father, it is through activism that he was able to express how he truly feels and assail the failures of the Duterte administration,” she said.
It is also through activism that they are able to call for justice or for the release of their loved ones who were unjustly detained, as in the case of Alma Mangampo whose husband, Elwin, chairperson of Lakas ng Mangingisda sa Bicol (LAMBAT), a fisherfolk group, was arrested May of this year allegedly for possessing a .45 caliber pistol, magazine, and a hand grenade, which they assert as planted “evidence”.