By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
MANILA — Two coconut farmers were reportedly killed by the Philippine military on Nov. 17, a report of a human rights group read.
Jorge Coronacion, 64, and Arnold Buri, 43, were killed while on their way home to Taquico village in Sampaloc, Quezon, a province south of Manila. The Philippine Army has since claimed it was an “armed encounter” with members of the New People’s Army but human rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog was told by local residents that there was no exchange of fire heard in the neighborhood.
The group also noted signs of torture in the remains of the two farmers – one of them a senior citizen and with a disability due to his sight problems.
Local government officials such as the town’s vice mayor and village chief, have said in their respective pronouncements that the people should be vigilant on the possible spate of killings even claiming that both were farmers and not NPA members.
In a statement, farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) condemned the killings of the two farmers and the red-tagging of the two even after their death.
“This is a clear case of extrajudicial killing justified as a fake encounter by state forces. It puts the number of peasant victims of EJKs under the Duterte regime at 344,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.
KMP said that the 59th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, who said that the two were killed in an encounter, is also the same group behind the forced and fake surrenderees in Quezon province, using coconut farmers.
More lies and more search for truth
The military claimed to have recovered what Karapatan found to be an overwhelming number of items for two people. These purportedly include one .45 caliber pistol, seven rifle grenades, two fragmentation grenades, seven commercial radios, two M14 magazines, medical kits, foods, a sack of rice, a flag of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and even personal belongings.
The military, in a statement, also thanked the Barangay Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict for its collaboration. The BTF-ELCAC is the village-level formation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
“The NTF-ELCAC blatantly tags unarmed civilians and their organizations as armed combatants. They are essentially urging military action against civilians. This further begs the question, how many innocent civilians have died helplessly in the thousands of so-called encounters the army has claimed to have occurred?” Ramos asked, demanding the defunding and abolition of the government’s counterinsurgency arm.
With questions on the circumstances of the death of the two farmers, human rights group Tanggol Magsasaka – Timog Katagalugan will be conducting a fact-finding mission. They also called on the provincial governor and the Commission on Human Rights Region 4A to further investigate and seek accountability.
Spate in attacks against coconut farmers
The seeming spate of attacks against coconut farmers came following the dismissal of six civil charges against the late Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. over the coco levy funds.
Some 50 coconut farmers who are claimants of the controversial coco levy funds were forced to surrender as NPA members by the 59th Infantry Battalion on Oct. 25, said the KMP.
Another farmers group Kasama-TK said they also documented 485 coconut farmers from Agdangan, Quezon who were forced to surrender as rebels on Nov. 9, this time by the 201st Infantry Battalion.
“Red and terror tagging has been an easy excuse for the military to cover for its many atrocities. While the military focuses its most vicious attacks against us farmers who build organizations to defend our rights, those unorganized become its victims too,” said Ramos.
It can be recalled that the 2020 report of Global Witness revealed that the Philippines is still among the worst countries for environmental and land defenders, consisting mainly of farmers, indigenous groups, and rural people. The dangers were recognized to come from violent crackdowns from state forces such as police and military. (JJE, RTS)