By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – “Both the Fausto and Tingal families experienced military harassment previous to the killings.”
This is the highlight of the national solidarity mission (NSM)’s initial report, which was presented to the media in a press conference on June 23.
The mission was composed of different progressive groups that looked into the recent incidents of rights violations in Negros Occidental, including the massacre of the Fausto family on June 14 and the killing of farmer Crispin Tingal Jr. on May 3.
While authorities claimed that the perpetrators of the massacre were the New People’s Army (NPA), information gathered by the delegates of the mission showed otherwise.
“Reports on the ground say that people in the community were coerced and forced to testify, issue statements or affidavits pointing the massacre to the New People’s Army,” said former Anakpawis representative and chairperson of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura Ariel Casilao said during the press conference.
He said that nothing in the testimonies point to the NPA as perpetrators of the killings. “Accounts of the witnesses and circumstantial evidence would show that the perpetrators are from the elements of the 94th Infantry Battalion [of the Philippine Army],” Casilao added.
The NSM reiterated their call for an end to “the relentless attacks on farming communities not only in Himamaylan and Kabankalan but in the whole Negros Island.”
They also urged the Commission on Human Rights, the Philippine Congress and the Philippine Senate to conduct an impartial investigation of these cases in Negros.
“Families experience loss of livelihood, severe trauma, especially among children, and a grave violation of their freedom of association. Farmers who cultivate the land and feed the nation deserve peace, justice and the right to enjoy the fruits of their labor,” the NSM statement read.
Harassment prior to the killing
Like the Fausto couple who experienced intense harassment by the military, the family of Tingal also experienced the same.
On Dec. 26, 2022, soldiers forcibly entered the house of the Tingal family. The house was illegally searched, the family along with seven other households in the area were interrogated by the military.
“They were told by the military officers about a ‘military asset’ who reported NPA presence in sitio Dangalon. Our informants deny such allegation,” said Bishop Virgilio Amihan of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Diocese of Negros Occidental.
He added that a blotter was filed at the barangay soon after the incident. After over four months, on May 3, Tingal was murdered on his way home and presented as a member of the NPA.
“He was coming home from a catfish training seminar sponsored by the local government. Documentation of the seminar includes photos of Tingal along with other seminar participants, a certification of Tingal’s attendance and a proof of attendance,” Amihan said adding that at that time, Tingal was rushing to the food house to secure the association’s resources from being washed out by the heavy rains.
Amihan added that based on the separate account of a witness, Tingal was in custody of the military before gunshots were heard.
The Tingal household was also strafed while other family members were outside by the creek. Meanwhile, one of his children who was inside the house dodged the bullets and was able to flee.
“These two cases involving extrajudicial killings indicate that the Fausto case is neither an isolated nor an exceptional case. It is a culmination of a series of harassment, destruction of properties, violation of domicile, illegal search and red tagging that was similarly inflicted on the Tingal family who barely escaped a pattern of attacks, from red tagging to massacre,” Amihan said.
Community members also shared the following rights violations to the mission members:
-at least three incidents of frustrated killing
-three incidents of illegal arrest
-a case of a missing person
-numerous reports of threat, harassment, intimidation
-violation of domicile
-destruction of livelihood
-use of public space for military purpose
-endangerment of civilian populace
-attacks on schools which led to the disruption of classes for two weeks after a military attack
-indiscriminate firing and red-tagging
Clarice Palce, secretary general of Gabriela, meanwhile, said that the militarization of the communities in Himamaylan has caused severe trauma to the women as well as their children.
“They told us that they tremble in fear whenever they see soldiers, especially those who do not have identification. Many of them cry while recalling their stories,” she said.
It also caused severe stress to their children. “When the children saw the presence of the AFP, they would tell their mothers to evacuate,” she said.
Palce said also said that members of the communities fear for their lives especially when soldiers would poke firearms at them.
Also one of the highlights of their mission is their exchange with young girls who express fear of the military.“They said whenever the military comes to their village, they will be told to go to their houses. But they would not do it because they fear that they would get raped,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sarah Raymundo of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said that based on the reports they gathered, the following themes are notable:
1. the attacks noted are all reported to be perpetrated by the military.
2. informants deny the presence of the NPA in their area.
3. informants deny military allegations about victims and other community members’ membership to the NPA and any form of association to the revolutionary organization.
4. military elements are causing severe stress among community members in the former’s demand for the latter to dutifully observe and report on NPA presence in their communities; Informants lament that such dangerous task should be the work of the military.
5. Informants report about constant red-tagging by the military during their community visits and how they are usually at the receiving end of threats and expletives.
Resume peace talks
Raymundo meanwhile stressed that the armed conflict in the Philippines will be resolved if the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines would return to the negotiating table.
But under President Rodrigo Duterte, she said not only the peace talks were terminated, the latter also issued Executive Order No. 70 which institutionalized the whole-of-nation approach and created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“The NTF-ELCAC for which a budget of P16 billion was allocated in 2021 and P28 billion in 2022 is an adoption of the U.S. Whole-of-Nation Approach. In an article that troubleshoots the U.S. WNA as applied in four case studies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Mindanao, it is stated that in the era of globalization, U.S. foreign policy is dominated by ‘attempts to bring peace and stability in conflict-plagued areas,” she said.
In this approach, she said, the NTF-ELCAC has “systematically targeted and persecuted critics of the former Duterte regime through red-tagging and by labeling the NPA a network of citizens purportedly supporting ‘communist terrorist groups.’”
Raymundo added that before the peace talks were terminated, both panels were already discussing the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER). Peasants groups, she said, also supported this, especially farmers in the Visayas region.
“Instead of killing them, they (government) should listen to the alternatives to the social economic reforms,” Raymundo said.
Meanwhile, Casilao asserted that they demand for the truth to come out. He cited the Sagay massacre, Guihulngan killings, among others where farmers were killed.
“Most of the victims are farmers who are members of legitimate organizations and who are struggling with land dispute issues,” he said.
Read: Sagay massacre: A matter of social justice
Read: Negros killings, ‘a war against unarmed civilians’ — groups
Read: Contextualizing militarization and killings in Negros
Read: #JusticeForNegros14 | Probe reveals state security forces committed ‘murder, theft, other abuses’
The mission was conducted last June 22, in barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City. The mission was joined by the Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel and various organizations including church people, farmers, women, Indigenous Peoples, and children’s rights defenders, among others. (RTS, RVO)