HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
The Killing Fields of Central Luzon
The murder of another peasant leader in
Pampanga – the home province of
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo-
brings to 13 the total number of orchestrated killings in Central Luzon
since the start of the year. Five individuals from the same region have
been abducted since and all of them are missing to this day as the trail
of blood flows in today’s killing fields.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
He was a sick old man
suffering from rheumatic heart disease and acute emphysema (a lung
disorder) and had just been discharged from the hospital. At 6:45 p.m.
March 17, Victor Concepcion, 68, was resting in his daughter’s house in
City, 83 kms north of Manila, to recuperate when a gunman aimed a gun at
him and fired several shots.
He received five
bullets including three in the chest. He died on the spot.
Concepcion – Tang Ben
to friends – was a peasant leader of the local chapter of Kilusang
Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement in the Philippines). He
thus became No. 13 in the list of individuals killed in Central Luzon
since January, the fifth in Pampanga province alone. Angeles is 40 minutes
away from Tarlac
City – scene of the latest spate of
killings ensuing from the Hacienda Luisita strike.
Central Luzon has in
fact apparently become the target of political repression since the sugar
mill and plantation workers of Luisita - the 6,443-ha estate – went on
strike Nov. 6 last year.
In a violent
dispersal try by police and military elements on Nov 16, at least seven
sugar workers lay dead in front of the main gate of the estate’s sugar
central, the Central Azucarrera de Tarlac (CAT), while scores of others
were wounded or have disappeared.
Violations of civil
and political rights have become wanton in the region since then – five
disappearances, five murder attempts, one frustrated massacre, and 21
extra-judicial killings. This has prompted multi-sectoral leaders to
accuse the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and its armed forces of
genocidal attacks against the people.
The region lies
between Manila and Northern Luzon, the longest contiguous area of
lowlands. Its plains produce one-third of the country’s total rice
production and the third largest in aquaculture production.
Composed of seven
provinces – Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac and
Zambales – Central Luzon has six cities and 116 municipalities. San
Fernando City in Pampanga is the regional capital.
It is also here that
the country’s largest sugar plantation is found – the Hacienda Luisita
owned and operated by the family of former President Corazon
Cojuangco-Aquino. The CAT is the country’s third largest sugar central.
Threat to national security
After the Nov. 16
massacre, the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) commanded by Gen. Romeo Dominguez declared the strike as
a threat to “national security.”
In a press briefing
Jan 22 in its headquarters inside Camp Servillano Aquino, just across the
entrance leading to the hacienda, Nolcom officials accused the strikers as
being instigated by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its
armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), and its political arm, the
National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
The strike, their
press briefing statement said, was a “handiwork well orchestrated” by the
CPP-NPA-NDFP. They named the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First
Movement), KMP, its regional counterpart, the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa
Gitnang Luzon (AMGL or Central Luzon Peasant Alliance), and its local
chapter in the hacienda, the Alyansa ng mga Maggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda
Luisita (Ambala or Alliance of Farm Workers in Hacienda Luisita) as the
Left’s “front organizations.”
Lumped with them were
the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or National Patriotic Alliance),
some of its electoral representatives – Bayan Muna (People First) and
Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) - and other affiliated organizations. The
Nolcom list also included the human rights alliance Karapatan (Alliance
for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights).
Others included in
the Nolcom list was Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera who the authorities
said, was the “contact person” of the CPP-NPA in Hacienda Luisita. United
Nations’ Judge ad litem Romeo Capulong was fingered as a supporter who
would elevate the issue of Hacienda Luisita to the international forum.
The prominent human rights lawyer acts as senior consultant of the sugar
farm and mill workers in the ongoing negotiations between the strikers and
In a statement, Bayan-Tarlac
called the Nolcom list an open threat to those supporting the demand of
the Hacienda Luisita folk for better wages and genuine land reform.
threat was the murder of Ladera at high noon of March 3 and the continuous
harassment and intimidation on Capulong highlighted by an attempt on his
life on March 7 in his home in Nueva Ecija.
In Dingalan, Aurora
province, Chrispin Amazona, 40, of Barangay Umiray, was last seen by
relatives and friends on Feb. 14. Two days later, his body was found along
the street in Amucao, Tarlac
Amazona’s hands were tied and his body wrapped in a black plastic bag with
his name and the words “Hacienda Luisita.” He had bullet wounds in the
head and chest.
A report from the
Karapatan-Central Luzon chapter said Amazona led his neighbors in
organizing an association that would help victims of the recent calamity
that hit their place. He was also the coordinator of the party-list group
Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) in Dingalan.
have not been spared from the treacherous acts of the military, Karapatan
said. On Feb 20, an unidentified gunman killed Rodel Pelayo, 30, and Joey
Abraham, 28, both members of the Central Luzon Aeta Association (CLAA) in
Balanga, Bataan, 123 kms north of Manila.
On the same day
before the two killings occurred, the human rights report said the two
Aetas were “invited” by a certain Mr. Borja and Mr. Toledo, soldiers from
the 24th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) to an “oath
taking of NPA mass surrenderees.” The two were apparently killed as they
headed back to their home after the swearing in.
leaders are not the only victims, however. Karapatan records show that
burly men clad in civilian clothes with their heads covered by bonnets or
ski masks have not spared the common folk from the worst forms of human
rights violations. In the past two years, bonnet-wearing death squads
roamed, frightened and killed progressive leaders and human rights workers
in Southern Tagalog, particularly in the twin-provinces of Mindoro.
In San Ildefonso,
Bulacan, 66 kms north of Manila, four armed men in civilian clothes with
faces covered by bonnets barged into the house of Pablito Ignacio, 44.
Aileen, told Karapatan that the armed men asked her father to surrender
his gun. Saying that he had none, Ignacio was dragged into the kitchen.
A few seconds later,
Aileen said she shouted and panicked when she heard a lone gunshot from
where her father was. A few more seconds and she heard two more gunshots
after which the four armed men left. It was only then that Aileen ran to
the kitchen. She saw her father bleeding profusely. The victim was a
member of the local chapter of the party-list group Anakpawis.
In Guagua, Pampanga,
77 kms north of Manila, four bonnet-wearing men on board a car with no
plate, sprayed bullets into a tricycle driven by Rodrigo Lampa, 40.
Witnesses said Lampa
sustained bullet wounds on his head and knees causing his death. The
victim was an active member of a local peasant organization.
worst form of human rights violations, are increasing in this region at an
At around 5 p.m. Feb
11, two men on board a dark blue van and armed with .45 cal. pistols
abducted 53-year old Esteban Pastor, a tricycle driver and active member
of the party-list group Bayan Muna.
When his family made
the rounds in police stations to look for him, they found out Pastor has
been in the list of the military’s OB (Order of Battle) since August 2004.
Since January, there
have been five victims of disappearances, all of whom have yet to surface
to this day. The most recent of them is another Bayan Muna leader, Danilo
Macapagal, a distant relative and a known critic of the President Gloria
presidential cousin and critic
in military OB since August 2004
resident of Brgy. Macamias, Nueva Ecija; abducted Jan. 28 in Brgy.
Bantug, Victoria, Tarlac.
abducted in his house in Brgy. Sapang Kawayan, Misantol, Pampanga
he had rushed to his abducted brother Roger and was himself abducted
groups Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women’s Party, whose members
have been the subject of what they called intolerant, exploitative and
despotic attacks have demanded a dialogue with the President and Armed
Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Efren Abu.
In a statement, the
groups specifically pointed out Nolcom commander Dominguez as the
mastermind behind the vicious and orchestrated killings, abductions,
intimidation and other cowardly acts perpetrated against their members and
civilian supporters in the region and elsewhere.
The groups also
expressed alarm that the military establishment, with Malacañang approval,
has seemingly adopted an unwritten policy of not discriminating between
the underground, armed revolutionary groups and unarmed civilians. These,
they said, has led to a bloody crackdown on militant people’s
organizations making them open targets of the military’s lethal attacks.
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