This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (www.bulatlat.com, www.bulatlat.net, www.bulatlat.org).
Vol. V, No. 7, March 20-26, 2005


 

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
Bulatlat

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 Angeles 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.

Natural resources

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 the Cojuangcos.

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.

Consummating this 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.

Killing fields

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 City.

Relatives said 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.

Indigenous peoples 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.

Bonnet-wearing murderers

Prominent mass 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.

Ignacio’s daughter, 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.

Disappearances

Disappearances, the worst form of human rights violations, are increasing in this region at an alarming rate.

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 Macapagal-Arroyo.

Fair game

Militant party-list 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. Bulatlat 

 © 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.