HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
March 21 in Basey town,
province, more than 2,000 mourners and a convoy of more than 50 vehicles
accompanied the remains of slain human rights lawyer Felidito Dacut. But
militant groups vow, “This is not the end of Attorney Dacut, we will make
sure that those who killed him would be penalized and that justice be
served.” Dacut was the 29th of 32 activists killed since
January this year.
By Maureen Japzon
– A soft-spoken human rights lawyer
known in Leyte and Samar islands (some 575 kms. from Manila) as a staunch
defender of the poor was silenced forever on March 14 just as the sun was
about to set, right in the middle of this city.
On his way to buy milk for his daughter on board a multicab traveling
along Real Street this city, lawyer Felidito Dacut was shot to death by
unknown assailants. The assailants remain at large while witnesses
reportedly remain under witness’ protection program.
Dacut was the regional coordinator of the militant Bayan Muna
(people first)-Eastern Visayas.
The slaying happened
less than two weeks after the army’s 8th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen.
Jovito Palparan vowed during a press conference “to eliminate insurgency
in Eastern Visayas in six months.” He also said during a radio interview
right after the killing that he considers Bayan Muna as a “hide-out and
recruitment agency” of the New People’s Army (NPA).
In a press conference
after the murder, Bayan Muna president and Representative Satur Ocampo
urged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to stop the series and systematic
assaults by alleged military personnel against Bayan Muna members all over
Ocampo said that what happened to Dacut is part of a nationwide systematic
attack against Bayan Muna. He disclosed that since April 2001 to date, 49
Bayan Muna members and leaders have been killed and 10 others have been
Wave of terror
“While we consider other aspects and motives of the killing, the
circumstances that surround the assassination of Attorney. Dacut leads to
the recent military campaign and previous pronouncements of Major General
Palparan,” Alex Lagunzad, the secretary general of Katungod, a local human
rights organization in Eastern Visayas, said.
Palparan declared on March 5 an all-out war against “insurgents and
anti-government rallyists,” saying he would wipe them out within six
months. In the same press conference, he also declared that media members
who interview “terrorists” would be penalized.
Prior to his new
assignment, Palparan was assigned in Oriental Mindoro as a colonel. During
his stint there, 40 activists from Bayan Muna and other groups were
On March 6, the 63rd Infantry Battalion positioned an armored personnel
carrier (APC) in front of the provincial Bayan Muna headquarters. This
alarmed the national and regional officers of the party-list group,
forcing them to conduct a solidarity mission which Dacut, as regional
On March 10, the
lawyer presented, along with Bayan Muna Teddy Casiño the results of the
mission in a press conference. Lagunzad relayed that two vans followed the
mission members from the conference site to Tacloban. He said the vans
belong to the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) of the AFP.
Last year, two other militant leaders in the region were killed. Sammy
Bandilla, regional coordinator of Anakpawis-Eastern Visayas, was brutally
murdered in October while Fr. Allan Caparro, an IFI member and
vice-chairperson of the Promotion of Church People’s Response in Eastern
Visayas (PCPR-EV) and a vocal anti-mining advocate, was shot last Feb. 18,
just eight days Palparan assumed post.
A dedicated man
“Attorney Dacut, the soft-spoken lawyer of the marginalized sector, a
known civil libertarian and a friend to his comrades and a loving husband
and father was a victim of a politically-motivated crime, his
assassination shocked us and caused deep sorrow but it only encourages us
to continue what he has started,” grieved Nestor Nirza, the secretary
general of Bayan Muna-Eastern Visayas.
Nirza related to Bulatlat that Dacut came from a meeting with other
Bayan Muna officers but excused himself to buy milk for his two-year-old
daughter when killed.
He also noted how Dacut’s physical health failed to keep him from visiting
his clients who live in the interior barrios. He said most of Dacut’s
clients were poor peasants and it was Dacut himself who would go to their
places, showing the attention he gave even to small cases.
Aside from providing legal services, he was also a known labor organizer:
educating workers as well as the urban poor about their rights and helping
them form their own groups.
Appeal for resolution
On the same day that Dacut was shot dead, Ocampo was on the floor of
Congress, giving a privilege speech regarding the killing of activists.
“My speech was not yet through when I received a message of the incident,”
The militant solons are circulating a House Resolution urging the
president to take immediate action and stop the spate of killings and
other forms of political repression against militants.
“This climate of terror is nothing less than a state of terrorism on legal
organizations and party lists, needing immediate action from the
President,” said Ocampo.
“This is not just a simple attack on Bayan Muna but an attack on our civil
liberties. Binubusalan ang media at pinapatay ang mga attorney at mga
pari (Media is being gagged and lawyers and priests are being killed),
therefore we urge all civil libertarians to support our nationwide
protest,” said Robert de Castro, deputy secretary general of Bayan Muna.
national office and Leyte
chapters of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) have both offered
rewards totaling P150,000 for information leading to the arrest of Dacut’s
killers. Another P100,000 was added by Gen. Dionisio Coloma, provincial
police chief. Bulatlat
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