Four activists killed this January 2017, two are Lumad leader-advocates for defense of ancestral lands

Dear friends,

Four farmers – Venie Diamante, Veronico Delamente, Alexander Ceballos, and Wencislao Pacquiao –have been killed in a month, two of them indigenous leaders in Mindanao. Please join us in condemning the continuing attacks against farmers and leaders of indigenous communites who have dedicated their lives in defense of their land and rights. As the Duterte administration and its Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced their new counter-insurgency plan Oplan Kapayapaan, replacing Oplan Bayanihan, attacks targetting land and environmental activists, perpetrated by private armies of landed families and mining firms complicit or in connivance with State security forces, continue. While names of operational plans changed, the military’s objectives to quell dissent and defense of people’s rights remain. Such killings are also reflective of the prevalent dominance of big landlords and businesses in the Philippines and their use of violence against peasants struggling for genuine agrarian reform. The killings occurred before and during the third round of formal peacetalks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), when both Parties started to tackle the crafting of an agreement on socio-economic reforms including genuine agrarian reform and rural development. Let us come together to demand for justice for the slain peasant activists and to call for an end to this climate of impunity. Let us demand and fight for comprehensive reforms and fundamental change to solve the root causes of injustice, landlessness and poverty in the country. 
 
 

ACCOUNT OF THE INCIDENT

On January 5, 2017, around 4pm, Venie Diamante, 43, a T’boli and municipal tribal chieftain, was brutally killed by an unnamed assailant on board a motorcycle while on his way home from Koronadal City.  Diamante was already near his residence in Sitio Lambusong, Brgy. Puti, Norala, South Cotabato, when the gunman continuously fired at him; he sustained eight (8) gunshot wounds. He was left on the side of the road, when a couple found him while on their way to the market. Diamante’s remains were brought to funeral parlor in Sentro Nola.

On the morning of the next day, January 6, 2017, the regional police arrived to investigate the incident. Residents from the community attested that Diamante was a good person and a respected tribal leader. The police then showed a petition to survey the area which is part of the T’boli ancestral domain, a move that Diamante strongly advocated against. In 2010, a village resolution was passed to conduct the said land surveying, without the knowledge of Lumad residents in the community. On January 12, 2012, when the aforementioned resolution was made known, Diamante and four (4) other datu (tribal chief) filed a petition at the office of the tribal council against plans to conduct the said land surveying of the T’boli ancestral domain. The said barangay resolution, Resolution No. 3, series of 2010, would allow the setting up of a subdivision in the area shared by Lumad and Christian settlers. Captain Honorio Villa was suspected to have passed the resolution to cause divide between the Christian settlers and the Lumad to eventually pave the way for the entry of palm oil plantations in the area. 

Weeks later, on January 20, 2017, two activists in Surigao del Norte and in Negros Occidental were killed. Katribu regional partylist coordinator Veronico Delamente, 27, a Lumad-Mamanwa and member of Kahugpungan sa Lumadnong Organisasyon (KASALO) in the CARAGA region, was shot by two unnamed assailants in Punta Naga, Brgy. Cagdianao, Claver, Surigao del Norte. Delamente, along with other council members of Asosasyon sa Madajaw na Panaghiusa sa Tribung Mamanwa sa Tag-anito ug Urbizondo (AMPANTRIMTU), an organization recognized by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), were invited for an emergency meeting with the NCIP with regard to an indigenous people survey to approve the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) proposal of the Platinum Group Metals Corp. (PGMC) to expand their mining operations in the area. Since December of last year, the FPIC proposal was already on the table for the approval of AMPANTRIMTU council members, which Delamente had earlier rejected. 

On the noon of January 20, two men on board a motorcycle – the driver wearing a hoodie with his face partially covered by a handkerchief while the person on the passenger seat was wearing a bonnet and a black jacket with the words ‘CIDG’ printed in the back – were seen in the area. By 12:37pm, while Delamente and the others were waiting in the Punta Naga gym, the motorcycle returned to the gym whereby the man in the passenger seat got off and fired his Uzi at Delamente. Delamente was hit, fell down, and was trying to crawl away when the gunman caught him by the hair and shot him at close range. The gunman also fired at Joel Buklas, 42, also a council member of AMPANTRIMTU who was against the PGMC FPIC proposal. Buklas was able to escape but Lovely Delamente, Veronico Delamente’s 4-year-old niece, was hit. After having shot Delamente, the gunman shouted out that he will finish all of Delamente’s siblings, before finally leaving. Delamente and Lovely were rushed to the Miranda Hospital. Delamente died after 5 minutes of attempts to revive him, while the his 4-year-old niece is still in confinement. 

On the evening of the same day, around 8pm, Alexander Ceballos, 54, regional council member and district area coordinator of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) was gunned down by two unnamed assailants near his house in Purok Tangke, Brgy. Pandanon Silos, Murcia, Negros Occidental. Ceballos was rushed to the Sanitarium Hospital in Bacolod City but was declared dead-on-arrival. 

Ceballos and his family has long been the target of threats and intimidation by the Dela Cruz clan, a political clan who controls the town of Salvador Benedicto for more than 20 years. Ceballos’ involvement in organizing and mobilizing farmers to uphold and defend their rights have earned him the ire of the Dela Cruz family. In fact, on July 17, 2015, Alexander Ceballos’ son, Ariel Ceballos, survived an ambush when armed gunmen indiscriminately fired at the vehicle they were in. His fellow farmers suspected that Alexander was the original target. More recently, in a dialogue between the farmers, the provincial office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), and the Dela Cruz family represented by Nehemias Dela Cruz Jr., the latter openly threatened Alexander and Ariel Ceballos with charges to be filed in court and vowed to retrieve all the lands already distributed to the farmers from the Dela Cruz clan. 

On January 28, 2017, Quilina Ceballos, wife of Alexander Ceballos, received a death threat via text message. The message stated: ‘You, your companions, and your two children’s place in the cemetery is ready.’ Quilina Ceballos received the threats while still in mourning for her husband’s death. 

On a separate incident in January 25, 2017, another farmer from Negros Occidental, Wencislao Pacquiao, 48, member of the San Benito Farmers Association- Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), was shot while doing work in the designated land cultivation area (LCA). He was with Rebeco Pabuaya, another farmer from the same organization. Around 9 in the morning, Pacquiao was approached by a gunman and was shot in the back. He was hit in the thigh and still managed to run but was pursued by the shooter and sustained more shots. Pacquiao sustained five (5) gunshot wounds. Pabuaya was also targeted but because he was working in the lower part of the LCA, he managed to escape. Pacquiao was shot at close range and was clearly targeted by the shooter. 

In 2015, there was already an attempt on Pacquiao’s life. His residence was strafed by the goons of then-barangay captain Nonoy Hullesa. Nonoy Hullesa is the brother of Agustilo Hullesa, the leaser of the land that farmers from San Benito are currently cultivating. In 2014, the DAR acquired the land from Angelina Bruce Laguda through the Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS), but the department awarded Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) to questionable beneficiaries. Pacquiao and several farmers filed a case against DAR for conniving with Agustilo Hullesa in distributing CLOAs to ‘dummy beneficiaries’. The land distributed to these dummy beneficiaries are now under the control of Agustilo Hullesa, who uses the land for leasing. Pacquiao led the filing of the case which seeks to award CLOAs to real farmer-beneficiaries and withdraw the lands awarded to the men of Agustilo Hullesa. The long-standing case has yet to be resolved. 

Recommended actions: 

Send letters, emails or fax messages calling for:

1. The immediate investigation of the separate incidents to be conducted by an independent body; 
2. The immediate investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators which includes landed elites, mining firms and hired goons under the protection of said landlords and corporations;
3. An end to the continued harassment and intimidation of Lumad in and out of their communities;
4. The protection of peasant activists and environmental defenders with regard to their work in the defense of land and the environment;
5. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to look into the petition filed by Wencislao Pacquiao and other farmers regarding the questionable awarding of CLOAs, and the resolution of all agrarian cases in favour of peasants;
6. The intervention of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in cases where threat, harassment, and intimidation is used to coerce tribal leaders and communities to agree to mining ventures; 
7. An end to counter-insurgency programs like Oplan Bayanihan and Oplan Kapayapaan;
8. The Philippine Government to pursue its commitment for a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) that comprehensively tackles the deeply-rooted feudal relations in the country, and move towards free land distribution of monopolized lands; 
9. The Philippine Government to pursue its commitment to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) which includes the right of peasants, indigenous communities, and environmental protection; and 
10. The Philippine Government to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all the major Human Rights instruments that it is a party and signatory.

You may send your communications to:
 
H.E. Rodrigo Duterte
President of the Republic
Malacañang Palace,
JP Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila Philippines
Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80
Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968
E-mail: op@president.gov.ph or send message through http://president.gov.ph/contact-us/
 
Hon. Jesus Dureza
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)
7th Floor Agustin Building I
Emerald Avenue
Pasig City 1605
Voice:+63 (2) 636 0701 to 066
Fax:+63 (2) 638 2216
Email: stqd.papp@opapp.gov.ph, feedback@opapp.net
 
Ret. Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana
Secretary, Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Building, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo,
E. de los Santos Avenue, Quezon City
Voice:+63(2) 911-6193 / 911-0488 / 982-5600
Fax:+63(2) 982-5600
Email: info@dnd.gov.ph, webmaster@dnd.gov.ph
 
Hon. Vitaliano Aguirre
Secretary, Department of Justice
Padre Faura St., Manila
Direct Line 521-8344; 5213721
Trunkline:  523-84-81 loc.214
Fax: (+632) 521-1614
Email: communications@doj.gov.ph
 
Hon. Jose Luis Martin Gascon
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., UP Complex, Commonwealth Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Voice: (+632) 928-5655, 926-6188
Fax: (+632) 929 0102
Email: chairgascon.chr@gmail.com

Please send us a copy of your email/mail/fax to the above-named government officials, to our address below:


URGENT ACTION Prepared by:
KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights
National Office
2/F Erythrina Bldg., #1 Maaralin cor Matatag Sts., Brgy. Central, 
Diliman, Quezon City 1100 PHILIPPINES
Voice/Fax: (+632) 435 4146
Email: urgentaction@karapatan.org; karapatan@karapatan.org 
Website: www.karapatan.org
 

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