Karapatan condemns military for the killing of human rights advocate Fr. Lucero

Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples' Rights today condemned the military for the killing of of human rights advocate and Catholic priest Fr. Cecilio Lucero and for other human rights violations in the province, at the public presentation of the report of the national fact-finding mission (NFFM).

The fact-finding mission which was conducted on October 7 to 10, 2009, was initiated by Karapatan and with Katungod-Sinirangang Bisayas-Northen Samar and the Promotion of Church People's Response (PCPR) to look into the Lucero’s killing.

The findings of the NFFM pointed to the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as perpetrators of Lucero's ambush on September 5, 2009 in San Jose town, Northern Samar, under the AFP's counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya. However, the police have yet to release results of the investigations conducted by its Task Force Lucero.

"Fr. Lucero was a staunch human rights defender, who risked his own safety and security to assist and provide sanctuary to victims of human rights violations by the military," Karapatan national council member Fr. Dionito Cabillas said. Fr. Lucero took custody of survivor Jerwin Marino who, along with Jojo Basiloy and Elinor Morillo, was sprayed with bullets by the military on August 27, 2009 at the town of Lope de Vega, Northern Samar.

Fr. Cabillas, who participated in the mission, also added that the other human rights violations in the province are also part of the OBL program for its "neutralization" of its so-called "enemies of the state."

A document entitled "Monthly Intelligence Summary" for the period of July 6 to August 9, 2009 issued by the Task Group "Peacemaker" of 803rd Brigade, 8th Infantry Division was given to the fact-finding team by a concerned citizen. This document listed several individuals of progressive peoples' organizations under it's "order of battle," including Dr. Bartolome Resuello, a member of Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) who was killed on April 1, 2009 in Pambujan, Northern Samar. Resuello was tagged by the military as "revolutionary tax collector."

The Intelligence report also included dossiers of individuals listed "For Neutralization."

Karapatan expressed alarm that Fr. Lucero's killing showed the patterns similar to many other cases of extrajudicial killings, which included being mentioned in the Military Intelligence report, vilfication and smear campaigns and attempts to link him to the New People's Army. Fr. Lucero's "staunch advocacy for human rights and fearless campaign to end violations of such has earned him the enmity of forces responsible for such violations," said the mission report.

Katungod-Sinirangang Bisayas, the regional chapter of Karapatan, also reported the abduction of Ruth Gecaro, baranggay treasurer of Baranggay Sumuroy, Lope de Vega, Northern Samar. Gecaro was abducted by men suspected to be elements of the AFP on October 5, 2009, two days prior to the fact-finding mission. Gecaro was supposedly a member of the mission, and was coordinating with the witnesses to be interviewed by the NFFM team.

“This situation becomes more alarming considering the fact that Samar and Leyte are in the priority areas of the government’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya; and the President has repeatedly announced that the government must end the insurgency by 2010,” Fr. Cabillas said. He also added that this counter-insurgency program is one of the reasons for the extrajudicial killings, disappearances and other human rights violations, as reported by Prof. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in his visit to the Philippines in 2007.

Karapatan calls on the pertinent government agencies to conduct an independent investigation of the human rights violations in the province to help the victims seek justice, and for the immediate surfacing of Ruth Gecaro.

Karapatan also calls on the people to stand united against the Arroyo regime’s mad counter-insurgency plan. “We must hold our ground to stop Oplan Bantay Laya, end the human rights violations in the country, and continue to seek justice for all victims,” Fr. Cabillas concluded.##