Karapatan: 40 days after Tumandok massacre, justice remains elusive for victims

Justice remains elusive for the victims of the massacre of nine Tumandok leaders during joint police and military operations in Tapaz, Capiz last December 30, 2020, human rights watchdog Karapatan said, as the group joined other human rights groups and indigenous rights advocates in an indignation protest in front of Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines respectively, to mark the 40th day since the massacre.

“The 40th day after the death of a loved one usually marks the end of mourning period — but not for us, and certainly not for the families of those who were killed as well as the Tumandok communities who were forced to flee their homes after the killings and intensifying militarization in the area. Their grief and mourning continue because there is still no justice in sight, and the perpetrators of this abhorrent crime are still peddling brazen lies to justify what is clearly a massacre,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Around 4 a.m. on December 30, 2020, joint operations of the PNP Crime Investigation and Detection Group Western Visayas, the PNP Regional Office 6, and the 12th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Tapaz, Capiz and Calinog, Iloilo allegedly attempted to serve 28 search warrants against supposed members and supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Nine were killed in Tapaz, Capiz, with the police and the military claiming that those killed fought back as the search warrants were being served, while 16 were arrested — many of whom have been ceaselessly red-tagged by the military for their vocal opposition to militarization in their communities and, in recent years, the construction of the Jalaur Mega Dam project. The Karapatan officer asserted that “these brutal killings and mass arrests of indigenous leaders — and the fear they have brought upon the indigenous community that forced them to flee their homes — could only be described as an act of development aggression under the cover of militarization.”

“The berserk red-taggers and rabid sycophants of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict have regurgitated the same lies — from the tired ‘nanlaban’ narrative, the planted firearms recovered during the raids, the same tactic of using search warrants to conduct these raids — have been, time and time again, discredited as fabrications concocted the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, yet they continue to peddle and parade this ruse. To what end? To trample upon the rights of indigenous peoples? To pave the way for so-called ‘development’ projects in indigenous ancestral domains? Development for whom?” she asked.

“We continue to call on the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the massacre and arrests of Tumandok leaders as we also continue to assert and demand justice for their families and communities, the release the 16 who were illegally arrested and the dropping of the trumped-up charges against them, and an end to the Duterte regime’s rabid and murderous red-tagging rampage of terror. These fascist attacks on indigenous peoples and farmers — the bloody killings, the arbitrary arrests, the brazen lies, the outright militarization of their communities and trampling of their rights — must end, and the perpetrators of such attacks must be held to account,” Palabay ended.