Karapatan blasts murder, abduction, escalating arrests in Negros

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemns the state-sponsored murder, abduction and arbitrary arrests in three different cities in Negros in the past two days. A transport group leader was killed, three peasants were abducted while a pastor and nine peasants were arrested. 
“As the Duterte regime continuously intensifies its attacks, the killings and arbitrary arrests in Negros is setting a very dangerous precedence – that State forces can do whatever they want against poor peasants and communities, and brazenly promote tyranny and violence. The subversion of the law as a tool for repression must be exposed, as in the case of the 12 arrested individuals in Negros who are facing trumped-up charges. Likewise, the prevailing use of death squads to kill activists must be thoroughly investigated,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said. 

Citing yet another killing in Negros, Palabay said that “there is now an observable pattern of using masked gunmen to execute the killings of activists and known community leaders. This is done so the perpetrators can hide behind anonymity and escape accountability.” 

According to initial reports, Lito Itao, 49, was murdered in Sitio Culasi, Brgy. Buenavista, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental on the afternoon of Thursday, June 27. The victim was reportedly sitting outside a store with his neighbors when armed men onboard a motorcycle drew a small firearm and shot him. The victim was able to run for around 25 meters before collapsing. Itao was brought to the Guihulngan District Hospital but was declared dead on arrival. The victim was the auditor of the Guihulngan City Habal-habal United Operators and Drivers Association(GHOUDA-PISTON) and the head of the village police in Brgy. Buenavista. 

A spate of illegal arrests also occurred in various towns in Negros Oriental. According to initial reports, in two separate Sitios of Barangay Mansalanao in La Castellana town, 3 farmers were nabbed by a number of unidentified armed men. In Sitio Mandayao, a certain Arnaldo Namu, 30, was abducted by 5 unidentified armed men and forced into a van, while Francisco Alabagan, 40, and his wife known as “Kapid” of Sitio Anunang were illegally arrested by individuals who introduced themselves as members of the Military Intelligence Group. 

Meanwhile, in Hacienda Raymuda, Brgy Kapitan Ramon, Silay City, at least 10 members of the PNP forcibly entered the homes of siblings Hermin Escapalao, 57 and Jorex Escapalao, 49, vice president of Hacienda Raymunda Farm Workers Union – NSFW Vice President Jorex Escapalao. The police supposedly went there to serve search warrants. As of press time, Jorex Escapalao is illegally detained at Silay City police station.

In Barangay Buenavista in Himamaylan town, members of the 62nd Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army illegally arrested Pastor Jimmy Teves of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines(UCCP), as well as Jodito Montecino, former chairperson of Kauswagan ng Mangunguma sa Brgy. Buenavista; Eliseo Andres, JP Manzano, of Sitio Kankelin, Rodrigo Medez of Sitio Cabagal, Roger Sabanal, Japser Aguyong and another farmer who is yet to be identified. Those arrested with Pastor Jimmy Teves were also UCCP members. 

Out of the 12 arrested farmers last June 26 and 27, 6 farmers namely JimmyTeves, Jodito Montecino, Eliseo Andres, JP Manzano, Rodrigo Medez and Jasper Aguyong were all implicated in a murder charge pending before Kabankalan  Regional Trial Court Branch 61 under the sala of Judge Rodney Magbanua.

“The present situation in Negros is very alarming. The AFP and PNP have practically made Negros the killing fields of peasants and the government is surreptitiously using court processes by securing search warrants and warrants of arrests to legitimize these violations. The trend of mass arrests and mass killings have been particularly notable in this region, and no one has been made accountable for the incidents in Sagay last November 2018, the killings in Guihulngan in December 2018, and the mass murder of 14 farmers in Negros Oriental in March 2019. This climate of impunity has allowed for this murderous pattern to continue. The same modus of using search and arrest warrants is still being used by the elements of the PNP in these recent arrests,” said Palabay. 

“Like what we’ve consistently warned about, these kinds of violations on human rights are outcomes of the issuance of Memorandum Order No. 32 which placed the entire Negros, Samar, and Bicol regions under the State of Lawless Violence. This is also implemented alongside the Duterte government’s counterinsurgency program. In sum, these are not isolated incidents but are direct results of a national policy that systematically represses and kills Filipinos,” the Karapatan official added. 

Under the said order, the State can deploy its uniformed men from the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police to purportedly sustain peace and order in the said areas, but months after its implementation, the memorandum seemed to only target poor peasants and activists. 

“As Duterte and his lapdogs intensify their crackdown on individuals and groups, Karapatan vows to stand and seek justice for Negrenses and all Filipinos who experience these violations committed by a shameful government. The worsening climate of impunity perpetuated by this government has furthered this escalation of attacks. By bringing the perpetrators to justice, these bloodthirsty death squads and state forces will realize that they cannot simply trample on people’s rights,” Palabay concluded.