Karapatan mourns the death of human rights advocate Bernardino Patigas

On the afternoon of April 22, 2019, 72-year-old Bernardino Patigas, fondly called “Tatay Toto” by colleagues, was gunned down while driving his motorcycle along the highway of Brgy. Washington, Escalante City, Negros Occidental. He was shot twice, in his leg and forehead, and he died instantly. 

Patigas came from an election campaign activity, as he was running for reelection as a Sangguniang Panglungsod (city council) member in Escalante City. He was a founder and secretary general of the North Negros Alliance for Human Rights Advocates, a member-organization of Karapatan-Negros. Prior to his killing, the victim was subjected to multiple incidents of threat and harassment, with his picture included in a poster wherein he was tagged as a communist personality. 

“This is an act of cowardice. Tatay Toto’s life was that of selflessness, courage, persistence and activism. His was a life lived in service of the marginalized, with an unwavering resolve to struggle with them and defend their rights. We impute his murder to the bloodied hands of the Duterte government, which has considered activists as enemies. Tatay Toto raised legitimate issues on genuine land reform, militarization of communities, and prevailing human rights violations in Negros, and yet the government’s immediate response is a bullet to the head. It does not want to hear the plight of the poor, so the dastardly perpetrators send out their mercenaries in masks, and wantonly kill its citizens,” said Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor.

Clamor emphasized that the killing of Patigas is the latest in a string of attacks against activists and human rights defenders in Negros. “At least 50 peasants and rights advocates have been killed in Negros since July 2016. The use of riding-in-tandem gunmen, reminiscent of death squads, is their preferred method of execution. This government has already claimed the lives of many human rights advocates, including human rights lawyer Atty. Benjamin Ramos in November 2018. The pattern of being subjected to threats prior to the cold-blooded murders is also true in this case. The pictures in the poster circulated in various areas in Negros is turning out to be a de facto hit-list, brazenly targeting leaders of progressive organizations and activists who have been vocal about this government’s anti-people policies,” he explained. 

The Karapatan official added that after reports of Patigas’ killing made rounds in the media and in social media sites, threatening messages from an unknown number were likewise sent to various known progressive personalities in Negros. The message contained death threats directed towards Clarizza Singson of Karapatan-Negros and various other community leaders. The messages were sent from mobile number 0999-901-9988.

“I received the same message, insinuating that the names included are targets to be killed within the year. There is no sugar coating this time. The people red-tagged are now being followed up with direct threats to their lives, and many have already been killed. This is no longer a joking matter as acts of reprisal against critics have become the government’s obsession – from malicious campaigns, to trumped-up charges, to extrajudicial killings. Human rights defenders are being killed for raising legitimate demands and for continuing their advocacy,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay emphasized, citing that Patigas is the 48th human rights worker from Karapatan killed in the course of pursuing human rights advocacy. 

Palabay also raised that Negros is being battered by attacks from all fronts, and increasingly so since last year. “From the Sagay massacre in November 2018, the first implementation of the Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations (SEMPO) in December 27-29, 2018, and its latest operation in March 2019, Negros has been under vicious attack. This has stemmed from the region’s active peasant campaign, particularly the land cultivation program or “Bungkalan” which mobilizes farmers to till idle land and resist landgrabbing from landlords. Largely, these attacks have been enabled by government policies such as Memorandum Order No. 32, SEMPO, and the continuing militarization of communities through counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapan,” she detailed.

“We mourn the death of another exemplary human rights advocate. We condemn the killing of Tatay Toto and the ongoing attacks against human rights defenders in Negros and elsewhere in the country. Tatay Toto was a survivor of the Escalante massacre back in 1986 and he has taught many of us that tyrants have their downfall, at the hands of the people who are resolved to take back power and demand accountability. We join our voices in the call for justice, for Tatay Toto and all the victims of human rights violations under this vicious and cruel regime. Likewise, we vow to continue the cause for people’s rights,” Clamor concluded.