Killings, arrests continue amid COVID-19 pandemic —Karapatan

Human rights alliance Karapatan strongly condemns the murder of cultural worker Marlon Maldos in Cortes, Bohol and the massacre of peace consultant and former political prisoner Julius Giron and his two companions, including a medical doctor, in Baguio City, as well as the arbitrary arrest of Manobo leader Gloria Tumalon based on trumped-up charges.

As the country grapples with the militarized “enhanced community quarantine” against the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay decried the murders as “shameless and brazen acts characteristic of the Duterte government’s murderous policies.”

“Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the government’s fascist attacks and violations of people’s rights show no signs of stopping. Brutal and wanton killings and illegal arrests of activists continue with impunity, proving that the Duterte administration’s so-called malasakit (concern) for the people is nothing more than a farce. The militarist interests of this regime and its State policy of murder is still the top priority without addressing the people’s urgent needs and legitimate demands amid this public health crisis,” Palabay said.

In Baguio City last Friday, March 13, 2020, sickly Julius Giron, 70, and his two unarmed companions — a doctor and an aide — were reportedly murdered in the course of being served with arrests/search warrants. The military claimed that the three resisted arrest, resulting in a supposed firefight that led to their deaths.

“All initial reports point to the impossibility of the elderly Giron and his companions to resist arrest. His arrest is a clear liquidation attempt, a violation of the rights of hors de combat and civilians under International Humanitarian Law, and a brutal massacre that bares the true face of this regime’s murderous militarism,” Palabay averred.

Marlon Maldos, meanwhile, was a 25-year-old leader of the cultural group Bol-anong Artista nga may Diwang Dagohoy, which mobilizes young artists in cultural work and performances that expose the plight and feudal exploitation of poor peasants. He was abducted by four suspected elements of the 47th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army in Tagbilaran City where he was last seen morning of March 17, 2020. His dead body, sustaining five gunshot wounds, was found two kilometers away, along the national highway in Brgy. Dela Paz in Cortes town, Bohol, later on that day.

The Karapatan official said that Marlon’s murder “comes weeks after the murder of his father Marcelo, who was found dead on February 29, 2020 in Brgy. Cambigsi, Bilar where an encounter between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the 47th IB ensued, with the military falsely claiming that Marcelo was among the NPA combatants they clashed with. Elements of the 47th IB continued to harass their family during Marcelo’s wake and pressured Marlon to supposedly ‘clear’ his name. This is a clear sign that the military is making their family a target of their bloody killing spree in Bohol.”


Manufacturing more lies for more arrests

Yesterday, March, 19, 2020, Manobo leader Gloria Tumalon, sister of Bayan Muna Representative Eufemia Cullamat, was arrested in her residence in Brgy. Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sir by combined forces of the Lianga Municipal Police Station and the Philippine Army.

Tumalon was served an arrest warrant issued by the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court for trumped-up kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges. She is among the 468 individuals accused of the trumped-up charges, 79 of which are known civilians and are mostly composed of human rights defenders, church workers, peasant organizers, unionists, and indigenous rights activists. Her arrest came after the arrest of human right worker Teresita Naul, Karapatan Regional Council member for Northern Mindanao last Sunday, March 15, 2020.

“Tumalon, a former municipal councilor and indigenous peoples’ representative to the National Anti-Poverty Commission in 2015, has led indigenous communities in defending their ancestral lands and the environment against militarization and plunder of mining companies in the Andap Valley Complex. The continuing red-tagging, arrests of activists on trumped-up charges, and murders amid the president’s unilateral ceasefire declaration and supposed directive for police and military personnel to focus their efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic shows the Duterte regime’s insincerity in its declaration. It continues its anti-people counterinsurgency operations and fascist attacks with the heightened deployment of military forces in communities,” Palabay stated.

The Karapatan official further averred that “young or old, the government’s murderous policies spare no one. Under the government’s militarized lockdown against the COVID-19 pandemic, we only expect more human rights violations such as cold-blooded murders, illegal arrests, harassment, and crackdown on dissent and the masses to continue, even worsen. Now is the time not only for the collective action against COVID-19 but heightened vigilance against authoritarian measures.

“Despite the stringent measures of social distancing, Karapatan extends its condolences and solidarity to the families of Maldos and Giron and their demand for justice and accountability. We likewise demand the immediate release of Tumalon and all political prisoners unjustly detained on false charges. We will never waver in the struggle to assert people’s rights and we will continue to fight back,” she ended.