Kin of victims assert those killed were farmers, call for an immediate and independent investigation on the mass killing of 14

“The mass killing of 14 farmers in Negros Oriental on March 30, 2019 is another graphic reminder that state security forces are themselves the perpetrators of the worst atrocities, which often target the poor, marginalized, and the defenseless. Three years ago today, on April 1, 2016, another carnage involving farmers in Kidapawan were perpetrated by the police, using the same set of twisted justifications to evade accountability that the police and military are using now. We reiterate our call for an independent investigation on the incident, knowing fully well that the AFP and the PNP are not the proponents of honesty, but rather of impunity. We support the investigation to be started by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on the said incident,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay on the mass killings in three separate towns in Negros Oriental. 

Relatives of the victims have stepped forward to assert that those killed were all farmers and residents in the area. “A quick look at the profile of the victims would reveal a few are already elderly, while others are even local barangay officials. Regardless of how much they try to muddle the issue, the statement and testimonies of the families of the victims will refute the lies circulated by bloodthirsty perpetrators who want to cover-up their crimes. The kin of victims are stepping forward to relay the truth, and just with many previous cases, it will be our anchor in our quest for justice and accountability,” Palabay added.

As of this writing, initial reports of Karapatan Negros have confirmed 14 victims of extrajudicial killings following police and military operations in Canlaon City, Manjuyod, and Sta. Catalina. Karapatan Negros has identified the eight victims killed in Canlaon City as Ismael Avelino, 53 habal-habal driver, a resident of Sitio Carmen, Brgy. Panubigan and a member of Hukom (Hugpong Kusog Mag-uuma sa Canlaon); Edgardo Avelino, 59, farmer and resident of Sitio Carmen, Brgy. Panubigan, Chairperson of Hukom (Hugpong Kusog Mag-uuma sa Canlaon); Melchor Pañares, 67, farmer, a resident of Sitio Tigbahi, Brgy. Bayog; Mario  Pañares, 46, farmer (son of Melchor Pañares); Rogelio Ricomuno, 52, farmer, a resident of Sitio Manggata, Brgy. Masulog -1; Ricky Ricomuno, 28, farmer; Gonzalo Rosales, 47, farmer and a resident of Proper Brgy. Pula; and Genes Palmares, 54, farmer, a resident of Proper Brgy. Aquino. In Sta. Catalina, habal-habal driver and peasant leader Franklen Lariosa and Anoj Enojo Rapada were reportedly killed. In Manjuyod, among those killed were Velentin Acabal of Brgy. Kandabong and Sonny Palagtiw of Brgy. Pansiao, both barangay captains in their villages; In Manjuyod, the fatalities were identified as Steve Arapoc and Manulo Martin. Since March 29, these areas were reportedly militarized by elements of the 94th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. 

The families of the victims have revealed the details of the police operations in Negros Oriental, after which the extent and brutality of the mass killings have emerged. 

In a statement by Carmela Avelino, wife of victim Edgardo Avelino, at least 40 armed elements of the Special Action Force (SAF) surrounded their house at around 2AM on March 30. SAF members kicked and destroyed the door, beat up her husband, and dragged her and their children outside. Leonora, wife of victim Ismael Avelino, also narrated that everyone, except Ismael, were forced outside their house when the police arrived. They were held at gunpoint. She narrated that it was around 6 or 7 in the morning that an ambulance arrived. Worried members of the family asked the armed men about the state of Edgardo and Ismael, and why they were being taken on an ambulance. The perpetrators merely said that the two fainted. Later, the families discovered that brothers Ismael and Edgardo were already dead. Edgardo suffered 3 gunshots while Ismael sustained 8 gunshot wounds. Human rights workers are still trying to gather information about the details on the killing of the other victims. In many cases, many relatives disputed the PNP’s claim that a search warrant was shown to them. 

The Karapatan leader also noted that apart from the 14 that were killed, 12 were arrested. While the names of the 12 have yet to be verified, Karapatan-Negros has provided the names of three people: Nestor Kadusale, member of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Corazon Javier, coordinator of Gabriela, and Azucena Garubat, Anakpawis coordinator. 

“This seems less and less an operation in the homes of suspected communist rebels as the PNP said, but are rather coordinated operations against strong and vocal communities whose leaders and members are part of progressive organizations. This is a classic case of how red-tagging by the AFP and the PNP preludes the series of attacks and violations against individuals and communities. As the families have already reiterated, the victims are not communist rebels, but farmers and proven residents in the area. The AFP and PNP would bypass due process to kill civilians and deny them any avenue to defend themselves from these false and malicious accusations,” Palabay explained, citing that attacks in peasant communities have exponentially worsened. She noted that as of Karapatan’s latest data (March 2019), there are now 205 farmers extrajudicially killed under the Duterte regime. 

“They had every intention to kill, confident that they have done the minimum to cover their tracks by proudly boasting of a search warrant. This modus operandi by the police and the military must be investigated and immediately halted, lest this be the new norm to terrorize civilian communities in the country. We assert that it is within the right of individuals and communities to exercise their freedom of expression and association, and that these should not be used as the basis of attacks against them. Our farmers, who are already suffering through years of neglect, are repeatedly being subjected to these atrocities. We stand alongside the families of the victims, and express our intention to arduously exhaust all platforms for justice and accountability,” concluded Palabay.