Slain rights advocate in Negros reelected as city councilor in Negros - Karapatan

On April 22, 2019, Bernardino Patigas, 72, was gunned down by motorcycle-riding gunmen along the highway of Brgy. Washington, Escalante City, Negros Occidental. Patigas, or “Tatay Toto” to many of his colleagues, was a Sangguniang Panglunsod member in Escalante City. He was running for re-election and was on his way home from an election campaign activity when he was killed. On May 13, 2019, as per partial and unofficial results from the Commission on Elections, Tatay Toto has won a seat as the city’s 10th councilor, with 18,011 votes.

Tatay Toto was a former secretary general of the North Negros Alliance for Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA), a member-organization of Karapatan-Negros. He was also among the farmers who survived the Escalante massacre back in September 1985, under the Marcos dictatorship. Tatay Toto joined some 5000 other farmers and farmworkers in a protest at the municipal hall in Escalante City when soldiers and paramilitary men fired upon them. The massacre killed at least 20 people, and survivors like Tatay Toto vowed to continue fighting against dictatorship, repression and oppression. He went on to become one of the most respected human rights advocates in Negros, forming and leading organizations such as the Mothers and Relatives Against Tyranny and NNAHRA.

“Tatay Toto’s successful election bid is a testament to how rooted he was in the community, and how the community, in turn, loved and respected him back. This is a powerful statement of acknowledgement for a formidable public servant, of endearment for Tatay Toto, and condemnation for his killing. This is vindication for Tatay Toto and the cause to which he laid his life for. The people of Escalante unequivocally and undeniably chose him. It is lamentable that there has been no investigation on the accountability of suspected perpetrators among State agents, a month after he was killed,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

Karapatan also underscored the various repressive and violent military and police campaigns in communities in Negros as among the government’s schemes to instill fear and intimidate peasants and farm workers, who comprise the majority of the island’s population, including the Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations (SEMPO). "Attacks on farmers and peasant communities are enabled and justified by policies such as SEMPO and Duterte's Memorandum Order No. 32, on top of the implementation of counterinsurgency prorgam Oplan Kapayapaan. The string of violations happening in Negros -- most recently the Sagay 9 massacre, and the Negros 14 massacre in March 30 -- necessitate citizens like Tatay Toto to strengthen their resolve for the defense of human rights," she added. 

Palabay emphasized that Tatay Toto was an exemplary human rights advocate. “Tatay Toto organized many of his fellow victims. He struggled to empower peasant communities and worked to raise their legitimate demands and highlight their issues. He is an inspiration to many who will, without hesitation, follow in his path of both service and defiance. Tatay Toto taught us that tyrants will have their downfall, at the hands of the people who are resolved to take back power and demand accountability.”

“To the government who remains intent on undermining the credibility of earnest and capable public servants by means of red-tagging and harassment, keep in mind Tatay Toto’s victory. It is a lesson of how despite widespread fraud and irregularities in elections cannot altogether overshadow the people’s  ardent aspiration and determined hope for leaders like Bernardino Patigas who enduringly fought for people’s rights,” she concluded.