Karapatan: Año red-tags victims of Baras massacre to cover up the military’s war crimes

Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año is “red-tagging the five farmworkers massacred by the military in Baras, Rizal in an evidently desperate effort to cover up the military’s cold-blooded war crimes,” human rights watchdog Karapatan said on Wednesday as the group assailed Año’s “absurd claim” that the five victims were part of the supposed “death squads” of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“The police and military mercilessly killed five farmworkers mere days before Christmas — and now, Año is concocting more outrageous lies to justify what is clearly a brutal massacre of civilians as well as the military’s continued desecration of their remains and the harassment of their grieving families,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

According to Karapatan Southern Tagalog, on December 17, 2020, combined elements of the Police Regional Office 4A and the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s 2nd Infantry Division killed five individuals in Sitio Malalim, Brgy. San Juan, Baras, Rizal as they were supposedly serving arrest warrants against NPA rebels in the area. Karapatan – Southern Tagalog’s fact-finding mission, however, identified the victims as Vilma Salabao, Wesley Obmerga, Carlito Zonio, Jhonatan and Niño Alberga through morgue records. They were caretakers and workers at a private mango farm in the barangay.

The fact-finding mission team were also able to interview residents in the area, who heard cries for help when the five were supposedly engaging in a shootout with the police and military — belying claims of an armed encounter. The residents who knew the victims were also surprised at the police and military accusation that the five farmworkers were NPA rebels.

Families and relatives of the victims have been able to claim the remains of Obmerga, Zonio, Alberga, and Alberga but the Baras Municipal Police Station has refused to release Salbao’s remains to her family. The remains of the victims bore signs of torture and mutilation; the Alberga brothers’ scrota were burnt, four teeth were removed, and their hand were pounded and beaten up.

Palabay continued that “accounts from the people in the barangay themselves and the signs of mutilation in their bodies clearly disprove Año’s wild and delusional assertions. These are the same lies that the military and police have parroted to justify the mass murder of nine Tumandok leaders in Tapaz, Capiz on December 30, 2020.”

“We call on the police and the military to release Salbao’s remains and to let her family grieve for her death. Karapatan joins their families not only in mourning but also in demanding justice for the victims of this massacre and we call on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation on the incident. We will not let the Año, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the police, and the military get away with their twisted lies, brutal human rights violations, merciless war crimes, and blatant fascist attacks against the people,” the Karapatan officer ended.