Investigate killings of Masbate journalist, Quezon peasant leader — Karapatan

Even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and relief efforts to aid the victims of recent typhoons, the Duterte administration’s “campaign of murder shamelessly continues without letup,” human rights watchdog Karapatan stated, as the group condemned the killings of freelance journalist Ronnie Villamor in Masbate and peasant leader Armando Buisan in Quezon.

“Clearly, the priority of this regime is to kill, kill, and kill — and the cold-blooded murders of journalist Ronnie Villamor and peasant leader Armando Buisan only go to show that this government doesn’t really care whether we’re in the middle of a pandemic or if we’re still reeling from the damages brought by back-to-back typhoons. State forces willfully violate rights with wanton impunity,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

Villamor, 50, a stringer for local tabloid Dos Kantos Balita, was shot dead on Saturday, November 14, in an alleged “encounter” with elements of the Scout Platoon - 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army led by a certain 2nd Lieutenant Maydim Jomadil at a checkpoint in Brgy. Matanglad, Milagros, Masbate. According to a spot report of the incident by Milagros Municipal Police Station chief Major Aldrin Rosales, the soldiers were allegedly scouting the area for five armed men — one of the suspects, they claimed, was Villamor — and that Villamor supposedly drew a gun from his waist and opened fire when he was ordered to stop his motorcycle at the checkpoint, leading the military to shoot him.

The police and military also claimed that Villamor was a member of the New People’s Army, but his colleagues in the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) disputed the soldiers’ claims and version of the incident. They asserted that according to reports from their sources, Villamor went to Brgy. Matanglad with four surveyors from Legazpi City, Albay to cover a survey on a land dispute in the area. Following Villamor’s killing, Masbate Provincial Board Member Jamon Jardi Espares called for an investigation into what he described as a string of killings in “alleged encounters” with the military, with village officials as among the victims. Villamor is the 19th journalist slain under the Duterte administration according to the NUJP.

On the same day, Buisan, 60, president of the General Luna chapter of copra farmers organization Coco Levy Funds Ibalik a Amin (CLAIM) - Quezon, was gunned down by riding-in-tandem assailants, at Brgy. Santa Maria, Catanuan, Quezon. “Tatay Mando,” as he was known, had been leading farmers in resisting the privatization of the coco levy funds and asserting that farmers should be the funds’ beneficiaries.

Palabay said that “brazen killings like this will become even more brutal and be committed with more impunity now that notorious human rights violator Major General Debold Sinas has been sworn in as the new chief of the Philippine National Police. State forces are now being emboldened to kill anyone who stands in their way.”

“As we condole with the families of Ronnie Villamor and Armando Buisan, we call for an urgent investigation into their killing. We demand justice for their deaths and for all victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, and we will not stop in the fight to hold accountable the perpetrators of these cold-blooded murders and those that actively enable and encourage these acts of violence and injustice. These killings want to send a message of fear, but we will not be cowed,” the Karapatan officer ended.