Karapatan calls for independent investigation on the killing of former priest, peace consultant and aide

An independent investigation must be conducted into the killings of former Roman Catholic priest Rustico Tan in Cebu and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Reynaldo Bocala and his aide Welly Arguelles Epago in Iloilo, human rights watchdog Karapatan asserted, following reports from alternative media outfits Panay Today and Aninaw Productions and other local stations regarding their killings last night, May 28.

“As we express our deepest condolences to the bereaved families of Tan, Bocala and Epago, we also strongly denounce their abhorrent and brutal killings last night, especially in relation to their involvement in the GRP-NDFP peace process, the trumped-up charges filed against them, and the circumstances of their killings,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Tan, an 80-year-old former Roman Catholic priest, was sleeping on a hammock when he was shot dead on his face and torso in Purok Caimito, Brgy. Upper Poblacion, Pilar, Camotes Islands in Cebu. He was abducted and detained in 2017 in Tagbilaran City in Bohol on alleged charges of murder, which were dismissed in 2019. He was charged with a slew of similar cases in Bacolod City in 2019 but was released from prison in March 2020 on recognizance. Tan had previously served as a consultant of NDFP in the 1980s but has retired and engaged in community organic farming initiatives.

Meanwhile, 75-year-old NDFP peace consultant Bocala and 60-year-old Welly Arguelles Epago, 60 years old, were killed in a police raid at a house in Block 71, Providence Subdivision, Brgy. Balabag, in Pavia, Iloilo after operatives from the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group – Western Visayas, the Regional Intelligence Group, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines reportedly served four warrants of arrests against Bocala.

Among those retrieved by the police during the raid is a document of identification with the number PP 978525 by the NDFP citing Bocala as its consultant for Visayas who should thereby be protected under the NDFP-GRP Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). Bocala is the husband of peace consultant Ma. Concepcion “Concha” Araneta-Bocala, who was among those arbitrarily designated in the list released by the Anti-Terrorism Council last May 13.

Palabay averred that “these incidents and killings should also be investigated in the context of previous incidents of killings and attacks against other NDFP peace consultants or spokespersons, who were killed in similar patterns, whether in the course of purported service of warrants or involving unnamed individuals in the dead of the night, as well as the Duterte government’s blatant terror-tagging of peace consultants through the Anti-Terrorism Act, which we have already feared is a de facto death warrant.”

The Karapatan official cited the killings of NDFP consultants Randy Malayao, who was shot aboard a bus in January 2019; consultant Randall Echanis and neighbor Louie Tagapia, who were stabbed to death in August 2020; and couple Antonio Cabanatan and Florenda Yap, both elderly and retired consultants strangled to death in December 2020.

She also recalled the police and military raids which led to the killings of NDFP consultant Julius Giron, doctor Maria Lourdes Tangco, and aide Arvie Reyes in Baguio City in March 2020; couple Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio, both elderly and retired consultants, in Angono, Rizal in November 2020; and NDFP spokesperson Alvin Luque and companion Rodel Macana in Surigao del Sur in December 2020.

Malayao, Echanis, Magpantay, Topacio, and Cabanatan were included in the more than 600 names which the Department of Justice sought to proscribe as “terrorists” in 2018 under the now-repealed Human Security Act.

“We call on the Commission on Human Rights to provide the necessary assistance to the families of Tan, Bocalla and Epago and to conduct independent investigations on their killings. We call on the Duterte administration to put a stop to the killings and to abide by the NDFP-GRP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,” Palabay ended.