Karapatan condemns continuing EJKs, arrests amid pandemic

Amid the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country, State forces “continue to terrorize the Filipino people without letup,” human rights watchdog Karapatan said, as the group condemned the recent killings of Negrense activist Jesus Pason Jr. and Camarines Sur barangay captain Elmer Casabuena, as well as the arrest of peasant leader Oscar Balonga in Bohol.

“Nothing could be more abhorrent than unleashing the horrors of State terror and violence as the country grapples with the pandemic and the disastrous effects of the government’s responses to the crisis. People are already dying — and this murderous regime still finds ways to kill and arrest people in its sham drug war and counterinsurgency operations,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

At 1 p.m. last Thursday, April 15, 33-year old tricycle driver Pason, a member of urban poor group Kadamay and a member of Pasil Homeowners Association, was shot by men onboard a motorcycle in Brgy. Mabukac, Silay City in Negros Occidental. He was rushed to the hospital and at 2 p.m., he was declared dead by the attending doctor. The killing of Pason, Palabay said, may be related to the ongoing counterinsurgency operations and the implementation of Memorandum Order No. 32 in Negros Island.

Casabuena, 50, chieftain of Brgy. Niño Jesus in Iriga City, Camarines Sur was killed on March 26, with the Camarines Sur Provincial Police Office claiming that he opened fire upon the police as they were serving a search warrant against him allegedly for illegal drugs and firearms in his house. The police also said that Casabuena was a high-value target included in their so-called drug “watch list.”

However, according to the report of Karapatan – Bicol’s fact-finding mission released last Monday, April 12, the police forcibly entered his house around 1 a.m. as he, his wife, and their daughter were sleeping. The policemen took his wife and daughter in a room as they took and gunned him down in the adjacent room. His body sustained four gunshots in the side, abdomen, and thighs.

The police only decided to conduct a search of the house at around 3 a.m. as they invited two barangay kagawads to accompany them, unaware that Casabuena had already been killed inside the house. The search warrant supposedly served by the police to conduct the raid was issued by Executive Judge Maria Angela Acompanado-Arroyo of the San Jose City Regional Trial Court.

Policemen left their house before sunrise. Around PHP 230,000 that Casabuena had saved to pay for money and equipment lent to corn farmers, along with his wristwatch, necklaces, mirror, their phones, and their family’s six cockfighting roosters disappeared as they left. The corn they had grown in front of their house were also taken away.

Palabay averred that “the facts gathered from the incident only point to the fact that the police is once again deploying the ‘nanlaban’ narrative to cover up Casabuena’s killing, along with the police’s criminal activities. The people of Brgy. Niño Jesus know him as a man always ready to aid anyone who needed help. If anyone is a criminal here, it is definitely not Casabuena but none other than the police.”

Meanwhile, in Brgy. Bongbong in Trinidad, Bohol, Balonga, the chairperson of the Bongbong Farmers Association — a chapter of the Hugpong Mag-uumang Bol-anon – Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (HUMABOL – KMP) — was arrested last April 7 during another police raid where they supposedly recovered a gun inside his house.

According to initial reports, an undetermined number of policemen came to Balonga’s house at around 8 p.m. and ordered him and his family to come out. When they were already outside, Balonga’s wife noticed that one policeman went inside the house as the police outside reportedly requested the presence of the barangay captain and councilor for the search.

With the barangay officials, they went inside the house where the police then read the search warrant. Balonga was not able to read it himself. They searched inside the room specified in the warrant and to Balonga’s surprise, the police found a gun. HUMABOL – KMP asserts that the gun was planted. Balonga is now detained at the Trinidad Municipal Police Station.

“At this point, tokhang-style tactics from the ‘nanlaban’ narrative to the planting of guns and other forms of evidences during raids is alarmingly becoming a norm no longer just in the sham drug war: they are also now being increasingly employed in the Duterte government’s bloody crackdown on dissent. This is essentially the same script they used to justify the Bloody Sunday killings and arrests,” she said.

“We are calling on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation into the killings of Pason and Casabuena and to monitor the case against Balonga. Furthermore, we call on the Filipino people to raise our voices in calling on the government to stop the killings and arrests — especially amid a pandemic. We must continue to resist this murderous regime,” the Karapatan official ended.