Karapatan denounces disturbing pattern of killings, arrest, harassment by soldiers

Photo by Lucky Dela Rosa/Philippine Collegian

October 20, 2023

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemned what it called a “disturbing pattern of extrajudicial killings, arrest and harassment” committed by the Philippine military and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in various parts of the country.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay cited reports from Negros-based alternative media outfit Paghimutad that a farmer-couple had been killed extrajudicially by operating troops of the 79th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army at around 5 p.m. of October 17, 2023 in Barangay Canlusong, EB Magalona, Negros Occidental. The couple, Christian Job Vargas and Mylene Salgado Vargas, were reportedly harvesting bananas when they were chanced upon by the soldiers and summarily killed.

“In what is becoming a gruesome pattern of lies,” said Palabay, “the 79th IBPA later reported the incident as an armed encounter between the Philippine Army and the NPA, an allegation vehemently denied by Jocelyn Vargas, the mother of the male victim, Christian Job.” The mother had also called the soldiers “kawatan at mamamatay-tao” (thieves and murderers) in a media interview, as she accused the troopers of stealing money from their family home and eating the lanzones fruits that her son and daughter-in-law had harvested the day before the incident.

“Four days before the Negros killing,” said Palabay, “a farmer in Abra had also been gunned down by soldiers in another fake encounter.” The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) identified the victim as 57-year-old swidden farmer Antonio Diwayan Agliwan, a long-time resident of Sitio Talipugo, Barangay Buneg, Lacub, Abra. “Local residents and Agliwan’s family have denounced statements by the 5th Infantry Division in its Facebook page that Agliwan had been killed in a firefight between the NPA and the 77th IBPA. They averred that Agliwan was a civilian who had been tending the family farm for years near a forested area of Barangay Buneg, raising various crops, livestock and chickens.”

Karapatan also received reports on the arrest of peasant organizer and environmental activist Reymart Moneda of the Bigkis at Lakas ng mga Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan on October 16, 2023 in Brgy. Magsaysay, Infanta, Quezon, where the construction of the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam project is ongoing.

Palabay also condemned the reported harassment and red-tagging by the NTF-ELCAC of development workers affiliated with a Southern Negros Occidental-based NGO. “The Paghidaet sa Kauswagan Development Group, Inc. (PDG), a local development NGO with a record of more than 30 years of providing livelihood assistance and human rights training to its farmer and fisherfolk constituents is now one of the latest targets of red-tagging by the NTF-ELCAC,” said Palabay. “Its personnel have been repeatedly harassed and coerced since August to disaffiliate from the PDG and falsely claim that it is an NPA supporter.”

“The NTF-ELCAC knows no bounds when it comes to such shenanigans,” decried Palabay. “According to reports from Gabriela-Tondo, it is even interfering with the ongoing barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan election campaigns in the impoverished Manila district by red-tagging three candidates and an incumbent official of Barangay 101 who are known for their pro-people advocacies.” Several barangays in Tondo are currently the site of civil-military operations by the Philippine Army, where identified leaders and activists of progressive organizations are red-tagged, threatened and harassed.

“Karapatan and the rest of the human rights community will not relent in our efforts to expose and oppose the brutal extrajudicial killings and the threats and red-tagging that increasingly target not only activists and other human rights defenders but ordinary civilians,” said Palabay. “These flagrant violations of the people’s rights must stop.”