Karapatan to DILG, NTF-ELCAC: Stop harassing widow of onion farmer who committed suicide

Human rights alliance Karapatan called on the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to stop harassing the widow of an onion farmer who testified at the Senate earlier this week that her husband committed suicide after sustaining insurmountable losses.

According to Merlita Gallardo of Bayambang, Pangasinan, her husband Roger Gallardo killed himself in January 2021 because their debts were piling up and he didn’t want to borrow money anymore. At the same Senate hearing, Elvin Jerome Laceda, president of non-governmental organization Young Farmer’s Challenge Club of the Philippines (YFCCP), said his group had learned about four other farmers in Bayambang who were also driven to suicide because of debt.

On the night of January 18, 2023, policemen reportedly kept knocking at Gallardo’s door to force the widow to execute a sworn statement reversing her testimony at the Senate. The policemen were reportedly sent by the DILG and the NTF-ELCAC.

“This is outrageous,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. “If they are insinuating that Mrs. Gallardo and Mr. Laceda were lying, they can also refer to reports that even the initial inquiries made by the DILG already revealed at least two debt-related suicides in Bayambang. The other victim is farmer Marcelino Junio, Jr. who killed himself in December 2022,” said Palabay.

“State security forces harassing Gallardo, who testified on their hardships because of the economic crisis’ impact on their daily lives, are not only insensitive – they are of ill motives. How can one feel safe nowadays, when police personnel and NTF-ELCAC personnel have been known to inflict harm on and intimidate civilians?,” she added.

Karapatan also asserted that “it is hardly the function of the DILG, PNP and the NTF-ELCAC to conduct such investigations.”

“If government officials again invoke the ‘whole of nation’ approach in its counter-insurgency (COIN) program to justify such actions, then this is merely proof that the COIN program and structure undermine civilian authority and violate civil liberties, including the right to privacy and against harassment and threats,” Palabay said.

“The threats and harassment against Gallardo should stop, as well as other forms of threats against individuals, groups and communities,” she said.