Rights group condemns aerial strikes in Escalante, Negros Occidental

“The Marcoses have victimized the people of Escalante, Negros Occidental, many times over,” said KARAPATAN Secretary General Cristina Palabay, as the human rights group condemned the aerial strikes in Escalante, Negros Occidental on February 22, 2024.

According to reports from the media and on the ground, at least five rockets were fired by a helicopter in a vegetative area in Brgy. Pinapugasan of the said town. The aerial strikes were carried out a day after the 79th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army said that encounters between soldiers and members of the New People’s Army began on February 21.

“We condemn the use of aerial strikes in Escalante. The military has only put the affected community in greater danger and fear. Residents of the community who were victims of forced evacuation should also be given aid,” Palabay said.

According to reports, the aerial bombings have resulted in the forcible evacuation of more than 300 families from Brgy. Pinapugasagan of the said town.

Videos were posted on social media pages, showing helicopters, reportedly Blackhawk and Augusta Westland 109 attack helicopters, hovering in the sky. In another video, tracer bullets were seen flying over a house at night, indicating that those were fired from above and in the vicinity of the community. Consecutive gunfire was also heard in the background.

In a media interview, Lt. Col. Arnel Calaogan, commander of the 79th IBPA, said that the aerial assault on February 22 was to “recover” and “clear” the “strategic” area, which according to them, is occupied by the NPA. He said, however, that the three alleged members of the NPA were killed on February 21.

“If that is the case, it is apparent that the military is merely justifying the aerial strikes by saying there were numerous encounters with the NPA, but it seems they already have no identified target. The aerial assault was trigger-happy, with no regard for the rights, safety, and peace of the civilians in the area,”

KARAPATAN called for an independent investigation of the incident, saying that the people of Escalante deserve justice, being victims once by the Marcos dictatorship, and once again under the dictator’s son.

“For these aerial strikes to be carried out on the eve of the commemoration of the people’s uprising serves as a stark reminder of the injustice and the human rights violations endured by the people of Escalante during Marcos Sr.’s martial law and under the current Marcos Jr. regime,” said Palabay.

On September 20, 1985, twenty persons were killed during what is now known as the Escalante massacre, when protesters, mostly sugar workers, farmers, fisherfolk, students, urban poor, professionals and church people, in the Escalante town plaza, were sprayed with bullets while they were encircled by some 50 combat-ready Regional Special Action Forces (RSAF), local policemen, members of the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF), and unidentified armed civilians.

“The people of Escalante do not need militarization, aerial attacks, and more human rights violations. They need solutions to their landlessness, poverty and hunger. We support them in their struggle for justice and rights,” said Palabay. #