Two years after Bloody Sunday, kin of victims still cry for justice

March 7, 2023 marks the second anniversary of the Bloody Sunday incident where nine trade unionists, peasant leaders and indigenous peasants from Southern Tagalog were brutally murdered by the police, while seven others were arrested.

On that infamous day, police and military operatives served a total of 24 warrants against unarmed community leaders in the provinces of Rizal, Batangas, Laguna and Cavite. According to Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez, the PNP applied for 72 search warrants for the March 7 incidents. Of the 63 applications in the Manila RTC, 42 were granted, while out of the nine filed before Antipolo RTC, four were granted. The arresting officers followed the tired old script of resorting to search warrants obtained through false testimonies, the planting of evidence to rationalize the arbitrary arrests, and spinning the “nanlaban” yarn to justify the summary killings.

Killed on Bloody Sunday were trade union leader Manny Asuncion; fisherfolk leaders Ariel and Chai Evangelista; urban poor activists Melvin Dasigao, Mark Lee Bacasno; and indigenous peasants Abner and Edward Esto, and Puroy and Randy dela Cruz.

Arrested were trade union leader Steve Mendoza; BAYAN-Laguna spokesperson Elizabeth Camoral; Karapatan paralegal Nimfa Lanzanas; COURAGE leader Eugene Eugenio; activist Joan Efren; labor activists Ramir Corcolon and Arnedo Lagunias.

The victims of Bloody Sunday had been viciously red-tagged, surveilled, harassed and intimidated prior to their killing or arrest. They had been falsely accused of being leaders or members of the CPP-NPA and involvement in armed encounters, as if deliberately being set up for what was to occur.

The link between red-tagging, State-sponsored violence and the Bloody Sunday incident was made even clearer when just two days before, then President Rodrigo Duterte ordered state forces to “ignore human rights, “kill communist rebels,” and “finish them off” in a speech before the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

We are deeply indignant and outraged that two years after Bloody Sunday, none of the perpetrators of these attacks has been held to account. Asuncion’s killing was under preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ). But on January 16, 2023, the DOJ panel of prosecutors dismissed the murder complaint against the 17 policemen involved in the case.

The junking by the DOJ of the murder complaint sends a chilling message that State forces can commit crimes with impunity. Neither does it bode well for the Evangelista couple and the six other massacre victims whose cases are still under review even as the Commission on Human Rights has already determined that police operatives committed human rights violations when they served the warrant against the Evangelistas.

Worse, the targeting of legal, unarmed activists through spurious warrants and perjured testimonies continues under the current administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

On August 31, 2022, Atheliana Hijos,76, secretary-general of Gabriela-Caraga was arrested in her home in Nasipit, Agusan del Norte on the basis of fabricated testimonies of soldiers alleging that she was a combatant involved in armed encounters — an absurdity, considering her advanced age and frail physical condition.

On July 28, 2022, Marites Legaspi-Pielago, 63, Makabayan coordinator for Bicol, was arrested by joint elements of the PNP Regional Intelligence Division 5 and the 9th Military Intelligence Battalion while she was seeking medical attention at a hospital in Naga City. Pielago was Bayan Muna’s fourth nominee in the 2019 elections and had formerly chaired the Gabriela-affiliated women’s group Bicolana. She faces trumped-up murder and frustrated murder charges, and was allowed to post bail only last December.

On July 17, 2022, teacher-activist Gary Campos was arrested in Tandag City while on his way to a review center to prepare for the upcoming licensure examination for teachers. Campos, who hails from the Manobo tribe, was granted a scholarship by the Diocese of Tandag, enabling him to finish his education degree at St. Theresa’s College-Tandag. At the time of his arrest, he was a volunteer teacher at a local school in Tandag City under the Department of Education. He faces a trumped-up murder case and is detained in Agusan del Norte.

More recently, in January 2023, seven Cordillera activists were slapped with trumped-up cases of rebellion. First to be arrested was Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) staff Jennifer Awingan who was served a warrant at her home in Baguio City last January 30. Also named in the warrant are CPA Regional Council member and torture survivor Steve Tauli, CPA Chairperson Windel Bolinget, Northern Dispatch correspondent Niño Oconer, peasant leader Lourdes Jimenez and development workers Sarah Abellon and Florence Kang. The activists have been falsely accused of having ordered an NPA ambush in Abra in October 2022.

Given Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s continuation of Duterte’s fascist policies, it is only a matter of time before activists in other regions or sectors are targeted for mass murder and mass arrest, as what has happened to the Bloody Sunday victims.

We cannot allow these violations to continue. We must demand accountability and justice for those who have been unjustly killed or persecuted. We must hold those in power accountable for their actions.

We stand in solidarity with the victims of Bloody Sunday and all other victims of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrest and unjust detention. We honor them best by continuing the fight to demand accountability and relentlessly struggling for justice, human and people’s rights.