Lawmakers urge probe on killings of human rights workers in Negros

Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 29 2017 06:56 PM

Militant lawmakers and rights group leaders call for an investigation into the killing of two human rights workers in Negros. Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News

Lawmakers from the militant Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives said Wednesday they would push for an investigation of the November 28 killings of two human rights workers in Bayawan town, Negros Island.

Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago urged all other groups campaigning for the protection of rights and civil liberties to urge swift action by House leaders and the Department of Justice.

Casilao and Elago were among speakers at a press conference called by Karapatan on Wednesday to demand justice for Elisa Badayos, the right group’s Central Visayas coordinator, and Elioterio Moises, a barangay tanod and tricycle driver who was also a member of local peasant organization Mantapi Ebwan Farmers Association.

Both were part of a 30-person fact-finding mission that spent three days probing reports of harassment of peasants. 

Their deaths bring to 104 the number of activists and rights defenders slain since President Rodrigo Duterte took power last year, Karapatan's Tinay Palabay said. 

Another member of the team, Kabataan party-list coordinator Carmen Matarlo, was pronounced stable a day after the attack.

Casilao said House leaders have ignored 48 draft resolutions calling for investigations into the killings of rights defenders.

He also said Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has largely ignored Administrative Order No. 35 crafted by the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III to address killings of journalists and activists.

Palabay said their assailants are believed to be members of private armies of a local politician and a landowning clan embroiled in agrarian disputes.

The Negros Oriental provincial police office said the attack happened mid-afternoon in Barangay Poblacion, Bayawan City. Officers said the attack seemed linked to agrarian disputes, but they could not give details yet.

COMMITTED FIGHTER FOR RIGHTS 

The attack on the fact-finding team occurred on the eve of the international day for women human rights defenders. 

A few hours later, Duterte would mock rights workers, joking that police could bring them during operations against drug addicts and use them as bait.

“Magsama kayo ng human rights. ‘Pag putok-putok, sila inuna mo doon,” Duterte said at the Anti-Corruption Summit organized by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and Vanguard of Philippine Constitution.

“Gago kayo. Ayan, ‘yan ang nakuha niyo,” Duterte said to laughter, hoots and cheers from the crowd.

Palabay described Badayos as a fighter, whose passion for defending human rights never flagged despite a series of personal tragedies.

Her husband Jimmy was “forcibly disappeared” by the military in 1990, Palabay said. Their daughter Jimmylisa was arrested in 2012 but released months after when courts junked charges filed against her. Badayos herself faced several “fabricated charges” in 2015.

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura said there have been eight political killings in Negros Oriental since July this year, believed to be military reprisals for attacks by a resurgent New People’s Army (NPA). 

Palabay, however, clarified that only two cases have been completely documented.

GMA PLAYBOOK 

Palabay said the Duterte government is using its Oplan "Tokhang" (house-to-house knock and plead anti-drug operations) model against human rights defenders and activists.

“They will use so-called vigilantes, or private armies and paramilitary forces on top of regular troops and police,” Palabay said, recalling killings of legal activists during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Arroyo, now Pampanga Representative, is a close ally of Duterte, who has tapped several of her key security officials for his administration.

Two women Karapatan officers, Eden Marcellana and Evangeline Hernandez, were killed during the Arroyo administration.