OPINION: They’re killing aid workers in the Philippines

Inday Espina-Varona -- scaRRedcat

Posted at May 01 2020 12:00 AM | Updated as of May 01 2020 12:55 AM

Since his days as a student activist leading Iloilo students in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship, Jory Porqia has worn many hats.

He had stints as an overseas worker in the Middle East and China. He also worked for the government, as a member of the National Youth Commission following the restoration of democracy under the late President Corazon Aquino, and as a local coordinator for National Anti-Poverty Commission projects for fisherfolk and farmers. He tried out the construction business and various small enterprises, including a coffee shop venture interrupted by COVID-19.

“On one thing he was consistent, and that was serving the people,” said Jory’s son, Lean, following his death at the hands of assassins just past dawn this morning (April 30).

Masked men barged into Jory’s humble beachside shack in Sto. Nino village, in Iloilo City’s Arevalo district and shot him eight times, targeting his head and other parts of the body.

Two others trained their guns on a passerby to prevent calls for help.

Police say they have yet no suspects.

Lean and other members of Jory’s family, and his fellow activists, believe only “state agents” could have killed him.

“They killed my father for the crime to trying to help people during this crisis,” he said.

Lean, who works for a business processing outsourcing firm in Manila, said Jory incurred the ire of police authorities for organizing relief operations of the militant political party, Bayan Muna.

Targeting activists

Jory was the Iloilo City coordinator of Bayan Muna, which has three representatives to Congress.

“Police interrupted and halted their community kitchen last week,” Lean said in a phone interview.

“They insisted only relief operations sanctioned by the national Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) could continue,” Jory’s son added.

Bayan Muna’s Visayas coordinator Siegfred Deduro confirmed Lean’s claim. He said police even claimed that food from the community kitchen was contaminated by COVID-19 in the absence of any proof.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has said that all relief groups need approval from local officials.

But that, apparently, is not the case in Iloilo City. The fathers of Mayor Jerry Treñas and Porquia, who ran for councilor in 2010 under former mayor Jed Mabilog’s slate, were friends.

Deduro said the political party had coordinated its relief operations with the city government, but that did not sit well with top local police officials.

Lean said his father had no enemies, except for the groups that liked to include his name and face in posters red-tagging activists, in some cases, calling for their deaths.

He endured being on “the order of battle” of military and police forces under two administrations, Lean pointed out.

“But it took the Duterte administration, using this health emergency as a pretext, to make good the threats against my father,” the son said.

Porquia’s killing happened just more than a week after soldiers killed barangay official and peasant leader John Farochilin in nearby Miag-ao town.

The 61st Infantry Battalion’s (IB) based in Iloilo province claimed Farochilin was a member of a New People’s Army, as were 11 other persons, including minors, arrested during the “encounter”.

The human rights group Karapatan said the families of Farochilin and his arrested companions, as well as barangay officials, and teachers of the youth, denied the military claims.

Farochilin was a member of the Onop village council, an elected body, and the chairperson of the town’s peasant alliance.

Aid as political battleground

The attacks on relief workers, especially from militant groups, heightened after President Duterte’s order to centralize relief operations.

This was after Congress gifted him with special powers to dig deep into the national treasury to manage the response to COVID-19.

Before that, thousands of private initiatives tried to fill the aid vacuum as millions of poor day workers and displaced labor reeled from hunger and other kinds of privations from the “enhanced community quarantine” – called a “lockdown” by Duterte.

The President has stressed his reliance on a small group of Cabinet officials composed mainly of retired generals. Yet his claim of greater efficiency and honesty has largely fallen by the wayside. 

Weeks after Duterte announced a P200-billion Social Amelioration Program (SAP), local government officials were at loggerheads with a social welfare department that insisted on vetting their lists of needy constituents.

Amid the clamor from communities for aid, the order to tighten on relief operations came down.

Former Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and seven other companions were arrested earlier in Bulacan and charged for violating quarantine rules, although they had earlier coordinated operations with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatics Resources.

Police claimed individual team members should have brought their household quarantine passes – an unreasonable demand that would have left their families with no means to move around while they served others.

But what really angered authorities were the copies of critical publications and pamphlets that police claimed were proof of an “attempt to incite to sedition”.

SAP distribution remains incomplete, with grassroots leaders begging for the extension of the IATF’s April 30 deadline. But where repression is concerned, state forces have “leveled up”. They have killed a military veteran, beaten up mentally challenged people and children. And now aid workers are literally in the line of fire.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.