OPINION: ‘Red-tagging’ affects even non-targets, Negros bishop warns

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Sep 13 2019 02:13 AM | Updated as of Sep 13 2019 07:45 AM

Guihulngan city health officer Mary Rose Genisan Sancelan discusses the fallout of red-tagging on her life. The recorded video was shared by San Carlos Diocese Bishop Gerardo Alminaza.

The red-tagging of a government doctor in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental has affected 33 villages in need of government health care.

San Carlos Diocese Bishop Gregorio Alminaza’s video message to the “Peace Talks Now!” forum at the Santo Domingo church in Quezon City warned that mass intimidating tactics deprive rural residents of government services.

“A medical doctor in the city health office found her name in the list. Fear for her life prevented her to provide health services to 33 barangays in that city,” Alminaza said.

City health officer Mary Rose Genisan Sancelan, 60, also spoke on video.

“I am the only doctor servicing Guihulngan,” she said.

“My workload is very heavy, mostly not just consultations because I also have administrative tasks,” said Sancelan. The video must have been taken a few weeks ago because Sancelan’s Facebook page announced the arrival this week of a second city health officer, a young man.

“I was accused of being JB Regalado, a commander or local head of the CPP-NPA,” the doctor said. Regalado is the nom de guerre of the spokesman of the Leonardo Panaligan Command, which oversees the Central Visayas operations of the New People’s Army.

Alminaza and Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, co-chair of the PEPP, also slammed summary killings and the abandonment of peace talks by President Rodrigo Duterte. They blamed his issuance of Memorandum Order 32 and Executive Order No. 70 for the dramatic escalation of attacks on Negros island.

WHY PEOPLE TAKE THREATS SERIOUSLY

Both prelates said most attacks, whether leading to killings or arrests based on fabricated targets, were preceded by the circulation of leaflets or posters charging targets of being members of Asia’s longest-running insurgency.

But in a public hearing conducted by the Commission on Human Rights, Brig. Gen. Raymundo Acorda, AFP human rights chief, insisted that state security agencies cannot be held responsible to killings outside of official operations.

Acorda told CHR Chairman Chito Gascon that the AFP would only act against specific criminal acts, usually covered by a court warrant.

Asked by the CHR chair on the red tagging of artists, lawyers and others that do not carry arms nor are involved in attempts to overthrow the government, the officer insisted on the accuracy of their claims.

“When we say this or that person is a communist or leftists, we have good intentions,” said the officer. “We are just informing the public of the real fact."

“Kung may consequences 'yun, that is not our intention. We inform the public because that is our job.”

People take threats very seriously, Alminaza said. Priests and lay leaders in his central Philippines diocese spanning the border towns of the 2 Negros island provinces have already buried 59 victims of extrajudicial killings in 5 cities and 2 towns.

In the city of Guihulngan, ground zero of the attacks on activists in Negros, 24 people have been shot dead since 2017, Alminaza told members and officers of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform.

'FEELING HELPLESS'

It’s hardly possible for a very busy, overworked government doctor to play an important role in any rebel army. Patients and friends, dismissing the claims as born of idle malice, have tried to allay Sancelan’s fears.

But Sancelan’s concerns are not unfounded. On Nov. 20, 2018, 3 men on a red motorcycle shot dead in Guihulngan the district hospital head of Canlaon City, some 70 km from Sancelan’s place of work.

Residents mourned the murder of Dr. Avelex Salinas Amor, a resident of Dumaguete City, who took to heart his role as doctor to the barrios.

Friends said that in spite of a middle class family’s efforts to help the doctor, he had very little money when he died. He also owed a local pharmacy P30,000 because he acted as guarantor for emergency medicine purchases of poor patients when supplies dwindled in the state-owned hospital. Police have yet to arrest anyone for his murder.

“I feel so helpless,” said Sancelan in the lilting speech of the Visayans. “Everytime I go out to work, I feel paranoid. Of course, you are scared to die.”

“I am no longer free to visit patients in our mountain barangays,” she said. “We have a lot of services -- like school-based immunization where we have to go to the schools.”

Guihulngan has recorded 104 dengue cases this year and the provincial health office has called for a more intense and consistent search and destroy operations of the lairs of the dengue-causing mosquitoes.

The Guihulngan City health office’s Facebook page also has a cheerful callout to parents, teachers and local officials to cooperate with free vaccination of public students from Kinder to Grade 7.

Aside from dengue, the Philippines also grapples with a surge in the incidence of measles, an infectious disease controlled by vaccination. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks the Philippines, which had already achieved zero-measles rate 2 decades ago, as current third worldwide in incidence, with 45,847 cases over a year.

Measles can be deadly to already malnourished patients, and children have died from complications or secondary causes like pneumonia.

Archbishop Ledesma said red-tagging is a violation of human rights as it assigns guilt outside of the ambit of due process. Demonizing people, he added, is an attempt to try to paint the killings as a form of public service.

“A climate of violence, fear and impunity grips our island,” Alminaza said. “We have also heard some voices approving of these killings and blaming the victims. And others have remained deaf and mute due to fear and apathy.”

Since the 4 Catholic bishops of Negros Island ordered the tolling of church bells after gunmen killed 21 people over just 10 days in July, the killings have lessened, said the bishop.

“But they have not stopped and fear has drowned most of our people’s voices,” Alminaza said. “The killings must stop. And what happened in Negros should not happen anywhere else.”

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