Witnesses, kin relate 'tokhang' style executions in Negros Oriental killings

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Mar 31 2019 09:54 PM | Updated as of Apr 01 2019 02:00 PM

Police in Negros Oriental province executed their victims “tokhang” style during the Saturday pre-dawn raids that killed 14 persons in Canlaon City and Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina towns, according to families and witnesses.

Provincial police director, Sr. Supt. Raul Tacaca described the slain as suspected communist rebels, including partisans or urban fighters, linked to foiled assassination plots against state forces.

Tacaca said those who died fought back against arresting teams from the PNP Regional Public Safety Battalion, the Special Action Force, various police stations, and the Philippine Army. He said one cop was hit by a bullet on the buttocks.

Fifteen others were arrested, including local Gabriela leader Corazon Javier, and brought to the Canlaon City provincial police headquarters.

Arrested women leaders, Corazon Javier of Gabriela (left, in brown) and Azucena Garubat, treasurer of Nagahuisang Mag-uuma sa Panubigan. Photo courtesy of Karapatan Negros

But in interviews with rights workers, the families of the killed and arrested described scenes like what Metro Manila’s poor have witnessed in three years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s harsh crackdown on street peddlers and users of narcotics.

Police officers had their faces covered and, in at least one attack, wore eye shades in the dead of night. They ordered other people out of the homes. Suspects were already cornered, unarmed, and then shot dead as soon as kin were out of sight.

The husband of the arrested treasurer of Nagahuisang Mag-uuma sa Panubigan, Azucena Garubat, claimed cops planted two grenade launchers in their home. The local office of rights group Karapatan gave ABS-CBN News access to their notes.

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, whose diocese covers the affected towns, said some of those killed belong to the church’s mission station in Masulog. A lay minister of Canlaon parish was among those arrested and some were not shown the warrants, he added.

“We demand a quick investigation on this and appeal to our government authorities to restore peace and order,” said the bishop.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) told reporters Sunday it would investigate the weekend killings.

Farmer kin

The eight suspected rebels killed in Canlaon City turned out to be farmer kin leaving close together in cluster of homes. Karapatan Negros identified them as Edgardo Avelino, 59, farmer, a resident of Sitio Carmen, Brgy. Panubigan, and chairperson of Hukom (Hugpong Kusog Mag-uuma sa Canlaon); his younger brother Ismael Avelino, 53 habal-habal driver, a resident of Sitio Carmen, Brgy. Panubigan and a member of Hukom and the Nagahuisang Mag-uuma sa Panubigan ir Namapa; Melchor Pañares, 67, farmer, a resident of Sitio Tigbahi, Brgy. Bayog; and his son Mario Pañares, 46, also a farmer; Rogelio Ricomuno, 52, farmer, a resident of Sitio Manggata, Brgy. Masulog-1; Ricky Ricomuno, 28, farmer; Gonzalo Rosales, 47, farmer and a resident of Proper Brgy. Pula; and Genes Palmares, 54, farmer, a resident of Proper Brgy. Aquino.

Habal-habal driver and peasant leader Franklen Lariosa and Anoj Enojo Rapada were killed in Sta. Catalina town. In Manjuyod, among those killed were Velentin Acabal of Brgy. Kandabong and Sonny Palagtiw of Brgy. Pansiao, both barangay captains in their villages; Steve Arapoc and Manulo Martin.

The room where Ismael Avelino was killed. Photo courtesy of Karapatan Negros

Ismael’s wife, Leonora Avelino, 46, said she was at home with the victim and their four young children when state forces arrived around 2:30 a.m. After one knock, they kicked at the door until it burst open, she said.

She told rights workers there were at least six armed men wearing camouflage with green ribbon in the arms. “All of them wore facemasks and others wore shades to cover their eyes,” said notes by Karapatan responders.

Leonora said she and the children were ordered to lie face down first and then later dragged outside of the house. They had just stepped out when they heard three gunshots.

The wife said she shouted but was ordered to be silent by officers. They were brought several meters away from the house. At 6 a.m., her son, Christian asked why his father had not been brought out of the house.

She said an ambulance came at 7 a.m. and Ismael was brought out of the house. His niece, Jocelyn, asked why his head was hanging down and his feet so pale. The armed men told her Ismael had just fainted. It was only when Leonora and the children went to the Canlaon district hospital that they were told Ismael was dead.

Children witnesses

Around 40 to 60 armed armed men surrounded the neighboring house of Edgardo and his wife, Carmela.

The room where Edgardo Avelino was killed. Photo courtesy of Karapatan Negros

She said five men stormed in, wrecking their door. Their son met the officers and was dragged out, yelling for help. A sister took up the cry. Carmela, who slept with the children, woke up and tried to come to their aid but was blocked by the armed men.

She then heard sounds of beating in the next room, where Edgardo slept. Carmela was forced out with her daughter and then heard gunshots first from Ismael’s home and then theirs.

Efraim, another brother of Edgardo, tried to check on the commotion but was also restricted by men he described as wearing uniforms with the label “SAF” (Special Action Forces.) They grabbed him by his neck and pushed him back, warning him to stay put or be killed.

Edgardo suffered three gunshots wounds, one on the forehead, on his shoulder and another on his right cheek.

Edgar Garubat and his arrested wife, Azucena, also lived in the same neighborhood.

“We were ordered to drop face down on the floor on the other room, while some were asked to go out of the house,” he told Karapatan.

The family of Steve Arapoc in Manjuyod town said there were not shown warrants by around 10 men who stormed their residence.

His brother, Mc Khillif, said uniformed men just before 4 a.m. with their name plates covered, carrying long and short firearms.

Killed begging for mercy

Mc Khillif was in the house with Steve, their 61-year old mother, Welly, three other siblings and their spouses, and four children, aged four months old to 13 years old.

He said the men trained M16 rifles and short arms at them while asking where they had buried an M14 rifle. When they denied knowledge of any firearm, Mc Khallif was handcuffed and taken out with another male relative.

They called out for Steve who came down the steps unarmed. Around five armed men dragged him and beat him, demanding he disclose the location of the firearm they were searching for.

They tied his arms and threw him face down on the floor, continuing with the beating. He was begging for mercy when they shot him, said Mc Khillif, adding that a nephew, Kenneth and his sibling, Keren, witnessed the shooting. 

“After they shot him, the men went up and then came down, and then they planted a .38 caliber with one bullet near Steve. They also shot three times at the walls of the house. Steve suffered gunshot wounds in the neck, chest and stomach. The bullet that hit his stomach exited through his thigh, according to Karapatan notes.

Mc Khllif said the armed men wrapped Steve in a blanket and dragged him to their vehicle. They took three mobile phones and P26,000 from the sale of their pigs.