A peek into the Human Rights Record of the Gloria Government in Central Visayas, January-December, 2008

The human rights record of the Arroyo government in Central Visayas was dripping in blood so early in the year.

On January 7, 2008, at about 9PM, Ronald Sendrijas, a former political prisoner of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, was shot dead in full public view in Tagbilaran City.

Ronald was then buying medicines at the Paz Pharmacy for his sister confined at Ramiro Hospital just right across the street, when the assassins approached him from behind and shot him point blank. Just as casually did the assassins made their getaway unmolested by the police and soldiers manning innumerable checkpoints in the city.

Before he was assassinated, Ronald has been wooed with perks and threatened with harm intermittently by soldiers of the 79th Infantry Battalion (IB) who wanted him to pose as surrenderee and vilify peoples’ organizations as ‘fronts’ of the New Peoples’ Army. At one point, Col. Ceasar Yano even led a raid of Ronald’s home to make him acquiesce to their demands.

Ronald was the 22nd victim of extra-judicial killings in Central Visayas.

The premeditation, brazenness, and impunity of the attack would characterize the intensity of human rights violations in the region for the rest of the year.

Increased Attacks

Since January, there have been 111 documented cases of human rights violations in the region. This means two to three violations are being committed a week!

This is a 50%-increase from 74 documented cases in the whole of 2007.

Most of these cases (72%) happened during counter-insurgency operations of various units of the AFP. And almost 70% of these incidents were committed by the 79th IB—the single worst violator of human rights!

In all these incidents, the AFP does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Soldiers tagged residents guilty of supporting, if not being, NPAs “until proven otherwise.”

Thus, of said number of cases, 247 individuals, including 31 children, were victimized. Another 225 households, or 1,350 individuals, were affected.

Worse Affected

The worse affected area is the province of Negros Oriental, particularly the towns in the Tamlang Valley, which recorded more than half of the documented incidents.

Seven of the eight cases of torture were committed in the said area, site of the multi-million dollar biofuel projects of the Gloria government.

The place also witnessed the abduction and enforced disappearances of farmer activists Flaviano Arante and Reynold Yanoc, and of suspected rebel Calixto Alfante. In fact, these incidents were the first such recurrence in the region since the presidency of Cory Aquino. And they all happened this year.

Disrespecting the Dead

Even the dead are victimized twice over by AFP troops. After broadcasting to the world that they have killed three alleged NPAs in Zamboangita (later corrected to Dauin), Negros Oriental on September 18, 2008, Col. Yano and his men left the bodies to rot.

It was only three days later, when the families of Rachelle Palang, Gerry Cabungcag, and Bernardo Villalongja came to verify the news, that the bodies were retrieved through the assistance of the mayor of Dauin town.

Communities as Targets

Individuals are not the only victims.

Entire communities are targeted such as during the artillery and aerial bombardment of Brgys. Nagbinlod and Talalak, in Sta.Catalina on September 8, 2008. At least 57 households abandoned their homes in Sitios Payaw-payawan, Bayog, Halway & Kanggabok, all of Brgy. Nagbinlod and Sitio Omol, Brgy. Talalak, to escape the indiscriminate bombardment of the 302nd Infantry Brigade.

Until now, one of the evacuees, Pio Candelasa, 47, a peasant activist, has not returned home, fearing the wrath of 79th IB soldiers who tried but failed to kill him on September 10, 2008.

In Cebu, five incidents of demolition of urban poor structures displaced at least 156 households or 936 individuals. The largest displacement came from the destruction of at least a hundred dwellings in Sitio Tacan, Brgy. Ibo, Lapu-Lapu City on August 12, 2008.

Most Widespread

The year 2008 marked a steep rise in the number of illegal arrests and abduction.

From just eight incidents victimizing 12 individuals in 2007, the number of arrests this year climbed to 36 incidents affecting 66 victims, including four children. Most of these cases took the form of ‘invitations’ and ‘summons’ by soldiers requiring residents to proceed to their barangay halls, usually, where the victims are interrogated, detained, and made to sign self-incriminating documents as “surrenderees.”

There are currently eight political prisoners languishing in Bohol, two in Cebu, and two in Dumaguete City. Five of those detained in Bohol are old and sickly farmers who were accused by the 61st IB of being NPAs just because they were officers of the Buenavista United Farmers Association.

Harassment also figured high with 28 incidents and 37 victims, 16 of whom are minors. Last year, there were only 20 incidents.

Legal Offensive

The AFP-PNP continue to manufacture and lodge trumped-up charges against human rights defenders in order to derail their investigation of human rights violations, and justify more attacks against them.  To recall, the ISAFP sued 36 individuals, including Vimarie Arcilla of KARAPATAN, for multiple murder which was thrown out of court last year.

This year, the most hyped and ridiculous harassment suit is the kidnapping charge filed by SP03 Genaro Nodado against Vimarie Arcilla and others for allegedly forcing an eyewitness in the enforced disappearance of Calixto Alfante to testify in Dumaguete City.

The provincial prosecutor has no choice but to dismiss the baseless allegation of the AFP-PNP on Nov. 14, 2008.

To regain from this embarrassment, the AFP-PNP concocted another charge on Nov. 26, 2008 this time against 16 supposed “high-ranking members of the CPP/NPA.” Among those maliciously listed as such is Dr. Oliver Gimenez, head of a developmental NGO in Cebu. Also included are peasant activists Jessie Almenes and Marlon Almenes, both residents of Nagbinlod, Sta.Catalina.

The three victims are not new to such kind of atrocities. Gimenez has been hounded with threats due to his medical activism, while the two Almenez survived bouts of torture and assault by soldiers of 61st IB since 2004 and recently by soldiers of the 79th IB due to their affiliation with the peasant group KAUGMAON-KMP.

For the AFP-PNP, winning these cases is just a bonus. They are more concerned with creating a climate of terror. They hope that if through these harassment suits they can paralyze their targets into inaction and atrophy, then their objectives could be met.

Resisting Terror

In spite of the brazenness and impunity of the assault on human rights, the victims are rising up to blunt their effects.

Through collective efforts, the victims, their families, and communities are mobilizing to empower themselves through human rights education, dialogues, and mass actions.

Aware that real justice cannot be had through our present judicial system, the victims and others affected by state repression are rightly widening their options for remedies beyond the confines of the courts and our laws through formal and informal avenues here and abroad.###


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