Wife relates killing of husband, brother in PNP, Army ops
ILOILO CITY — Ismael Avelino was sleeping at home with his wife Leonora and two young children in Barangay Panubigan in Canlaon City in Negros Oriental on Saturday.
At around 2:30 a.m., they were roused from sleep when at least six heavily armed men wearing masks barged into their house and ordered them to lie face down on the floor.
Leonora and two of their children, aged 10 and 5, were dragged outside their house. Ismael was left inside.
The 53-year-old Ismael, both hands raised, smiled and said to their 10-year-old son: “Take care of your mother and sister.”
Outside the house, Leonora and their children heard gunshots.
They also heard gunshots coming from the neighboring house of Edgardo Avelino, Ismael’s elder brother.
This was the account of Leonora as told to her daughter Cynthia.
Edgardo, the 59-year-old chairman of the farmers’ group Hugpong Kusog Mag-uuma sa Canlaon, was also shot dead inside his house.
Ismael was a member of the farmer’s organization Nagahiusang Mag-uuma sa Panubigan.
Killed in a shootout?
The Avelino brothers were among the 14 persons who were killed in coordinated operations under conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Army under Oplan Sauron.
The fatalities included eight in Canlaon City, four in Manjuyod town, and two in Santa Catalina town.
Among those killed were two barangay chiefs — Valentin Acabal of Kandabong and Sonny Palagtiw of Panciao both in Majuyod town.
Col. Raul Tacaca, chief of the Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office, said they were killed in a shootout with police officers and soldiers who were serving search warrants for illegal possession of firearms.
At least 12 others, including Azucena Garubat, a sister of the Avelinos, were arrested.
Tacaca said a police officer was shot in the buttocks in the operations that started at 1 a.m.
Firearms, subversive documents seized
The operations were conducted by teams composed of members of the PNP Regional Public Safety Battalion, the PNP Special Action Force, various local police stations, and the Philippine Army.
According to the PNP Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in the Visayas, the teams recovered of two rifle grenades, two fragmentation grenades, seven .45-caliber pistols, 13 .38-caliber revolvers, a .357 Magnum revolver, two shotguns, two homemade firearms, 114 live ammunition, six magazines, two fired cartridges, four cellular phones, and subversive documents.
Tacaca said those served with warrants were suspected members or supporters of the New People’s Army.
“They were suspected of being the ones who attack and killed policemen and soldiers here,” Tacaca told the INQUIRER.
But Cynthia Avelino denied that her father and uncle were rebels and that they were armed.
“My father is sickly and avoids even verbal confrontations. He is a farmer and a ‘habal-habal’ [a motorcycle for hire] who is trying to earn a living peacefully,” she told the INQUIRER in Hiligaynon and Bisaya.
“He had eight gunshot wounds. His side was torn up showing his intestines. It’s so painful to see my father that way,” she said.
She said her 10-year old brother and 5-year-old sister were still “trembling in fear.”
“Help us find justice for my father and uncle. We cry out for justice,” she said.
Bishop demands a thorough investigation
San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza raised questions on the operations and demanded a thorough and immediate investigation.
“Our church leaders and lay workers refute the police accounts. We are gathering information because the communities affected are enveloped in fear and are afraid to speak out. Among those killed were lay workers and a former lay minister,” Alminaza said in a phone interview.
He said they received accounts that some of those killed were not served search warrants.
“Given the time of the arrest when people were sleeping, it is likely that they were thought to be robbers or bad elements so their reactions could be misconstrued as resisting arrest. These are highly irregular, illegal practices in clear violations of proper procedures,” the prelate said.
In a Facebook post, Alminaza made an appeal to law enforcers: “Please as you do your task make sure you don’t violate the human rights and dignity of our fellowmen and women. We don’t want to turn our beautiful island of Negros into a killing field!”
“Please make sure you are not adding more for our people to get disillusioned with our government and peacekeepers! That will make you best recruiters for the underground movement,” Alminaza added.
He said he believed there were still law enforcers who have “a lot of common sense, right values and principles, capable of creating avenues for dialogue as a way to lasting peace and not through violence and human rights violation.”
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan, also condemned the killings, saying: “This is unconscionable. We strongly demand an immediate and independent investigation of the incident. The Negros region has been a consistent target of escalating police and military operations, which have had severe and catastrophic consequences for the communities in the area. Ten killings in a day is the handiwork of vicious butchers and men-in-uniform intoxicated by power, thinking they can just do whatever they like without consequences.” —With a report from Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas
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