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Governor asks PNP: Explain killings

Wife relates killing of husband, brother in PNP, Army ops

THEY WERE JUST FARMERS Leonora Avelino stands before the coffins of her husband, Ismael, and brother-in-law, Edgardo, who were slain by officers in a military-backed police operation in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental province, early on Saturday. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

ILOILO CITY, Philippines — Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo on Monday demanded the police explain why 14 people were killed in just hours in military-backed operations in three different places in the province on Saturday.

“I have no problem if they were serving legitimate search warrants. [T]he problem is why were there so many deaths? I cannot accept that,” Degamo told the Inquirer.

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Fourteen farmers were killed by police officers in Canlaon City and Manjuyod and Santa Catalina towns in simultaneous operations that began at about 1 a.m. and lasted up to midnight on Saturday.

Communist rebels?

The Philippine National Police said on Sunday the 14 were communist rebels or supporters of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) who were killed when they opened fire on officers who were serving search warrants for weapons on them.

The families of the slain men, however, denied they were rebels and that they were armed when they were shot by police.

Degamo said he could not understand how the victims could have resisted arrest when the officers barged into their homes in the dark of night.

“[Pistols] against M16s?” the mayor asked, referring to handguns police reported recovering from the slain men.

Human rights groups, farmers’ organizations and the Catholic Church have called for an independent investigation of the killings.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) office in Central Visayas has sent a team to Negros Oriental to investigate.

Weapons seized

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On Sunday, the PNP said rifle-fired grenades, fragmentation grenades, shotguns, assorted ammunition and rebel documents were also recovered by the security forces.

But police officials did not say whether the grenades and shotguns were used by the victims in engaging the officers and how long the fighting in each place lasted.

One officer was shot in the buttocks during the operations, according to Col. Raul Tacaca, chief of the Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office..

Smarting from suggestions of a massacre — a term used by tabloids to refer to multiple killings, even if the victims are only four or five — the PNP chief, Gen. Oscar Albayalde, on Monday turned to semantics to defend his officers’ actions in Negros Oriental.

“It’s not true this was a massacre, as it happened in many places, not all 14 in just one place,” Albayalde told a news briefing at PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Albayalde maintained that the operations were legitimate, as the officers were out to serve 36 search warrants for firearms, and said he simply took his officers’ word for it that the 14 had fought back.

“These 14 reportedly fought back. Our police probably wouldn’t shoot if they didn’t, because if the intention was to kill everyone, then it would have been all of them, including the 12 who were arrested,” Albayalde said.

Gabriela, Anakpawis

Among the 12 who were arrested were Corazon Javier, a coordinator for the women’s group Gabriela, and Azucena Garubat, a coordinator for the party-list group Anakpawis.

Told about information that the 14 were farmers, Albayalde said some of them were suspected of participating in attacks on security forces in the province.

He said, however, that the PNP Internal Affairs Service would investigate.

“We are ready to face an investigation. The PNP and the [Armed Forces of the Philippines], including those involved in the operation, are always ready to face [an investigation] to show these operations were legitimate,” Albayalde said.

Malacañang on Monday dismissed allegations of a massacre that targeted farmers sympathetic to the NPA.

“That is the usual statement issued by those who are linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

“But the fact remains that the people subject of a search warrant have been as suspects in a certain ambushes, assassinations, assassinations attempt. So it’s a police operation and backed up by documents, and the courts believe in them, that’s why they issued these warrants,” he said.

Not shown warrants

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza on Sunday said in a post on CBCPNews, the official news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, that some of those who were slain were not shown the supposed court-issued papers.

“Some of those killed belonged to our mission station in Masulong,” Alminaza said.

Degamo on Monday said the families of the slain men believed they were victims of injustice and could file complaints with the CHR and the courts.

The governor said the provincial government would give P5,000 assistance each to the victims’ families.

Police Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas, the regional police commander, said the police were ready for any investigation.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, said the policemen and soldiers involved in Saturday’s operations deserved government support until proven to have violated the law and the rules of engagement.

The security forces should not be condemned just because of “propaganda” from leftist groups, Lacson said.

“Without prejudice to findings of a formal investigation that may be contrary to the Philippine National Police’s version of the Negros Oriental operations, all peace-loving Filipinos should support our police and Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel for risking their lives to keep our communities safe and secure from bad elements,” Lacson said in a statement. —With reports from Jaymee T. Gamil, Julie M. Aurelio, Leila B. Salaverria and Nestle L. Semilla

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