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Killing of transport leader, arrest of 9 others on Negros Island slammed

Jimmy Teves (center), a pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and two other UCCP members were among those arrested in Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental for allegedly being NPA members involved in an encounter with soldiers, an allegation denied by the UCCP (Photo from UCCP website)

ILOILO CITY –– Church leaders and human rights groups have decried the killing of a transport leader and the arrest of a pastor and nine other members of church and farmers groups on Negros Island since last week.

They called for a stop to the killings and the release of those arrested.

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Alleged rebels

But the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) said all those arrested were New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, who were the subjects of arrest warrants, or were detained during military operations for possession of explosives and ammunition.

Lito Itao, a habal-habal (passenger motorcycle) driver, was gunned down by two motorcycle-riding gunmen in front of a store on June 27 in Barangay Buenavista in Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental.

Itao, 49, was the auditor of the Guihulngan City Habal-Habal United Operators and Drivers Association, which is affiliated with the militant transport group Pinag-Isang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide.

He is the 67th activist killed on Negros Island under the administration of President Duterte, according to Defend Negros.

Among those killed were human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who was shot dead in November last year in Kabankalan City, and Escalante City councilor and human rights advocate Bernardino Patigas, who was gunned down in May while campaigning for re-election.

Church members

On June 25 and 26, police and soldiers arrested United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) pastor Jimmy Teves and six others in Barangay Buenavista in Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental.

Also arrested were Jasper Aguyong, Rodrigo Medez, Jodito Montecino, Jeppy Romano, Eliseo Andres, and Rogen Sabanal.

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They were arrested based on a warrant issued by the Kabankalan City Regional Trial Court Branch 61 for multiple counts of murder and frustrated murder in relation to an encounter between government soldiers and NPA rebels last May in Barangay Tan-awan in Kabankalan City.

The Silay City police arrested Jorex Escapalao for illegal possession of firearms at Hacienda Raymunda in Barangay Kapitan Ramon in Silay City, Negros Occidental.

Escapalao is the vice president of the Hacienda Raymunda Farmworkers Union, an affiliate of the National Federation of Sugar Workers.

The human rights group Karapatan in Negros reported the arrest of three persons in La Castellana town in Negros Occidental.

Two had been released but the whereabouts of another was being verified.

On June 28, soldiers under the Army’s 11th Infantry Battalion arrested four alleged NPA rebels in Barangay Lamogong in Manjuyod town in Negros Oriental.

They were identified as Rea Casido, Teodor Casido, Danny Casido, and Venancio Cadeliña.

Capt. Cenon Pancito III, 3ID spokesperson, said the four were arrested after soldiers found in their possession grenades, ammunition, and other military paraphernalia.

Pancito said the arrests were done according to legal processes either based on arrest warrants issued by a court or because the alleged rebels were caught with the ammunition and grenades.

“They have remedies provided by the law if they are questioning their arrest,” he told the INQUIRER.

Bishops’ call 

The UCCP Council of Bishops denounced the arrest of Teves and several other church members.

The bishops said the charges of murder and frustrated murder filed against those arrested were “obviously trumped up.”

“We strongly refute the claims of the military that they are members of the NPA. They are subsistence farmers who are trying to eke out of their dire economic situation by practicing Christian Diakonia and biblical forms of sharing of farm produce. Most of them are active members of UCCP, (Iglesia Filipino Independiente) and Roman Catholic churches,” the bishops said in a statement.

“These harassments clearly depict the vicious schema of this government that fails to respect the right to life and right to decent livelihood of farmers and workers and rights of those who advocate and call for social justice and peace in our country,” they said.

IFI Supreme Bishop Rhee Timbang also decried the continued extrajudicial killings and arrests on Negros Island.

“ … We have heard their stories and joined with their voices to strongly call the attention of the government, national and provincial, to do something on their situation and assert the supremacy of the civilian government over the so-called control of the military in the two provinces on Negros Island. We heard their stories and support their demand to serve justice to all the victims of extra-judicial killings, to release those who were illegally arrested and jailed for trumped-up charges and to correspondingly dismiss their cases …,” Timbang said in a statement issued after hearing the testimonies of families of those killed and arrested in Negros. (Editor: Leti Z. Boniol)

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TAGS: arrests, church leaders, human rights groups, Killings, Negros island, New People's Army, NPA
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