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Spate of killings instills fear among Negros residents

ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — For the past several days, fear has gripped Zara Alvarez every time her phone rang or when she received a text message.

“Who is it this time? How many? Where?” she would ask.

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Alvarez, a volunteer of the human rights group Karapatan in Negros Island, helps in monitoring the cases of extrajudicial killings, arrests and other human rights violations in the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

13 killed in 5 days

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While killings of civilians have continued to increase since January 2017, she has been overwhelmed with the spate of killings especially last week when at least 13 persons were gunned down in separate incidents in cities and towns in Negros Oriental in a span of just five days.

“I do not understand what is happening. Some of those killed were members of farmers and other progressive organizations but the others I do not know and were killed probably by mere suspicion,” she told the Inquirer.

83 extrajudicial killings

Since January 2017, Karapatan and Defend Negros #Stop The Attacks network have recorded at least 83 victims of shooting incidents, which they considered as extrajudicial killings.

Alvarez said that amid the deluge of reported killings, they were having difficulty getting information and validating reports on those killed and arrested.

“Many leaders of organizations of farmers, youth and women have gone into hiding for fear for their lives because many of the victims were killed inside their houses when they were asleep,” she said.

Several weeks ago, an unknown person sent a text message to Karapatan national office warning that Alvarez would be the next to be killed in Negros.

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Activists have said that the murderous rampage in Negros was worse than the human rights violations during martial law under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos due to the magnitude of attacks and the indiscriminate targets involving even local officials and lawyers.

The Philippine National Police said New People’s Army (NPA) rebels could be behind the killings, noting that some of the assailants spray-painted pro-NPA messages in the houses of their victims.

The Communist Party of the Philippines, however, released a statement on Saturday denying involvement and accused the PNP, military and paramilitary forces as behind the killings.
NPA denies involvement

In a statement issued on Sunday, NPA’s Leonardo Panaligan Command that operates in central Negros, also condemned the killings, accusing “death squads” allegedly deployed by the police and military to attack civilians.

On Saturday, four persons were gunned down including Canlaon City Councilor Ramon Jalandoni, former Ayungon town Mayor Edsel Enardecido and Ernesto Posadas, village chief of Panubigan in Canlaon City.

Alvarez said Posadas was not a member of or affiliated with any militant organization. He once allowed a forum to be conducted in his village’s multipurpose hall for residents of Guihulngan City who had evacuated due to clashes between soldiers and NPA rebels.

Red tagging

Enardecido, an antimining advocate, was tagged as an NPA supporter while Jalandoni was friendly to progressive organizations, according to a source who asked not to be identified due to security concerns.

Several of the victims including lawyer Anthony Trinidad were tagged as NPA supporters by an anticommunist group in Guihulngan City along with his sister Guihulngan City Councilor Jessica Trinidad-Villarmente and her husband Carlos.

Assailants on board a motorcycle gunned down Trinidad on July 23 at the city center of Guihulngan. His wife Novie Marie was wounded and still recuperating.

But in a letter to the PNP chief, Gen. Oscar Abayalde, Andrea Trinidad, younger sister of the slain lawyer, raised fears for her family’s safety and refuted allegations that her family was supporting rebels.

“Such allegation linking our brothers, sister and brother-in-law to the communists is farthest from truth,” Andrea, a former Inquirer reporter, said in her letter in behalf of her family.

“Anthony was a small town lawyer, the most active one in our hometown. It was not surprising that he took in clients from all walks of life including those from the marginalized sectors and even some policemen. We are not aware that he handled controversial cases that could have led to his assassination. The only threat we are aware of was what he reported to the police — the letter with the alleged procommunist list,” she said.

While acknowledging that their father Jesus was detained during martial law, Andrea said all eight of them siblings “have long been living quiet lives, away from any political colors.”

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