5 slain in Rizal shootout not rebels but farmworkers, says rights group
An upland community in Baras, Rizal province, lives through the trauma after the killing of five people in their neighborhood, who the government later tagged as communist rebels.
Brig. Gen. Alex Rillera, commander of the Philippine Army’s 202nd Infantry Brigade, said the fatalities carried out “criminal and terrorist” activities through extortion, citing the list of business establishments, several mobile phones, laptop computers, and guns recovered from them. But the human rights group, Karapatan, said the fatalities were caretakers in a private mango farm in Barangay San Juan.
Karapatan identified them through morgue records as Vilma Salabao, Wesley Obmerga, Jhonatan Alberga, Niño Alberga, and Carlito Zonio. A resident, who lived near the fatalities’ house, said Zonio had been the farm caretaker for three years and that she knew Salabao only as “Sandra.”
“Those people never acted suspiciously, that’s why we were surprised to learn they were NPA (New People’s Army members). We also never saw guns or that much cell phones whenever we went to Sandra’s home,” she said. The house, with “sawali” (woven bamboo mats) for its walls, stands near a brook where residents regularly wash their clothes.
The resident, who asked not to be named as she did not want to get involved in the case, said the shooting started around 2:30 a.m. and lasted for four hours on Dec. 17.
“That night, around 9 p.m., someone went around the village telling people not to leave their homes because it was already [the start of the] curfew. That was unusual because there’s no curfew even during the [pandemic] lockdown,” she said. She said the residents feared getting caught in the crossfire after at least two persons escaped, one of them the military later identified as Antonio Cule. Cule was the subject of an arrest warrant for frustrated murder in Infanta, Quezon, reports said.
Rillera, in a telephone interview, said the government troops were supposed to serve the warrant when people inside the house began to fire at them. He said the troops were still pursuing Cule, who was tagged as an NPA finance officer. —MARICAR CINCO INQ
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