Killing of 2 activists hours before SONA condemned
GUINOBATAN, Albay, Philippines — Two activists were killed in what police here claimed was a “shootout” just hours before President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his last State of the Nation Address on Monday at the Batasang Pambansa.
Maj. Joel Jarabejo, the Guinobatan police chief, said in a belated report on Tuesday that Marlon Napire, 40, and Jaymar Palero, 22, were caught by roving cops in the act of spray-painting protest graffiti on a concrete railing near the Banao bridge in Barangay Lower Binogsacan at around 1 a.m.
Jarabejo said Napire and Palero fired twice at the police, hitting the patrol car and prompting the cops to shoot back. The two men were killed before they could complete the message “Duterte Ibagsak” (Down with Duterte).
Police later found in the area two .45 caliber and .38 caliber guns, a total of 15 spent shells for guns of assorted calibers, and an unregistered motorcycle, Jarabejo said.
Palero, whose mother said he had been tortured, was a member of the farmers’ group Organisasyon ng mga Magsasaka Sa Albay. Napire was a member of the Albay People’s Organization, an affiliate of the rights group Karapatan’s Bicol chapter.
The Defend Bicol Stop the Attacks Network, an alliance of rights groups in the region, said the killings were an attack on human rights.
“Dissent may take many forms, and to kill innocent unarmed civilians in the dead of night for painting the people’s call is purely fascist and brutal,” the alliance said in a Facebook post.
In Manila, other activists condemned the killing of Napire and Palero and demanded to know how they could have shot it out with police when they were carrying cans of paint.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the Guinobatan police’s claim of a shootout was an “unbelievable tall tale” because the two men “surely did not bear arms while doing graffiti.”
Palabay said the killings were another piece of “damning evidence” of state violence under the Duterte administration, “where the right to life and freedom of expression, among other basic rights and liberties, are not only brazenly violated but also violently suppressed.”
Signs of torture
Jennifer Palero said she last saw her son Jaymar watching the TV series “Ang Probinsyano” at his aunt’s house at 6 p.m. on Monday.
As the trusted “door-to-door” driver in his “purok” (sub-village) in Barangay Catumag, he went off to work minutes later, she said.
“They tortured my son like an animal,” Jennifer Palero told the Inquirer through her tears. “My son had nothing. He was just a driver, and now the police are saying he fought back? Why were the bullets in his back?”
She said there were signs of torture on her son’s body — his face appeared to have been battered with a gun, and his nails had been removed.
“The police said the shootout happened at 10 p.m. Why was his body recovered at 1 a.m.? Where did they bring him?” she said.
With the pandemic, Palero lost his job at a construction site and had been doing odd jobs, such as driving residents in the area. “Now they are saying that my son was a drug user. They should examine him. Then they will see that he never took drugs,” the mother said.
Jenelyn Nagrampa, chair of the Bicol chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said she had spoken with two other activists who were also on the bridge and who managed to elude the police.
She quoted them as saying that when the cops arrived in the area, Palero and Napire tried to run away but were taken and brought to the patrol car. She said they did not hear gunshots until the patrol car left.
“The witnesses said Palero and Napire had no guns because they were just civilians,” Nagrampa said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite condemned the killing of the activists, saying in a statement: “Everything warrants a death sentence under this murderous regime. Those who are anti-Duterte die in the hands of police. Who is now the terrorist?”
Carlos Conde, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, called on the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the Guinobatan police’s “highly suspicious allegation.”
Conde said this would give Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, whose department runs the NBI, a chance to prove he was forthright in promising the UN Human Rights Council last year to promote transparency and accountability in the Philippine National Police.
He said any effort by the PNP to investigate itself “does not have any credibility… [and] it cannot be expected to police its ranks impartially.”
“Activists who do graffiti work are not known to carry firearms,” he added.
There have been many incidents involving the killing of activists.
On March 7, nine activists were killed, most of them in their own homes, and six others were arrested in simultaneous raids carried out by police and soldiers in the Calabarzon region.
Describing the raids as “Bloody Sunday,” Karapatan’s Palabay compared the police-military operations to the mass arrest and killing of 14 farmers in Negros Oriental on March 30, 2019.
Police said the farmers resisted being searched for illegal firearms. But human rights and farmers’ organizations found that the farmers were summarily executed.
In November 2018, human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos Jr. was shot dead near his house in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental. He was killed seven months after his photo appeared with posters of 62 other activists in Moises Padilla town, about 50 kilometers from Kabankalan.
They were tagged as communists.
Other rights lawyers have also been killed, with their assailants yet to be identified.