Justice remains elusive to kin of Panay tribe slain in military operations
ILOILO CITY—The horrors remain as vivid as it was a year ago for Marilyn Vidal.
“They barged into our house while we were asleep, dragged me outside away from my husband, and shot him four times,” she told the INQUIRER on Thursday.
She and a son traveled from the hinterland village of Daan Sur in Tapaz town in Capiz province to speak in a program organized by the Defend Panay network in Iloilo City to commemorate the first anniversary of the killing of nine Tumandok tribe leaders and members, including her husband Joemar.
“We came here to ask for help in finding justice. If people help us, we hope justice will be served to my husband and the others killed,” she said in Hiligaynon in a telephone interview.
The nine were killed on Dec. 30, 2020, in simultaneous police and military operations led by the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Tapaz and in Calinog town in Iloilo.
Police and military officials have repeatedly insisted that those who died fired first at police operatives serving 28 search warrants for firearms and explosives.
Sixteen other Tumandok leaders and members were arrested on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Those killed and arrested were alleged leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) has also alleged that Tapaz is a “center of gravity” of the rebel movement in Panay, where government troops and policemen have died in rebel attacks since the 1970s.
Vidal denied that her husband was a CPP or NPA member or supporter.
“He was a village watchman when he died. He also served as a barangay councilman and a member of the civilian volunteer organization,” she said.
Marison Diaz said her family was also seeking justice for her 71-year-old father, Maurito Diaz, who was among those killed.
“We are still afraid that what happened last year will happen again, but my father was innocent,” she said.
Berna Castor, secretary-general of the Tumandok alliance, which groups 17 indigenous communities in Tapaz and Jamindan towns in Capiz and Calinog in Iloilo, said they were calling for the abolition of the NTF-Elcac, which has repeatedly accused their organization as a CPP and NPA “front.”
“We honor those who died, and we still seek justice even as our communities fear that the massacre will happen again,” Castor said.
In January 2021, the chief of the regional police crime laboratory in Western Visayas was relieved from his post after he confirmed to reporters that seven of the nine leaders of the indigenous people’s group, who were killed, tested negative for gunpowder residue.
While paraffin test results were by themselves not conclusive to determine if a person had fired a firearm, it was used along with other pieces of evidence to determine what happened.
Msgr. Meliton Oso, executive director of the Jaro Archdiocese Social Action Center and spokesperson of the Iloilo Council for Ecumenism, said they were working to free 75-year-old Rodolfo Diaz, the only one of the 16 arrested, who remains detained in Pototan town in Iloilo.
“He told me that he was ready to die in jail rather than to lie by admitting the accusations against him,” Oso said.
The CIDG claimed that they recovered a .45-caliber pistol with ammunition and a rifle grenade from Diaz in his home in Barangay Masaroy in Calinog.
In July, the Regional Trial Court Branch 21 in Mambusao, Capiz, ordered the release of four of those arrested after it quashed the search warrant issued by a court in Manila used in the arrest of members and leaders of the Tumandok tribe in Capiz. The others were released earlier on bail.
Nine of them were released after they entered into a plea bargain agreement.
Oso said the hearings on Diaz’s case have been repeatedly postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are encouraging the victims and villagers to speak but we understand that they are still very afraid,” he said.
The Jaro Archdiocese is assisting Diaz legally and gave financial help to families of those who died and were arrested.
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