Calls mount for independent probe of Negros killings
MANILA, Philippines — A broad anti-tyranny alliance of groups and individuals on Saturday called for an independent investigation of the massacre of a peasant family in Negros Occidental province following conflicting reports from separate investigations by the police and a volunteer fact-finding mission.
In a statement on Saturday, the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) said an independent probe would be necessary to bring justice to the four members of the Fausto family who were brutally gunned down on June 14, and the killing of farmer Crispin Tingal Jr. on May 3.
The investigation may be led by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Congress, or some special body created for the purpose, taking into consideration the alleged massive human rights and international law violations on Negros Island, according to MAT convenors Sr. Mary John Mananzan and Carol Araullo.
The alliance includes religious and political leaders, human rights activists, academics, lawyers, and journalists.
It said in a statement that similarities in the cases of Rolly Fausto and Tingal — both peasant leaders tagged as supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) and later killed — were “not a mere coincidence.”
“It follows a pattern that has been observed in many areas where intense military operations are being conducted to flush out the NPA,” it added. “Thus, we cannot simply accept the convenient and self-serving findings of the police, Army and [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict], considering that these are the very agencies at the forefront of such brutal military operations.”
The Negros Occidental police and Philippine Army said in a news conference on Thursday that the June 14 killing of farmer Rolly Fausto, 52, his wife, Emilda, 49, and their sons Ben, 11, and Raben, 15, in Himamaylan City were committed by members of the NPA’s Central Negros Front 2 (CNF 2).
They said the rebels gunned down the Faustos at their home in Sitio Kangkiling, Barangay Buenavista, around 10 p.m. on June 14, citing accounts of at least nine witnesses. Rolly’s body was found in a nearby cornfield.
On Friday, the National Solidarity Mission (NSM), which included two opposition members of the House of Representatives and a Philippine Independent Church bishop, disputed the military and police reports and instead pointed to Army soldiers as those responsible for the massacre.
The NSM said that it learned that the Fausto couple had been subjected by soldiers to physical and mental torture, grave coercion, and illegal searches since March last year due to Rolly’s suspected involvement with the NPA.
As members of the Baclayan Bito Cabagal Farmers and Farm Workers Association, the couple were constantly being red-tagged and harassed by soldiers, it said.
But the police said that Fausto and his wife were suspected by a certain Alfredo “Ever” Hermino, an alleged member of the NPA’s CNF 2, as informants of the military, prompting his group to kill the family.
The 94th Infantry Battalion, an Army unit engaged in counterinsurgency operations in the province, confirmed that Fausto had been their “intelligence asset” since March last year.
The police noted Fausto was being approached on purpose by the Army to surrender “as part of his cover story.” They noted that he was negotiating the surrender of his in-laws and family, whom he admitted to be members of CNF 2.
The Army said the Faustos “wanted to return to the fold of the law and surrender their firearms to clear their names as members of the NPA, and because they were already tired of hiding in the mountainous area of their place and of moving from one place to another to preserve their lives.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Saturday dismissed the findings of the NSM, saying it was not a legitimate entity to conduct an investigation.
“The legitimate body investigates to identify the perpetrators and bring them to a court of law for justice to be served. Some claim to do the same but for propaganda purposes,” AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar told the Inquirer.
Vincent Parra, head of CHR-Negros Occidental, said they had started their own investigation and learned that armed men had ransacked the Faustos’ home on three occasions.
In one of the incidents, eight men wearing military uniforms entered their house while the family members were working in the field.
The CHR, Parra said, would interview the Faustos’ relatives in Barangay Carol-an, Kabankalan City, to find out whether the couple had been Red-tagged.
Parra said the Fausto family had moved from Carol-an to Buenavista where they had been living for less than a year.
“We cannot conclude [for now] if the men who ransacked the Faustos’ house were government soldiers or the NPA. Anybody can wear Army uniforms,” he said.
Makabayan lawmakers, including two who had joined the fact-finding mission, had filed a resolution seeking an impartial probe of the massacre by the House Committee on Human Rights.
House Deputy Minority Leader Arlene Brosas said the killings of the Fausto family and Tingal “seemed to be a culmination of harassment, the devastation of properties, illegal searches, and red-tagging.”
“The Fausto family and other victims of violence in Negros Island experienced loss of livelihood, severe trauma, especially among children, and a grave violation of their freedom of association,” Brosas said.