2 human rights activists killed in Negros Oriental
Published: 11:05 p.m., Nov. 28, 2017 | Updated: 12:53 a.m., Nov. 30, 2017
Two members of a human rights group were killed and another was wounded while on a fact-finding mission in Negros Oriental province on Tuesday, raising fears that this might be a “warning shot” for more attacks and killings.
Three days earlier in Northern Samar, the provincial chair of Karapatan claimed to have been physically harassed by a military official while he was inside a military camp as he was visiting farmers detained in the facility.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, said the rash of killings and attacks against human rights and activists groups resulted from the “climate of impunity” under the Duterte administration.
“The wanton killings in the antidrug campaign and the militarization of the communities are encouraging local landlords to also attack and kill farmers and human rights defenders,” Palabay told the Inquirer.
Bayawan gun attack
Unidentified armed men gunned down Elisa Badayos, 59, Negros Oriental coordinator of Karapatan, and Elioterio Moises, a member of Mantapi Ebwan Farmers Association, at Barangay Nangka in Bayawan City, 106 kilometers northwest of Dumaguete City.
Carmen Matarlo, 22, Kabataan party-list Cebu coordinator, was wounded in the shoulder.
SPO2 Archer Birjes, investigator of the Bayawan police station, said the victims were on a “habal-habal” (modified motorcycle) when they were fired upon by at least two men around 3:40 p.m.
The three were taken to Bayawan District Hospital where physicians pronounced Badayos and Moises dead on arrival. Matarlo was later taken to Dumaguete.
Badayos, wife of the still missing labor leader Jimmy Badayos, suffered a gunshot wound in the head, while Moises was hit in the armpit.
Police recovered casings for .45-caliber bullets at the site of the shooting.
Investigators were still determining the identities of the gunmen and the motive for the attack.
Palabay said the companions of the victims, who were on another motorcycle, identified the gunmen as those who had earlier stopped them from entering the site of their mission.
“There were five gunmen and they were particularly targeting Nene (Badayos) because they did not fire at the other vehicle. She was known there because of the cases she had followed up,” Palabay said.
She said the armed men were goons working for a landlord involved in a dispute with farmers in the area.
In a press briefing, Palabay said men allegedly working for Bayawan Mayor Pryde Henry Teves had blocked and harassed the fact-finding team.
The victims dropped by the Bayawan police station before noon to coordinate with the police that they were going to Nangka to see the village chief, according to Birjes.
Patrick Torres, executive director of the Cebu-based Farmers Development Center and a member of the fact-finding mission, said they were on the last day of their four-day activity when the attack happened.
The three victims left the 30-member contingent to interview farmers in Nangka village who were reportedly harassed by security guards of a claimant involved in a land dispute.
The mission was conducted to investigate reported cases of killings, harassment and other human rights violations in several towns in Negros Oriental.
Rash of killings
Torres said nine members of farmers groups and militant organizations had been killed this year in Negros Oriental. These included eight in Guihulngan City alone.
The killings in Guihulngan happened after New People’s Army rebels ambushed on July 21 members of the Guihulngan police force. Six officers, including the chief of police, died and three others were wounded.
The attacks against human rights defenders have escalated after President Duterte called off peace talks with communist rebels, according to Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago.
Sargie Macallan, who heads Katungod-Northern Samar, said he was slapped and strangled by Col. George Domingo, commanding officer of the Army’s 20th Infantry Battalion on Nov. 25.
“I was with the relatives of the detained farmers to visit them at the battalion when the incident happened. I was shocked at what he did to me,” Macallan said in a phone interview.
He claimed that Domingo slapped him on his left cheek while he was extending his hands to him after he was introduced to the military official at the waiting area of the camp.
“After he slapped me, he used both hands to strangle me. I struggled to keep myself free which made me fell down,” he said.
Then, Domingo himself dragged him outside the camp with five of his security escorts pointing their rifles at him, Macallan said.
The Inquirer could not contact Domingo for comment. But, Brig. Gen. Mario Lacurom, commanding officer of the 803rd Infantry Brigade based in Catarman, denied such an incident happened.
“Also, those detained are not really farmers but former members of the New People’s Army who surrendered to the government,” Lacurom said.
He said the farmers, identified as Richard Avino, Arnel Aquino and Tinny Gerbon, surrendered to Domingo on Nov. 24. —With a report from Vince F. Nonato /atm /pdi
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