Groups seek unity, action to help end killings in Negros Island
MANILA, Philippines – After a spate of killings in Negros Island, advocates and various groups echoed on Thursday, August 1, the call to put an end to the senseless bloodshed.
Defend Negros #StopTheAttacks Network led the discussion on the current situation in Negros Island in a forum at the University of the Philippines Asian Center.
In Negros Oriental, at least 21 people have been killed from July 18 to 27, including a lawyer, a barangay captain, a city councilor, a former mayor, and a one-year-old child. Rights groups say at least 87 people have been killed in the two Negros provinces since 2017.
The spate of killings has led Malacañang to consider declaring martial law in Negros Island. (READ: Monitoring Negros: What rulings say about NPA and martial law)
“The ultimate objectives of this forum are for us to be educated on the true state of Negros [Island], and after knowing the situation, if we can have final decisions on what kind of actions we can take to help the families in any small ways and to stop the impending martial law in Negros [Island],” said Gretchen Velarde, one of the organizers of the forum.
Angie Ipong of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) tackled Oplan Sauron or the Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations (SEMPO). The joint operation between Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police is part of the government’s efforts against illegal drugs and loose firearms in Central Visayas.
Ipong mentioned that this highly coordinated military and police operation is against human rights as it “targeted and employed illegal and brutal acts against unarmed civilians belonging to legitimate peasant groups, farmers’ associations, and village level government units.”
A string of deaths in Negros Island has been making headlines in 2019. On March 30, 14 farmers were killed during simultaneous police operations in three municipalities across Negros Oriental. Just recently, 15 people were shot dead in a span of one week in the province. (READ: Death comes unprovoked upon Negros Island)
Putting the blame on the New People's Army, President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he will use all powers of the presidency under the Constitution to quell "lawless violence" in Negros Island. The Central Visayas police chief, however, has already appealed to the public to refrain from linking all killings to the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
In a statement, Makabayan's Neri Colmenares pointed out the weak foundation of Duterte's plan to use his emergency powers in Negros.
"Out of the many killings in Negros the police have no clear conclusion as to the perpetrators, except to point at the usual suspects – the NPA – even without evidence, in order to derail public attention from the AFP and the PNP. And yet they are planning on imposing martial law when they have not even gathered evidence on the identity of the suspects," he said.
In the forum, Ipong listed several ways that ordinary citizens can do to help end the killings in Negros Island.
“What can we do to help? We must push for an independent investigation regarding human rights violations committed in the course of Oplan Sauron, issue statements to express solidarity, and organize activities to help victims and survivors psychosocially, morally and financially,” said Ipong.
Ipong also urged the public to fight disinformation by spreading awareness and helping create healthy and critical discourse on human rights violations not just in Negros but also elsewhere in the country.
Tolling of bells
Fr Christopher Ablon from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines stressed the need to help people be more aware about what’s happening in the two provinces, and encouraged churches to toll their bells as a symbol of protest against the rising killings in Negros Island.
“Mahalaga na ipagpatuloy natin ang pag-toll ng bells hanggang ang mga bells ng lahat ng simbahan sa buong Pilipinas ay makisabay sa protesta, panawagan at pakikisimpatya sa mga biktima ng patayan sa Negros [Island],” said Fr Ablon.
(It is important that we continue to toll the bells until the bells of all the churches in the Philippines join to protest and sympathize with the victims of killings in Negros Island.)
Four Catholic bishops in Negros Island have condemned the killings and called on parishes to toll their bells every 8 pm until the murders stop.
Unity and action
Bayan Muna Representative Eufemia Cullamat, also a member of the Makabayan bloc, mourned with the families of the victims and urged fellow Filipinos to unite and take action in expressing condemnation of the killings in Negros Island.
"Bilang kinatawan sa Kongreso, limitado lang ang magagawa natin doon. Ang ating hinahangad na pagbabago ay wala sa Kongreso, kung hindi nasa ating mga kamay. Ipagpatuloy natin ang ating pagkilos at pagkakaisa para makamit ang tunay na demokrasya sa ating bayan," said Cullamat.
(As a representative in Congress, what we can do there is limited. The change we want to see is not in Congress but rather in our hands. We should continue to take action and unite for us to achieve true democracy for our country.)
Naneth Castillo, a mother of a victim of Oplan Tokhang, echoed the call to seek justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings in the Duterte regime.
"Ang pagdamay po sa kapwa natin ay gawin nating instrumento upang mamulat tayo at ‘yung iba pa. Tumindig tayo, ‘yun ang panawagan ko. Hustisya ang kailangan natin, hindi po patayan," said Castillo.
(We must use our sympathy to our fellow men as an instrument for us to be aware. My call is to stand in solidarity. What we need is justice, not killings.)
Aside from sharing of sentiments from human rights advocates and various groups, artist groups Alay Sining UP Diliman, The UP Repertory Company and Philippine Educational Theater Association also showcased performances tackling farmers’ rights and the call to seek justice for the victims of the killings in Negros Island. – Rappler.com
Patricia Angela Echano is a Rappler Intern and an incoming senior student taking BA Communication Arts at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
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