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Bishops to Aquino: Stop Samar killings before polls

Paterno Esmaquel II
Bishops to Aquino: Stop Samar killings before polls
'We are alarmed that these killings may be the start of a wave of political violence in our provinces in the island of Samar,' bishops tell the President

MANILA, Philippines – A year before the 2016 elections, bishops urged President Benigno Aquino III to stop a recent spate of killings in Samar, one of the Philippines’ poorest provinces that is also a hotbed of election-related violence. 

“We are alarmed that these killings may be the start of a wave of political violence in our provinces in the island of Samar,” the bishops said in a letter to Aquino on Wednesday, May 27. 

“Mr President, we seek your immediate assistance to resolve these killings the soonest possible time. This is the only way to avert further violence – to serve justice to the perpetrators of these crimes – so that peace may once again prevail in our provinces and to lessen many unsolved impunities until now,” the bishops added.

Calbayog Bishop Isabelo Abarquez, Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez, and Catarman Bishop Emmanuel Trance signed the letter as members of the Samar Island Partnership for Peace and Development. 

The bishops made this appeal after at least 3 murders in the past two weeks.

The Philippine Star reported that gunmen killed Edgar Billeza, the barangay (village) chief of Carayman, Calbayog City, in Samar province. Billeza was killed in his Calbayog City residence.

The bishop said Billeza died on May 17.

Three days later, assassins reportedly shot dead two other village officials in Dagum, also in Calbayog City. Barangay Chairman Rio Lebario and Barangay Councilor Jonie Lungsod died in their barangay hall.

21 murders since 2014

The bishops pointed out that “gunmen boldly barged into a barangay session in Dagum, Calbayog City, and repeatedly shot” the two officials. Citing police reports, they added that the gunmen “were unmasked, wore no bonnets to hide their faces,” and killed persons who “belonged to opposite political camps.” 

The Freeman reported that since 2014, at least 21 political leaders and village officials have been murdered in the first district of Samar.

Before the 2013 elections, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II had included Samar among “the 15 priority provinces considered as high-risk areas in terms of political violence.”

Samar is home to one of the Philippines’ most deeply entrenched political dynasties. (READ: The Tans of Samar: Expanding a dynasty)

At the same time, it is one of the Philippines’ poorest provinces. (READ: ‘Kung walang corrupt, bakit sobrang mahirap ang Samar?’

Samar is also a victim of the Philippines worst typhoons in the past two years – Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which killed at least 6,300 people in 2013 and Typhoon Ruby (Haiyan), which killed more than a dozen people in 2014. 

The bishops from Samar island told the President: “We are still in the process of rehabilitating our communities and the infrastructure in our towns, and restoring our livelihoods and environments. And peace is essential to our development process.”

“We urge you, esteemed President of our nation, to resolve these killings before these bring more violence.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.