Ex-priest, NDF consultant killed; group seeks probe

A former priest and a National Democratic Front (NDF) peace consultant and his aide were killed in separate incidents in central and western Visayas on Friday, May 28.

NDF peace consultant Reynaldo Bocala and aide Welly Arguelles Epago were killed in a police raid in a house in Pavia, Iloilo; and former priest and peace consultant Rustico Tan was killed in Pilar, Camotes Island in Cebu.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of rights group Karapatan, called for an independent probe into the killings the day after, on Saturday, May 29.

"We call on the Commission on Human Rights to provide the necessary assistance to the families of Tan, Bocalla, and Epago and to conduct independent investigations on their killings," Palabay said.

"We call on the Duterte administration to put a stop to the killings and to abide by the NDFP-GRP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law," she added.

Killings

The 80-year-old Tan was shot dead in his home in Pilar, Cebu, on Friday night, May 28.

In November, 2017, Tan was arrested in Santander, Cebu, over what he and his supporters claimed to be “trumped-up” murder charges filed in Bohol. At the time, the military claimed that he was an active New People's Army leader in the Visayas – contrary to the insistence of Tan's family that he was a peace advocate with no communist links. The cases were later dismissed.

Karapatan said Tan was again charged with similar cases in Bacolod City in 2019, but was released on recognizance in March 2020.

The 75-year-old Bocala and Epago, 60, were killed while authorities served Bocala with arrest warrants. Western Visayas police claimed that Bocala, an alleged rebel leader in Panay Island, fired first, prompting them to shoot back.

Bocala is the husband of NDF peace consultant Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala, who is among those designated as "terrorists" in the Anti-Terrorism Council's list.

"These incidents and killings should also be investigated in the context of previous incidents of killings and attacks against other NDFP peace consultants or spokespersons, who were killed in similar patterns, whether in the course of purported service of warrants or involving unnamed individuals in the dead of the night, as well as the Duterte government’s blatant terror-tagging of peace consultants through the Anti-Terrorism Act, which we have already feared is a de facto death warrant," Palabay said.

She also cited the past killings of NDF consultants under the Duterte administration – Randy Malayao in January 2019, Randall Echanis in August 2020; and couple Antonio Cabanatan and Florenda Yap in December 2020. She also cited the death of couple Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio, elderly and retired consultants, during a police raid in Angono, Rizal in November 2020.

PNP open to probe

In a statement released Sunday, May 30, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Police General Guillermo Eleazar said that Bocala's relatives and colleagues have the right to pursue an independent investigation, and that the PNP's Internal Affairs Service will also be conducting its own probe.

“If they want an independent probe, so be it. Bukas po ang PNP doon. Pero gaya ng sa ibang kaso, papasok ang Internal Affairs Service dito para magsagawa ng motu propio investigation upang alamin kung may pagkukulang ang mga operatiba kaya humantong sa pagkamatay ng suspek,” Eleazar said.

(The PNP is open to an independent probe. But as with other cases, our Internal Affairs Services will also conduct a motu propio investigation in order to determine whether our operatives had shortcomings that led to the suspect's death.)

Eleazar also countered allegations that their operatives planted evidence on Bocala, stressing that there were court-issued warrants against the peace consultant.

Ang pagtatanim ng ebidensya ay lagi nang paratang sa ating kapulisan kahit gaano pa ka-lehitimo ang mga operasyon (The police is always accused of planting evidence, no matter how legitimate the operation). In this case, our policemen served arrest warrants against Bocala but Bocala and his companion resisted."

Tan's case was not mentioned in the statement. – Rappler.com