Negros Occidental

Farmer leader arrested in Himamaylan, charged for 2018 ambush

Reymund Titong

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Farmer leader arrested in Himamaylan, charged for 2018 ambush

PROTEST. Activists in front of the Commission on Human Rights office in Quezon City call for justice for four Fausto family members massacred on June 14 in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental.

Defend Negros

The military arrests Susan Medes, the chairperson of the Baclayan, Bito, Cabagal Farmers and Farmworkers Association (BABICAFA), the organization of the slain Fausto couple of Himamaylan

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Police in Negros Occidental arrested on Sunday, June 25 the chairperson of a farmers’ organization in Himamaylan that included among its members the Fausto couple slain with their minor sons in the June 14 Barangay Buenavista massacre.

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) on Monday, June 26 identified the arrested peasant leader as Susan Medes, 58, the chairperson of the Baclayan, Bito, Cabagal Farmers and Farmworkers Association (BABICAFA).

Medes, a resident of Sitio Bito, Barangay Buenavista, was among 18 persons charged with murder and multiple frustrated murders in connection with a May 12, 2018 New People’s Army (NPA) ambush in Sitio Bunsad, Barangay Tanawan, Kabankalan City.

Police Brig. Gen. Sidney Villaflor, the acting regional director of the Western Visayas Police Office (Region 6) said a joint police and military team arrested Mendes in Sitio Calasa, Brgy. Caradio-an, Himamaylan City in an early morning operation.

The police report, which did not identify Medes, said she is currently in the custody of the Kabankalan Component City Police Station pending turn-over to the court that issued the warrant. It said the warrant for Criminal Case Number 2019-8533 did not recommend bail.

UMA said Medes’ husband and six other residents of Brgy Buenavista were arrested in 2019 for the same case. Known among human rights defenders as the Buenavista 7, they remain in jail.

Police reported the arrest on the same day members of the National Solidarity Mission (NSM) in Negros announced in Quezon City the findings of their fact-finding mission on the Himamaylan Massacre and other cases of human rights violations in the country’s fourth-largest island.

“The Fausto case is not an isolated incident, but rather a culmination of harassment, destruction of properties, violation of domicile, illegal searches, and red-tagging that have been inflicted on farming communities in the region,” said Ariel ‘Ka Ayik’ Casilao, UMA’s acting chairperson and Co-Convenor of the Defend Negros Network.

“We observed a similar pattern in the killings of the Fausto family and the Crispin Tingal murder,” Casilao added, referring to the farmer killed in a clash that spread from Himamaylan to Kabankalan on May 3.

Farmer leader, not NPA

Tingal’s family denied the AFP’s claim that he was a New People’s Army (NPA) rebel and said he was heading home from a seminar on catfish farming, part of the Sustainable Livelihood Program of the Department of Social Welfare Development and the City Agriculture Office of Kabankalan on the day the military reported him as a casualty.

A farmer who received a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) in 2018, Tingal was a member of the Dangalon Farmer and Farmworkers Association (DAFA) and caretaker of its food house and fish pond in Sityo Dangalon, Brgy Hilamonan, Kabankalan City. He was a member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). His family is also among the beneficiaries of the government’s 4Ps program. 

Iglesia Filipina Independiente Negros Occidental Diocese Bishop Virgilio Amihan on June 25 told Bacolod reporters at a press briefing that the Tingal family had reported military harassment, illegal search, and “deep interrogation” on December 26, 2022, along with seven other households in Sitio Dangalon.

They were targeted based on military informants’ allegations of NPA presence in Sitio Dangalon, which the family and their neighbors denied.

The Tingal clan, including the family of his brother, Ramon was among the beneficiaries of the Kabankalan City Social Welfare and Development Office’s June 9 psychosocial workshop for traumatized residents of the southern Negros Occidental conflict areas.

Rappler contacted the 303rd Brigade Command, which had identified Tingal as an NPA, about his family’s position and that of the fact-finding mission, but got no reply.

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Fausto massacre

With the Fausto massacre, military and police officials, a prosecutor and spokesperson for the Western Visayas Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict have blamed a 15-member NPA group as perpetrators of the massacre in the isolated hamlet of Kangkiling in Barangay Buenavista.

Himamaylan Police Chief Lt. Col. Reynante Jomocan said two witnesses in their custody have issued affidavits identifying at least one member of the NPA band as the killers of Billy Fausto – the name on the death certificate of the farmer previously identified both the authorities, rebels, and activists as Roly – his wife, Emilda, and their two minor sons.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which is independently investigating the crime, said there are still no clear findings on the men who the Fausto couple had earlier reported to have ransacked their home on three occasions.

The military insists rebels punished the Faustos because the patriarch was an AFP asset who had been trying to convince other members of the NPA, including his still unidentified in-laws.

But a family member told Rappler he was neither an NPA nor a military asset. One of his children also spoke with the Altermidya network to narrate how the military had tried to coerce him to act as their guide during an operation in March 2022.

The NPA has been known to execute civilians it claimed to be spies or criminals in Barangay Buenavista, a practice denounced by the local government and international organization Human Rights Watch. But it usually claims these killings, which officials of the barangay have also pointed out.

The Fausto children have sought sanctuary with a private group, according to the Jomocan, and are safe.

Casilao said “tales of coercion, wherein witnesses are compelled to testify and follow an outline provided by the PNP in order portray the NPA as culprits, have been conveyed with us,” following their fact-finding mission.

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