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MANILA, Philippines – Relatives of a couple and their two minor children massacred on Wednesday evening, June 14 in Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental are in the dark about the identity of the killers.
But in a telephone interview with Rappler on Saturday, June 17, a close family member confirmed reports that Emilda and Roly Fausto, the slain couple, had shared fears about alleged harassment by agents of the Armed Forces.
In the same interview, the family member, who requested anonymity due to concerns over personal safety, also disputed military claims that Roly had become a government asset or that he was convincing neighbors and other relatives to surrender.
“I saw him every day,” the family member said in the local Hilgaynon language. “Wala man na siya naga pasurrender bisan kay sin-o.” (He was not asking anyone to surrender.)
The relative, however, told Rappler that the family does not want to speculate on the identities of the killers.
The source also refused to answer other questions, citing security concerns.
“Indi ko gusto balikan,” the source said. (I don’t want to be targeted.)
The massacre in Buenavista , a mountain barangay, occured amid a backdrop of clashes between government and communist troops that have spilled over to neighboring towns. The barangay has also reeled from human rights violations on both sides, leading to trauma among residents.
Buenavista barangay captain Harry Higginsalso told local media that Emilda had reported harassment incidents, including break-ins at their residence.
Higgins however, said that when she was asked about details of the incidents, Emilda could not categorically identify Army soldiers as the culprits
History of harassment
Government officials, rights defenders, and the New People’s Army (NPA) have all condemned the incident, particularly bloody even by the standards of conflict-rocked Negros Occidental.
Police said they found 53 M16 bullet shells at the crime scene.
Photos show Emilda’s cadaver just outside the hut’s doorway, her skull shattered, and her left leg riddled with bullet wounds. The body of a boy dangled out of a separate doorway at the back. Another body was found inside the hut.
Roly’s cadaver was found 50 meters from the hut.
The human rights group Karapatan said that Roly and Emilda were sugar workers and farmers, and members of Baclayan, Bito, Cabagal Farmers and Farmworkers Association (BABICAFA).
The Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas said the couple had been red-tagged and subjected to military harassment before the attack.
Karapatan’s initial brief said said Emilda on May 15 went to the office of the September 21 Movement in Negros Occidental to report two separate incidents of illegal search and seizure.
“One happened in the middle of April and another on May 4, 2023,” the rights group said.
“In the May 4, 2023 incident, Emilda reported that she saw muddy combat boot marks left on the door, giving the impression that the door had been kicked in. When they got inside, they saw that their belonging/clothes have been scattered around the house.”
The May incident followed a clash that started in Barangay Buenavista on May 3 and spilled over to Kabankalan City. A farmer tagged by the military as an alleged communist rebel was killed and two soldiers wounded.
Himamaylan was been in the news because of fighting that have sent thousands of residents fleeing farms and homes for safety. Buenavista figures high in the clashes that have dogged the populace.
The Commission on Human Rights in a statement on June 17 said it ordered its Western Visayas regional office to investigate the massacre.
“At this point, there are already allegations that the incident was insurgency-related and allegedly linked to the New People’s Army. But there is also an allegation linking it to the Philippine Army. All possible angles will be pursued in the course of CHR’s independent investigation,” the CHR statement said.
John Milton ‘Ka Butch’ Lozande, spokesperson for Defend Negros and chairperson of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) thanked the CHR for its commitment to an impartial investigation.
He urged urged local and international civil society groups, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to invite “broad and public scrutiny of the tragedy.”
Neighbors and relatives said they heard gunshots but did not see any of the assailants who attacked during a rainy night.
The Himamaylan City police said Emely Herminio, the oldest daughter of the Fausto couple reported the crime early morning of June 15.
Roly and Emilda had six children, with two living in another residence that is a 30-minute walk away from the slain couple’s home.
Government officials and communist rebels have hurled accusations at each other for the massacre in the hamlet of Kangkiling, an area not easily reached by four-wheeled vehicles.
The NPA’s Apolinario Gatmaitan Command condemned the incident and accused the 94th Infantry Battalion (IB) of killing the couple and their two children aged 15 and 11.
Brigadier Gen. Orlando Edralin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, blamed the NPA, claiming rebels were undertaking a “purge” of former supporters suspected of having turned military informants.
The 94 IB on its Facebook page, shared an interview, quoting its commander, Colonel Van Donald Almonte, as claiming Roly “was an intelligence asset of the Philippine Army.”
Almonte claimed Roly was negotiating the surrender of his in-laws, believed to be members of the NPA’s Central Negros Front 2.
Almonte of the 94th IB claimed Roly had been helping them since March 2022 and that the red-tagging him was a cover.
The Army officer raised the possibility that the rebels had information on Roly’s efforts and killed the family in retaliation.
The Karapatan brief included a report by the couple on March 22, 2022, of armed men “in military uniform, while others were in civilian clothes” surrounding their house around 7 am.
They first interrogated Emilda and conducted “an illegal search inside the house, with scattered clothes on the floor apparent after the search.”
When Roly returned from the farm around 10 am, “he was also interrogated and coerced to accompany the soldiers.”
The report said soldiers brought Roly to a vacant hut 500 meters from their house.
“The soldiers tied his neck with a belt and forced him to confess that he is a member of the NPA, and to reveal other NPA members. He was also kicked twice in his shoulders.”
Soldiers came back with Roly around 1 pm and then brought him at 7 pm to the military detachment in Barangay Hilamonan, Kabankalan City, where he was questioned again, then forced to admit that he is a member of the NPA.
“He suffered beatings on the head and was forced to serve as a guide for the military operation for the whole night,” the Karapatan report said.
The family source told Rappler the March 2022 incident report was accurate but that nothing since then pointed to Roly as an informer.
The NPA has previously killed military informers in Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental but usually claims responsibility.
Rebel executions have earned condemnation from the CHR and international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch.
In November 2022, HRW slammed the NPA for executing three civilians in sham trials that failed the basic standards of fairness.
It said the rebels justified the most severe punishments for killings in August of the same year, claiming the men were military spies or guilty of common crimes such as rape.
But the rights group said executions based on the judgment of “people’s courts” characterized by a lack of transparency are a “violation” of international humanitarian law.
Barangay Buenavista has seen its share of NPA executions.
In January 2023, the NPA’s Mt. Cansermon Command claimed the killing of a barangay councilman from Sitio Maiti, accusing him of being a military informant and involved in the killing of two NPA guerrillas in 2022.
The Leonardo Panaligan Command, also based in Negros island, claimed responsibility for the killing of a barangay councilman from Vallehermoso town, Negros Oriental on January 14 and another in Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental on January 19. – Rappler.com