Negros Occidental

Negros bishop urges end to ‘escalating militarization’

Reymund Titong, Inday Espina-Varona

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Negros bishop urges end to ‘escalating militarization’

BURIAL. The coffins bearing the bodies of Roly and Emilda Fausto, and their two sons, Ben and Raben, during interment rites at the Aguisan cemetery in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, on June 18, 2023.

Reymund Titong/Rappler

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza is among those pushing for an independent probe into the killing of a couple and their two sons in Negros Occidental

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza called for an end to “escalating militarization” under the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Sunday, June 18, as the remains of Roly and Emilda Fausto and their two minor sons, Ben and Raben, were buried four days after unknown gunmen killed them on Wednesday, June 14.

“Our hearts are heavy,” said Alminaza in a statement that urged Filipinos to oppose government policies blamed for escalating human rights violations.

At the Aguisan cemetery in Himamaylan City, three surviving Fausto children wept and wailed over the coffins of their massacred kin and hugged each other in grief.

Despite fears spawned by the atrocity, around a hundred mourners from Sitio Kangkiling, an isolated mountain hamlet in Barangay Buenavista, came to pay their last respects to Roly, a local farmer leader, and his family.

Older folk hovered protectively over the three Fausto children, requesting journalists not to name the two younger siblings of Emily Hermino, who discovered her kin’s mutilated bodies at their home, and in a nearby cornfield.

There were no speeches during the interment rites, except for a Fausto relative who thanked the media and the Himamaylan City Social Welfare and Development Office.

“If it were just us, we could have done nothing,” the relative said.

Emily and her siblings asked not to be interviewed, as did their fellow mourners.

Independent probes

Alminaza and Human Rights Watch (HRW) Philippines senior researcher Carlos Conde added their voices to rights groups calling for an independent probe into the massacre.

Conde praised the initiative of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to start an in-depth probe.

Citing security problems often faced by rights groups investigating atrocities in rural areas, Conde said a separate probe by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would also help clarify matters.

Given the case’s complex nature, “you need to go there, talk to people in as impartial a manner as possible, but then there’s a security problem. Even the CHR, I don’t think they can just go in and out easily in these situations,” Conde pointed out. 

“The ICRC, they are in a better position to do that. The military obviously recognizes the ICRC,” he added. “The insurgency is their domain, and monitoring humanitarian issues and international humanitarian law violations. Now, the military recognizes them, they respect them, and of course the ICRC people in the Philippines, these are professionals. They’re not at all partisan. The very reason they don’t speak to the media as much as we want is because they want to maintain that nonpartisan character.”

MOURNERS. Relatives, neighbors, and friends attend the burial of Roly and Emilda Fausto and their two sons, Ben and Raben, at the Aguisan cemetery in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, on June 18, 2023. Photo by Reymund Titong/Rappler
Oppressive policies

Alminaza said Marcos’ government has reinforced Executive Order (EO) No. 70, issued by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.

The EO claims to address the socioeconomic and political roots of Asia’s longest communist insurgency. But it has also been blamed for rampant human rights violations, using the tactics of Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs” – demonization, followed by executions – against activists suspected of supporting the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army (NPA).

“The whole-of-nation approach advocated by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has led to the weaponization of ‘red-tagging,’ armed harassment, and senseless killings,” said Alminaza, who has experienced being red-tagged.

The military immediately blamed the massacre on the NPA, claiming Roly was a military asset, tasked to persuade his in-laws, who are suspected of involvement with the rebels, to surrender.

But the Fausto couple in May reported harassment by armed men suspected of being with the military. They also reported in 2022 a case of soldiers torturing Roly and forcing him to act as a guide during a military operation.

A close member of the family disputed that Roly was a military asset

Organizers of sugar workers and farmers in southern Negros Occidental also told Rappler in a telephone interview last Wednesday that Roly was a known leader of the Baclayan, Bito, Cabagal Farmers and Farmworkers Association, and had spoken and negotiated on their behalf with local officials.

Conde, citing a report by Karapatan on the Fausto couple’s harassment complaint in 2022, said it is a violation of international humanitarian law to coerce people into acting as guides during military operations.

The HRW previously denounced NPA executions of suspected criminals and spies, noting that these were done without fair and transparent trials. – Rappler.com

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