14 dead farmers: Why?
The calendar says otherwise, but with the way horrific things are proceeding, it would seem we’re back in the bad old days of the Marcos dictatorship.
Jogged by reports of the recent killing of 14 farmers in Negros Oriental, memory leapt more than 30 years back to the Escalante Massacre of Sept. 20, 1985, when farmers in Negros Occidental protesting their miserable lives and crying for land, rice and better working conditions saw 20 of their fellows mowed down and killed by soldiers and other agents of the State.
Then as now, it was SOP for authorities to view protesters and dissenters as troublemakers, as communist rebels, as criminals. No one has yet been held liable for those cold-blooded murders.
And the pattern continues.
Early on March 30 in Negros Oriental, 14 persons suspected of being “hard-core criminals” or hit men and sympathizers of the communist New People’s Army were shot and killed by arresting teams from the Philippine National Police Regional Public Safety Battalion, the PNP Special Action Force, certain police stations, and the Philippine Army.
The raiding teams were reportedly conducting operations to flush out loose firearms. They were said to have carried search warrants during the operations that took almost a day, starting from 1 a.m. to midnight of Saturday, reminiscent of the police’s “One Time, Big Time” antidrug operations in, say, the province of Bulacan, or the city of Caloocan.
And as in an old song, the refrain was familiar; the manner of execution partook of the apparent modus operandi in the Duterte administration’s unrelenting war on drugs: killed while supposedly resisting arrest or a search for unregistered guns — “nanlaban.”
The killings occurred in Canlaon City and in the towns of Manjuyod and Santa Catalina, and, per the accounts of family members and other eyewitnesses, in a manner chillingly similar to the continuing antidrug operations in Metro Manila and nearby provinces: masked men in camouflage descending in the dead of night, the targets clangorously awakened from asleep, their kin ordered out of the house, then the sound of gunshots announcing the evil deed of murder.
How smoothly, how easily, lives are snuffed out in this country, particularly in impoverished areas.
But the PNP chief, Police Gen. Oscar Albayalde, pronounced the killings as “not a massacre,” given that these occurred in various places and other suspects — 12 of them, including officers of activist groups — were arrested and managed to stay alive.
His subordinates sought to beef up his defense. Police Col. Bernard Banac said on radio: “We are sure there was resistance because our PNP personnel would not use force if there was no threat to their lives.”
Police Col. Raul Tacaca cited a casualty among the ranks: a cop who took a bullet to the butt in the course of the raids.
Rights groups said the targets were leaders of local farmer organizations tagged by the government as “legal fronts” of the communist rebel movement.
It is important to keep alive the memory of those killed, as identified by the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura — many past their prime but galvanized by Dylan Thomas’ “force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” youthful in voicing the urgency of fighting against what is in order to attain what should be.
In Canlaon, all farmers but one: Edgardo Avelino, 59, chair of the group Hugpong Kusog Mag-uuma sa Canlaon (Hukom); his brother, habal-habal driver Ismael Avelino, 53, member of Hukom and another organization; Melchor Pañares, 67; his son, Mario Pañares, 46; Rogelio Recomono, 52; his son Ricky Recomono, 28; Gonzalo Rosales, 47; and Genes Palmares; 54.
In Manjuyod: Barangay Captains Valentin Acabal of Kandabong and Sonny Palagtiw of Pansiao; farmers Steve Arapoc and Manulo Martin. In Santa Catalina: Franklin Lariosa and Ano Enojo Rapada.
Among them were members of a Catholic mission station in Masulog, according to Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos City.
Questions bubble up from the blood that was spilled on Saturday on Negros ground, including that raised by Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo: Why were there so many deaths?
Indeed, why? Where were the supposedly recovered grenades (rifle-fired, fragmentation), shotguns and assorted ammo found, and were these used by the slain men in the course of resisting a search?
All these and more demand answers, not only for justice for the dead but also for the peace of the living. Nothing less than an independent inquiry is needed in this benighted season of death and desolation.
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