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Editorial

Harrowing findings

/ 09:16 AM April 11, 2019

Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde has furiously parried calls for his resignation in the wake of the joint police and military operations in Negros Oriental that left 14 farmers dead.

Why should he resign, the top cop said: The raids in Canlaon City and the towns of Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina were covered by warrants for alleged possession of firearms and explosives among the targets; the dead were in fact supporters of communist rebels who were killed because they shot it out with the police; the legislators calling for his resignation are “sympathizers who are in power supporting the leftist movement” and “the perceived enemies of the state to gain power themselves”; and, anyway, he has already ordered an investigation into the incident and relieved the chiefs of police of Canlaon and the two towns where the bloodbath happened, and also the provincial director of Negros Oriental. What more do these irksome leftists want?

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“An impartial investigation is ongoing to determine if there were lapses in this series of police operations,” insisted Albayalde. And, in rather muddled language: “I assure that this corresponding investigation by the PNP Internal Affairs Service is deemed in the ambit of fairness, truth and justice whatever results may divulge.”

But how impartial could this investigation be if Malacañang itself, rushing to Albayalde and the PNP’s defense, appears to have already prejudged the case by backing up the cops’ claim that the victims lost their lives because, well, “nanlaban” — that by-now rote police story of the targets uniformly fighting back and thus getting killed in the shootout?

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That all-too-neat explanation (14 “nanlaban” farmers!) is, at any rate, being challenged by the findings of an investigation launched into the incident by some 21 human rights and farmers’ organizations in the Visayas.

The results of their probe point in the opposite direction: The 14 farmers were summarily executed, and the police conduct went beyond bounds.

Some harrowing details, according to the groups’ 12-page “National Fact-Finding and Solidarity Mission Report”: The cops barged into the farmers’ houses in full combat gear, without nameplates and wearing balaclavas; they showed a supposed search warrant, cleared the house of witnesses including family members, and shot the victims; then they planted evidence such as small-caliber firearms and ammunition. Save for one victim, all of the farmers were shot multiple times in the head and body.

Valentin Acabal was shot seven times in the body, including the genitals. Edgardo Avelino, chair of the Hugpong Kusog sa Mag-uuma sa Canlaon City, a local chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, was shot twice in the chest and once execution-style in the center of his forehead. Steve Arapoc was shot in the back while lying face down on the floor.

The atrocities didn’t end there. Argie Acabal, son of Valentin, who was barangay chair of Candabong in Manjuyod town, said policemen took P37,000 in cash from their house after killing his father.

Same experience by other grieving families: They lost cash and valuables to the raiding teams, on top of seeing family members killed methodically.

The arrest warrants that undergirded the search for loose firearms and alleged communist hit men and their supporters in the target communities? They were issued by a judge in Cebu, not by one from Negros Oriental.

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To widespread condemnation that the farmers’ deaths were a massacre, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who supervises the PNP, was dismissive, describing the outcry as “communist propaganda” meant to portray the government “in the baddest light.”

Of course, he, too, had to repeat the official line: The PNP personnel “acted professionally” and in accordance with the law, and “they simply returned fire when the subject of the search warrants engaged them in a shootout.”

“Impartial investigation?”

Not when Año, Albayalde et al. have basically laid down the conclusions and absolved their subordinates of accountability at this improbably early stage.

Albayalde may think relieving the cops involved is enough to tamp down the outrage. But that “ambit of fairness, truth and justice” he so grandly invoked could only happen with a thorough, transparent and truly independent investigation into this carnage that spares no one.

Anything less, and the demand for his resignation on the ground of command responsibility — worse, abetting yet more police misconduct — becomes inarguable.

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TAGS: Eduardo Año, Inquirer editorial, Negros Oriental massacre, Oscar Albayalde
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