Continuing rights violations | Inquirer Opinion

Continuing rights violations

/ 05:15 AM June 30, 2023

The killing of a family of four in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental on June 14, allegedly by military troops, underscores once more the continuing spate of rights violations in conflict-affected areas under the Marcos administration. This, despite the Chief Executive’s earlier statement about his government moving away from the old anti-insurgency approach and turning soldiers from warriors into peacemakers.

In his speech before the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 9th Infantry Division in March this year, President Marcos asked the military “to be peacemakers because we have changed our approach to the communist, terrorist groups that we have been encountering.”

His words seem to have fallen on deaf ears, with the killing of Rolly Fausto, 50 (52 in some reports), his wife Emilda, 49, and their two children aged 15 and 11 who were found shot at close range by unidentified assailants in a nearby cornfield and in their house in Sitio Kangkiling, Barangay Buenavista in Himamaylan.


The Commission on Human Rights, which strongly condemned the brutal killings, said it had already dispatched investigators to probe the incident amid conflicting claims linking it to both the communist rebels and the Philippine Army.


While the AFP and the 303rd Infantry Brigade (IB) have denied any hand in the massacre, the Fausto couple’s previous complaints about harassment and Red-tagging from military authorities have made them natural suspects in the killings. Emilda, reportedly a member along with her husband of the Baclayan, Bito, Cabagal Farmers and Farmworkers Association—an organization of agricultural workers registered with the labor department and accredited by the Himamaylan city government—had earlier complained of allegedly being subjected to physical and mental torture, grave coercion, and illegal searches by state agents.

But prosecutor Flosemer Chris Gonzalez, speaking for the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in Western Visayas, insisted that Rolly was targeted allegedly by communist rebels because he had reportedly turned military asset working with the 94th IB. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) has accused the 94th IB of being behind the killing of farmers Jose Gonzales in Barangay Carabalan, Himamaylan, on Jan. 9, and Crispin Tingal Jr. in Kabankalan City, in mid-May.

As absurd as that reasoning sounds, there’s no arguing that these killings are just the latest in a series of violent incidents precipitated by Red-tagging. The state-sanctioned witch hunt, which violates people’s freedom of association, has resulted in the warrantless arrest, detention, harassment, ambush, and killing of people on mere suspicion of supporting dissidents.

Could this be the new approach to the insurgency problem that the President was referring to?

With such history of serious threats and fatal consequences after being Red-tagged, who can blame the Alliance of Concerned Teachers for protesting the June 14 Department of Education memo that had sought to identify members of the outspoken group availing of the automatic payroll deduction, allegedly to make easier the collection of membership dues and other loan obligations from teachers? Aside from membership in the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, didn’t Education Secretary Sara Duterte ask—and get—a hefty P150 million confidential intelligence fund to keep tabs on the supposed recruitment activities of campus activists? Such punitive approach to opposing views from critics is hardly reassuring.

With the President downplaying the country’s internal problems and asking the military to prioritize “external threats” as it takes on its “new mission” of safeguarding the country’s maritime territory, the Negros Occidental killings have raised pertinent questions on this administration’s confusing policy on the long-running insurgency.


The commander in chief’s expressed intention of pursuing a more open approach to communist rebels seems at odds with Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro’s hardline stance against initiating peace talks with them. What gives? Wouldn’t it help matters if the country’s leadership were to make a clear and unequivocal pronouncement on its policy against the killings, arrests, disappearances, and other rights violations of critics and dissidents, and exacting accountability from government forces linked to them?

Also giving flesh to the “peacemaker” approach is the possible repeal of the 2017 Memorandum Order No. 32 of former president Rodrigo Duterte that, the rights group ICHRP said, has put Negros province on virtual martial law with the AFP, the Philippine National Police, and other state actors intensifying their intelligence operations against government critics who are subsequently Red-tagged and harassed.

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A similar review of the 2020 anti-terrorism law, which gives opportunities to violate human rights, would also test this government’s resolve to dissociate itself from the culture of impunity that has undercut its efforts to present the country as a law-abiding, rights-respecting, investment-grade democracy.

TAGS: human rights, human-rights violations, Rights

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