Fact-finding mission alleges irregularities in bloody Negros Oriental ops
Press conference in Cebu City held by the fact-finding team composed of peasants and human rights organizations.
Groups Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and Karapatan/released

Fact-finding mission alleges irregularities in bloody Negros Oriental ops

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - April 8, 2019 - 5:42pm

MANILA, Philippines — Police targeted innocent civilians and not criminals in its counter-insurgency program “Oplan Sauron” in Negros Oriental,  farmers' and rights groups on Monday.

Groups Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Unyon ng mga Mangagagawa sa Agrikultura and Karapatan presented the accounts by a fact-finding team that documented the cases last week in a press conference on Monday.

The mission looked into deaths of 14 people in Sta. Catalino, Manjuyod and Canlaon in Negros Oriental last week. The police said that those who were killed "fought back" and forced law enforcement to kill them, while families of the slain said they were elderly and could not afford to buy weapons.

In a statement sent to reporters, the groups cited witnesses who said “masked elements of the police in a full-combat gear barged into victims’ houses, issued defective search warrants for the alleged weapons, shot the respondents to death, then planted fabricated evidences [sic] such as firearms and ammunitions.”

They also said that the perpetrators took money and other belongings of the victims.

The police and the Palace insist that it was a legitimate operation as the authorities were serving court-issued warrants premised on intelligence reports that point to the subjects as suspects in police and military ambush.

'State terrorism'

Their mission also claimed that “state terrorism is very much alive in Negros Island courtesy of declaration of MO32.”

President Rodrigo Duterte signed Memorandum Order 32, which reinforces the guidelines for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the PNP in “implementation of measures to suppress and prevent lawless violence” on November 22, 2018.

“A number of sporadic acts of violence have occurred recently in particular areas of the country, particularly in the provinces of Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and the Bicol Region, which appear to have been committed by lawless groups,” a whereas clause in MO32 reads.

MO32 orders "the immediate deployment of additiional forces" to Samar, Negros island and the Bicol Region and intensified intelligence operations "against individuals and groups supected of, or responsible for, committing or conspiring to commit acts of lawless violence in the Philippines."

The same order stresses that "at all times, the constitutional rights of every individual shall be respected and given due regard by the AFP and PNP" in implementing MO32. 

RELATED: 14 farmers latest in killings of 'red-tagged' personalities in Negros — group

But the groups stressed that 70% of population in Negros Island are farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk. KMP said that “widespread poverty, hunger and armed conflict in Negros all boils down to the land issue.”

Danilo Ramos, KMP chairperson, also said: “Majority of the victims of human rights violations in the island are farmers who actively fight for right to land, and the police and military are notorious in acting as private armies and goons of despotic landlords who monopolize vast-tracts of agricultural lands.”

The groups called for justice for the 14 slain farmers and other victims of human rights abuses in Negros Island.

The groups also demanded to have Police General Oscar Albayalde, PNP spokesperson Col. Bernard Banac, those who led the operations—from the military and police—as well as the judge who issued the warrant, held accountable.

"Facts gathered during the mission can be used in legal case to bring every single barbaric perpetrator of the bloody carnage to justice," the groups also said.

Albayalde last week said on state-run Philippine News Agency that those condeming the killings of the 14 are doing so for propaganda.

"We should vehemently send our condemnation against these people supporting the perceived enemies of the state to gain power themselves, even sacrificing the innocent lives of young students to attain their own propaganda against our country and government," said, referring to leftist lawmakers at the House of Representatives who have filed a resolution calling for hearings into the Negros Oriental operations.

"Now, we prove to the Filipino people the realm of sympathizers who are in power supporting the leftist movement and its vain provision to dismantle and overthrow a constitutionally-elected government," PNA also quotes him as saying.

The PNP's Internal Affairs Service is looking into the operations and the provincial and municipal police chiefs have been relieved pending the results of the probe.

READ: Palace urges public not to believe 'leftist propaganda' on Negros 14

Senate probe sought

Meanwhile, detained Sen. Leila de Lima called for a legislative probe into the deaths of the 14 farmers.

"There is an urgent need to investigate this escalating trend and spate of killings victimizing our farmers, making it imperative for the government and law authorities and institutions to develop mechanisms which can hold these perpetrators accountable in order for justice and the rule of law to be restored and upheld throughout our lands," the senator said in her resolution.

She also noted that at least 180 farmers have reportedly been killed since the start of the Duterte administration, 40 of which came from Negros Island. — with report from The FREEMAN/Aldo Banaynal

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