BAGUIO CITY (Nov. 23) — International and local human rights groups are alarmed by the escalating cases of political killings, human rights violations; and, the failure of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration to stop the killings and to bring perpetrators to justice.
One group of Canadian human rights advocates, members of Karapatan and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) conducted an independent fact-finding mission (FFM) here in the Cordillera recently, visiting crime-sites and interviewing relatives of the victims and affected villagers.
Specifically, the team went as far as Amtuagan, Tubo, Abra to investigate the alleged human rights violations committed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) units assigned in the area.
Beverly Longid, vice chair of CHRA said that in Abra, military operations continue to trouble residents. She said that in April, elements of the 41st IBPA, killed John Maximo, a civilian, in Boliney, Tubo.
Evidence point to the AFP
Lawyer Mike Leitold of the Law Union of Ontario and a member of the Canadian human rights fact finding team who investigated the case disclosed that Maximo left his house on April 14 and was found dead on April 16. He added that on April 15, the elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) conducted military operations. Leitold said combat boot-prints were found around the house where Maximo’s body lay.
“It seems that evidence point to the AFP. We read the PNP (Philippine National Police) report and it seems nothing has been done. We encourage the police to follow up the leads,” he said.
Leitold also said the escalating political killings and the insincerity of the Arroyo administration to solve the murders is alarming. He explained that failure to bring perpetrators to justice only encourages the continuation of the killings.
Moreover, Leitold said AFP elements also threaten and harass Abra villagers like tagging them as New People’s Army (NPA) supporters. He disclosed that there was an instance when military abducted two carabao traders and forced them to guide their pursuit operation.
“The use of civilians by either side (NPA or AFP) in combat operations is a violation to the International Humanitarian Law (IHL),” he stressed.
Leitold also called on the Canadian embassy to speak against the continuing political killings and Prime Minister Steven Harper to raise the issue with Arroyo at the Asia Pacific economic council (APEC) meet in Cebu.
Recent cases in the north
CHRA Vice-chair Beverly Longid said that killings, harassments and intensifying surveillance continue to haunt local activists here.
“Barely two weeks after the attempted murder of Rev. Billy Austin of BAYAN-Ilocos and the death of Jose Javier of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-Cagayan , Bayan Muna-Ilocos member Robert Abaya was killed in Sta. Cruz, Ilocos Sur by still unidentified men aboard a motorcycle last November 30.
During the recently concluded regional congress, members of the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) in Mountain Province reported that sometime in August unidentified motorcycle-riding men closely tailed Fred Sumebang, of CPA. These men, according to witnesses were not from the Cordillera. They went to Pidlisan, Sagada asking about Sumebang’s whereabouts.
In Baguio City, Jeannette Ribaya and her husband Joe Cawiding were warned by their neighbors who noticed unidentified men observing and tailing them since September. Ribaya is the coordinator of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) and a member of the Council of Leaders of the Tongtongan ti Umili. Cawiding, on the other hand, is a coordinator of Bayan Muna-Benguet and secretary of the Metro-Baguio Tribal Elders and Leaders Assembly (MBTELA).
“These incidents including the killing of Jose Pepe Manegdeg and Albert Terradano whose first year death anniversary we will commemorate on November 28 and 29, respectively; the successive killings of Markus Bangit, Jose Doton and Alyce Omengan-Claver strongly indicate that Northern Luzon — Cagayan, Ilocos and the Cordilleras— is now a main front of GMA’s war of terror,” Longid said. # Kim Quitasol and Joel Capulong for NORDIS