By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Trying hard to hold back her tears, Bernice Lee urged the police to look into the involvement of the military in the attempted murder of her husband, Brandon, at a press conference in the city on September 18.
“My husband has done nothing wrong, he came to the Philippines to help, he is a journalist, a paralegal and an activist for the environment and indigenous peoples’ rights,” she said.
She said Brandon had been actively educating the Ifugao people, especially about the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, because of the entry of a big hydropower company in the province. He also volunteers as a responder during typhoons together with colleagues in the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM).
“I can’t think of anyone who would do that to him but the military,” Bernice said.
She said that they already expected denial from the military for the attack, but her husband was certain. She recalled that even in the ambulance and in pain, Brandon kept on saying the military shot him. Brandon’s wife also criticized the police for mentioning the involvement of her husband’s colleague in the incident.
Bernice recalled that when the police talked to them about his husband’s case, they already told them the military was their main suspect. They believe those detailed in Ifugao were the ones who attempted to murder Brandon.
The 54th Infantry Battalion of the 5th Army Division has operational control over Ifugao.
“But the police told us that even his friends and colleagues are suspects. They asked if fought with any of his colleagues or friends, which is ridiculous because even his colleagues have suffered the same threats as well,” Bernice said.
She recalled that on the day of the shooting, suspected military agents also visited the homes of Brandon’s colleagues but was only able to harm her husband.
Unidentified assailants shot Brandon on August 6, at around 5:45 pm in front of their house in Lagawe, Ifugao. His eight-year-old child and three other cousins aged seven, four and two heard the shot and saw Brandon bloodied.
“They [assailants] did not care even when there were children who could be hurt,” Bernice said.
Before the incident, her husband was able to text a nun, whom they worked with, that the military visited their home and the IPM office. Brandon is also the subject of red-tagging, harassment, threats, red-tagging, and surveillance by state agents since 2015.
She expressed grief and anger over the vilification against her husband, which continued while he was at the hospital fighting for his life.
“The culprits want to justify the shooting by spreading lies against him,” she said.
Bernice said she fears for the safety of her husband and her family. She also expressed disappointment over how the police are handling the case.
She fears that authorities will fail to resolve the case of her husband, like the murders of William Bugatti and Ricardo Mayumi. The two are IPM leaders who were victims of red-tagging by the police and the military before their death.
In 2004, suspected military agents gunned down Bugatti, a paralegal, and rights activist, on his way home after assisting in the hearing of political prisoners. Mayumi, a farmer leader who stood against a hydropower project, was killed in his house last year.
“I dare the police to conduct an impartial investigation so that the real perpetrators will be brought to the bar of justice,” she said.
She shared that she was also a victim of red-tagging. She said that her name appeared in flyers scattered in Lagawe and was labeled as “contact ng NPA.” Also named in the leaflets as rebel supporters were Brandon and other IPM members.
Despite the incident, Bernice said that fear should not silence them.
“The situation is terrifying, but we cannot stay silent because the world will be scarier if there is no justice and no peace,” she said.
Bernice said they already transferred Brandon to a hospital in Metro Manila. They await his airlift back to the US for his safety and better medical care.
Brandon was born and raised in San Francisco.
“I know that if he had his way, he would not want to go back to the US, but our priority now is his safety and recovery,” Bernice said.
Bernice shared that in 2015, when Brandon started receiving death threats, she told him that it would be safer for him to go back to the US, but he refused. However, her husband did not want to leave his work and colleagues who were under threat like him. Her husband was also firm on continuing his work helping the farmers and indigenous people of Ifugao.
“For him, we cannot stop; we need to fight; we need to speak up, especially when others cannot speak,” she said.
Bernice thanked everyone who has been helping them out as she appealed for continued assistance. “He needs to be safe and recover so he can continue to his work,” she added.
Doctors already cleared Brandon for airlift to the US. His transportation costs up to $200,000.
Brandon’s family, friends, and colleagues in San Francisco has been raising to pay for his airlift. They put up online fundraising (http://gofundme.com/save-brandon-lee, where everyone willing to help can donate. They have also hosted fundraising events.
The San Francisco Committee on Human Rights for the Philippines (SFCHRP), a human rights advocacy group, posted an urgent alert on its social media account condemning the attack against Brandon and calling for donations for his transportation expenses back to the US. They are urging San Francisco folks to urge their local representatives to push House Speaker Patricia Pelosi to help fund Brandon’s airlift. The campaign has been gaining ground across US states and the Filipino community.
While Brandon is a US citizen, the US government cannot readily provide transport because he is not a diplomat or military personnel. However, SFCHRP is calling on the US government should help Brandon, who “dedicated his life to serving the people and serving the planet.”
“We want to pressure our representatives to do what is right and to help fund Brandon’s safe passage back to the Bay Area,” the SFCHRP said.
The group also called on US citizens to urge their representatives to suspend military aid to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“We condemn this attack on Brandon and all human rights advocates, indigenous people, peasants, lawyers, journalists across the Philippines. We must urge the US to stop funding and to provide training and support to these atrocities against the very people that are protecting the Philippines form abuse and exploitation,” the SFCHRP alert said. # nordis.net