Karapatan condemns brazen murder of 3 more human rights advocates in Masbate, harassment of fact-finding team in Oriental Mindoro

“The Bicol region is fast becoming a killing field as the Duterte regime intensifies its crackdown on activists after the issuance of Memorandum Order No. 32, an order deploying more State forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police in the said region, in Samar, and in Negros. Its counterinsurgency program, previously Oplan Kapayapaan and now Oplan Kapanatagan, is increasingly targeting human rights workers, on top of peasants and indigenous people,” said Cristina Palabay, Secretary-General of Karapatan.

According to initial reports from Karapatan-Masbate, prior to the killing of Karapatan-Sorsogon human rights workers Ryan Hubilla and Nelly Bagasala, three members of the Masbate People’s Organization, a member organization of Karapatan-Bicol, were mercilessly killed by military forces of the 2nd Infantry Battalion in San Fernando, Masbate from June 9 to June 14, 2019.

At about 8 pm of June 9, 2019, Arnie Espenilla, the first victim in the series of attacks, was at home in Brgy. Lahong, San Fernando with his family when a number of soldiers forcibly entered the house and shot him to death. Meanwhile, at about 5 pm of the following day, June 10, uniformed men forcibly entered the house of Zando Alcovendas in Brgy. Buenavista, and shot him dead. Few days after, on June 14, Pizo Cabug, a resident of Brgy. Buenavista, was at home and was about to retire for the night when soldiers killed him.

“These killings are clear manifestations of this regime’s promotion of the culture of violence and impunity among its uniformed men and vigilante-styled assailants. The spate of murders indicate the continuing and worsening human rights crisis in the region and in the country as a whole,” Palabay added.

All unarmed, Espenilla, Alcovendas, and Cabug were murdered in the same week that Sorsogon-based human rights workers Hubilla and Bagasala, as well as former activist Neptali Morada, were killed.

The three human rights advocates based in Masbate were all farmers and residents of San Fernando town. According to Palabay, aside from the fact that the killings deserve the strongest condemnation, “what is worse is the reality that this regime robbed them of their chance to fully provide for their families while serving the basic masses by pushing for genuine reforms and respect for human rights.”

Government intimidation continues

Meanwhile, in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, members of the Karapatan-Southern Tagalog factfinding and humanitarian mission have been repeatedly harassed by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. The mission was in response to distress calls by Mangyan tribal leaders on June 14, when they reported incidents of strafing, bombing and deaths of at least three individuals in the town of Mansalay. 

Karapatan-Southern Tagalog mission members have been blocked twice and prevented by soldiers from reaching the communities. In one instance, military personnel pointed their firearms at the group’s service vehicle. On June 17, at noon time, while members of the mission were conducting dialogues with local government officials and assisting relatives of victims, elements of the PNP Regional Mobile Group and the Philippine Army went to the United Methodist Church in Brgy. Dangay, Roxas, Oriental Mindoro and interrogated church officials for accommodating members of the factfinding and humanitarian mission. Church leaders insisted that they were just assisting those in need.  

Mission members have yet to reach the communities affected by the bombings and strafing incidents, but they are currently working with the families of those who were killed in retrieving the remains of their loved ones. Remains of one Victor Alcos has yet to be brought back home by his family as the local police continues to deny them the issuance of a clearance to claim.

“Amid the documents presented and the positive identification of his relatives, newly-appointed Mansalay Police Chief Supt. Batulayan demanded Alcos’ family to provide his “recent” photo with them, his family,” the Karapatan official said. She said the police chief’s act is part of a tactic to delay the turnover of Alcos’ remains and to intimidate his family and the delegation they are with.

“The murders, harassment, and intimidation are part of the orchestrated moves of this government to normalize their repressive policies and to inculcate into Filipinos’ minds that State violence and intimidation are the only ways to solve the ills of society,” she concluded.

Press Release | June 22, 2019 | Reference: Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, +639173162831 

KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign. Karapatan Public Information Desk: +639189790580 | [email protected]