The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) killed five mango orchard workers in Baras, Rizal last Thursday, December 17, human rights and peasant groups reported.
Troops belonging to the 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) of the AFP and the Region IV-A Command of the PNP killed Carlito Zonio, Vilma Salabao, Wesley Obmerga, Jonathan Alberga, and Niño Alberga, workers of a mango farm in Sitio Malalim, Barangay San Juan of the said town, human rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog said.
The AFP said the 2:30 AM incident was a shootout with members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The AFP added they conducted the pre-dawn raid to serve a warrant of arrest to a certain Antonio Cule that resulted in an encounter and the death of the victims.
Brigadier General Alex Rillera, 202nd Infantry Brigade commander, said two of the victims were “Ka Sandra” and “Ka Onli” of the NPA.
Philippine Army social media accounts also alleged the victims were NPA members, one of them was even a “top spy” for the group.
But Karapatan-ST, quoting eyewitnesses and the victims’ neighbors, said Zonio, Salabao, and Obmerga were farm caretakers and mango tree sprayers while the Albergas were guards.
The victims had been workers at the farm in the last three years.
Marco Valbuena, Communist Party of the Philippines public information officer, denied the victims were NPA members.
“We denounce the AFP’s peddling of fake news to cover up their criminal responsibility in the Baras 5 Massacre,” Valbuena said in a tweet.
PNP refuses to release cadavers
The police took the remains of the victims to the Antipolo Memorial Homes but refused to release the cadavers of three of the victims to their families.
The remains of the guards were handed over to their relatives.
The Karapatan-ST fact-finding team also complained of harassment by PNP teams when they assisted families of the three in retrieving their cadavers from the funeral home Monday night, December 21.
Police officers demanded that members of the fact-finding team alight from their vehicles and present their identification cards.
The human rights workers refused.
The harassment continued last December 22 at the Antipolo police station where a Karapatan paralegal was isolated and forced to erase photos from his camera.
In a statement, Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) joined Karapatan and the peasant organizations affiliated with Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in condemning “yet another state-sponsored massacre.”
SAKA said, “Instead of counting presents this holiday season, the Filipino people are counting corpses.”
The murder of the so-called Baras 5 raises the peasant death toll under President Rodrigo Duterte to 295, SAKA added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)