By Visayas Today
SAN CARLOS CITY – State forces disrupted a psycho-social activity organized for church workers in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental in the wake of the March 30 killing of eight persons there by police during what was initially dubbed an “anti-crime operation” that authorities later admitted targeted alleged communist rebels.
The eight were among 14 persons in all – including two barangay captains in Manjuyod town – who died during “Oplan Sauron 2.0,” which police said was the continuation of the original Oplan Sauron of December 27, that saw six persons slain, mostly in Guihulngan City, also in Negros Oriental.
Police claimed the fatalities were all communist rebels who supposedly fought back when officers served search warrants on them. But the account of the families of the dead, many of whom did not know and lived far from each other, indicated they were executed in cold blood.
Among those killed in Canlaon were the chairman of a local farmers’ organization that authorities have openly tagged as a “legal front” of communist rebels, a law minister of the parish and two volunteer church workers.
Fr. Edwin Laude, pastoral director of the San Carlos diocese, said the activity was held at Canlaon’s St. Joseph parish church on Holy Wednesday to address the possible trauma of 12 church workers who had responded and reached out to the families of the slain.
While the activity was going on, he said, state security forces “in full combat gear” arrived at the church, saying they were there to “observe” what was going on but later “asking for the names of the participants and wanting to take their photos.”
The security personnel then said that “the next time any similar activity was held, we would need to ask the permission of the provincial government because psycho-social activities were part of medical missions, which are among the activities that need the permission of (Negros Oriental) Governor (Roel) Degamo to be held.”
Laude said they saw the disruption of the psycho-social activity by the security forces as a “threat,” stressing that “we are not hiding anything.”
Nevertheless, he added, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza “has already asked the governor’s permission to assist the families” of those killed in Canlaon.
Laude also said that the communities where the March 30 victims lived and died still “live in fear” because of the continued presence of military and police personnel in combat gear, raising concerns the violence might be repeated.
He added that security forces, mainly in civilian clothes, also continue to be monitored around the Canlaon parish church.
“It is like martial law, only worse, because this is undeclared, subliminal, scarier,” Laude said, as he called the state security forces “praning” (paranoid).
At the same time, he said the church and the families of the victims are skeptical that police pledges of an “independent investigation” of the killings would amount to anything.
“People don’t see this” materializing, adding that the church’s request to “include the accounts of the victims’ families and of other witnesses” has so far been disregarded.
The only investigation whose findings the families are inclined to honor, said the priest, is that of the Commission on Human Rights.