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ACT, TDC express alarm as DepEd gathers numbers of members

Two teachers’ organizations oppose a Department of Education (DepEd) order to gather numbers of their members in several regions throughout the country.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) expressed alarm at the directive to division level officials on orders from DepEd Undersecretary for Field Operations Revsee Escobedo.

“As per reports, our union leaders in regions 1, 3, 4A, 4B, 6, 10, and CAR have been asked by their division offices to provide the number of ACT members in their area as per orders from Usec. Revsee,” ACT said in a statement Saturday, April 17.

TDC for its part bared that one notice sent through a Facebook chat group in one of the divisions in Region II reads: “Good morning everyone, the DepEd Central Office is surveying thru this online form, teachers, who are currently members of the (TDC) and (ACT). We appreciate receiving your feedback by filling out this Google form today until 12:00 Noon. All PSDS/Districts In-charge are requested to disseminate to all School Heads and Teachers in AOR (area of responsibility).”

Both organizations, victims of red-tagging operations by the police and military, said the order may be another profiling drive against their members.

‘For possible dialogues’

Escobedo confirmed to Kodao he issued the order but said it is in preparation for possible dialogues with both organizations and other teachers’ groups.

Department of Education Undersecretary for Field Operations, Atty. Revsee Escobedo. (Phjoto from DepEd Tayo FB page)

“I only asked for numbers, not names. How can we red-tag numbers?” Escobedo, also DepEd Employees Association Coordinating Office supervising official, said in a phone interview.

The official said they want to know the number of members of teachers’ groups to identify which organizations to initiate dialogues with on various issues such as salary increases.

He said the groups’ statements are overreactions.

‘No clear explanation’

Both teachers’ organizations however said the order, sent only through text and social media messages, lack explanation that gives rise to doubts as to its real intent.

ACT recalled that the Philippine National Police earlier asked school officials for the names of its members, several of whom were later accused of being communists or communist sympathizers.

“This is eerily reminiscent of the 2019 police profiling of our members, which precluded worse attacks on our members and on our very organization,” ACT said.

The group said its members Nestor Ada and Lai Consad have been arrested and charged with trumped-up charges after being profiled and subsequently red-tagged.

Ada, a high school principal, is still in jail in Northern Samar three months after being arrested on charges of illegal possession of guns and explosives in campus.

Assistant Principal Consad was also arrested at her school in Butuan City last November after being red-tagged by the police and the military.

“So we’re understandably alarmed at (the) sudden interest with our members,” ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio said.

TDC for its part said it will instruct its members not to participate in the “survey, profiling and inventory” of its members that “has no clear objectives and hastily done through Google Forms, text messages, Facebook messages or phone calls.”

ACT said DepEd has never defended teachers and school officials who fell victim to red-tagging and persecution by other government agencies.

The DepEd is a member of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups welcome Senate bill criminalizing red-tagging

Several groups welcomed a bill filed by Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon criminalizing red-tagging, promising to strongly lobby for its passage.

Both the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said they support the measure that seeks to penalize the act.

“This is a very welcome development in the people’s fight against State-sponsored red-tagging and human rights violations. We are hoping for the approval of this measure. Farmers will lobby for the passage of this bill,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.  

The farmers’ group said it is being consistently red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and its Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

“Many of our leaders and members who were subjected to red-tagging were either extrajudicially-killed, illegally arrested, and charged with trumped-up non-bailable charges. Red-tagging kills. We want masterminds of red-tagging to be held accountable accordingly,” Ramos said.

In a separate statement, the NUJP said it also welcomes Drilon’s bill seeking to define and penalize red-tagging by State actors.

“These dangerous accusations, when done by state agents as part of a so-called counter-insurgency program, are no longer private opinions and conspiracy theories but official actions and policy,” the NUJP said.

Like the KMP, NUJP has been openly and repeatedly accused by government officials of fronting for the Communist Party of the Philippines, an allegation it has consistently denied.

“Red-tagging has often led to harassment and violence against its targets and NUJP welcomes moves that will protect journalists from these threats and hold those making them to account,” it said. Filed on Wednesday, March 24, Drilon’s measure seeks to define red-tagging as “the act of labeling, vilifying, branding, naming, accusing, harassing, persecuting, stereotyping or caricaturing individuals, groups or organizations as state enemies, left-leaning subversives, communists or terrorists, or as part of counter-insurgency, or anti-terrorism strategy or program, by any state actor such as law enforcement agent, paramilitary or military personnel.”

The Senate Bill also seeks a penalty of 10 years imprisonment and perpetual absolute disqualification to hold public office for violators. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Communist leader and wife executed; corpses left in military safe house—CPP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) abducted, tortured and killed a retired top Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leader and his wife, the underground group said.

In a belated announcement, CPP information officer Marco Valbuena said the corpses of Antonio Cabanatan, 74, and Florenda Yap, 65, were left in a military safe house in Oton, Iloilo on December 26 last year, the revolutionary group’s 52nd founding anniversary.

The elderly couple were abducted around October 2020, secretly detained, tortured and killed by strangulation, Valbuena said.

Cabanatan, known as Manlimbasog (To Strive) by his comrades, was a member of the CPP Central Committee, served as secretary of its Mindanao Commission and member of its Political Bureau and Executive Committee until his reported retirement due to health problems in 2017.

The entire (CPP) and all revolutionary forces are seething with rage over the incident, Valbuena said.

“We hold the AFP, the Philippine National Police, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and other armed agents of the US-Duterte regime responsible for this brutal crime,” he said.

The CPP spokesperson explained that difficulties in lines of communication and vicious military operations by the government belated their confirmation of of the victims’ identities.

Valbuena said that the dimunitive and hunchbacked Cabanatan and Yap, known in the underground movement as Comrade Osang, have already retired from active duties in the Party.

“We cannot begin to imagine the cruelty of the psychological and physical torture that they were made to undergo before they were brutally killed,” he said.

Valbuena added that the couple’s assassination followed the successive brutal murders of Ka Nars (Julius Giron), Ka Fiel (Eugenia Magpantay), Ka Boy (Agaton Topacio) and Ka Randall Echanis in 2020 by Duterte’s blood-thirsty murderers.

NDFP Negotiating Panel peace consultant Randy Malayao was also assassinated in January 2019.

Valbuena said Cabanatan was among the first generation of Filipino communists who helped plant the seeds of the armed revolution across the country.

“He was among the vanguard of the expansion of the New People’s Army in the Visayas and Mindanao,” Valbuena said.

The AFP has yet to reply to the CPP’s allegations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

VP Robredo blames Duterte’s ‘kill’ rant for massacre

Vice President Leni Robredo blamed President Rodrigo Duterte’s “finish them off” and “ignore human rights” rant for the massacre of nine civilians last Sunday, March 7.

In a statement, Robredo said she condemns the massacre she likened to the many innocents killed by the Duterte administration.

“There is no other way to describe this: it was a massacre,” Robredo said.

The Vice President noted that the incident came just two days after Duterte himself ordered the police and the military to kill suspected communists in a rant before the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in Cagayan de Oro City last frint.

“This is the painful truth: The killing of Filipinos goes unabated,” Robredo said in Filipino.

“The Filipino people deserve better than this murderous regime,” she added.

Churh groups demand justice

Meanwhile, church groups also condemned the massacre and called on Duterte to choose the rule of law over militarization.

In separate statements, the Council of the Laity of the Philippines (CLP) and Caritas Philippines, both groups under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, called for justice.

“The blood of these fellow Filipinos are literally crying for justice as they are wiped-off from the floor tiles of their homes,” CLP, through its president Rouquel Ponte, said.

“We call on peace-loving Filipinos to make strong statements of condemnation against these brutal and organized atrocities,” it added.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the ‘Bloody Sunday initiated by the members of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army,” Caritas for its part said.

Caritas called on the Supreme Court to fast-track the ongoing discussions and review of the controversial Anti-Terror Act the law’s opponents say emboldens the unnecessary use of force “which only victimizes the poor and the vulnerable. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CHR: Duterte’s kill order emboldens impunity

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said President Rodrigo Duterte’s order “to shoot and kill right away” may have encouraged the massacre and mass arrest of activists in Southern Tagalog on Sunday, March 7.

CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia said the national human rights institution expresses concern on Duterte’s statement on Friday, 5 March, to not only kill communists but to “ignore human rights.”

De Guia said: “Words matter and such words can embolden some to act with abuse and impunity.”

The mass killing and arrests of prominent activists and unionists in Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Batangas in an operation called Conduct of Simultaneous Implementation of Search Warrants was launched two days after Duterte ordered the police and military at a meeting in Cagayan de Oro City of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“If there’s an encounter and you see them armed, kill! Kill them! Don’t mind human rights! I will be the one to go to prison, I don’t have qualms,” the President said.

‘Brutal deaths’

Reacting to the brutal deaths of nine activists across three provinces, however, de Guia said, “CHR finds the number of deaths most concerning in light of the pattern of prevalent red-tagging and escalating attacks against activists,” de Guia said.

De Guia said the government is primarily obligated to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of everyone.

“Where the right to life is concerned, the government has the utmost obligation to fulfil its obligation—no matter which side of the political spectrum one belongs,” the lawyer added.

The CHR called on the government to urgently investigate, “given the brutal nature of the deaths and allegations of irregularities in the said law enforcement operations. “

De Guia also reminded the government to honor its domestic and international commitment to uphold, respect and protect human rights.

“We have yet to see concrete response to our repeated plea for tangible reduction of violence on the ground,” she said.

De Guia added that its Region IV-A (CALABARZON) office CHR is pursuing independent probes into the bloody operations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Another activist arrested with same warrant, same allegation and same judge

A second unionist was arrested on Thursday, March 4, with a search warrant of the same allegation and from the same judge, leading a human rights organization to ask if the country’s courts have become factories of “bogus search warrants.”

Lakas ng Manggagawang Nagkakaisa sa Honda and Alyansa ng Manggagawa sa Enklabo member Arnedo Laguinias was arrested at his house in Barangay Pulong, Sta. Rosa, Laguna by Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) operatives.

Like Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees National Council member Ramir Corcolon who was arrested at 4:30 AM at his home in San Pablo City, Laguna yesterday, Laguinias is alleged to have illegally possessed a rifle grenade.

Instead of rifle grenades, however, the police claimed they found identical .45 caliber handguns at both raids.

Laguinias was an illegal surveillance, harassment and red-tagging victim of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict last year that alleged the unionist is a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, human rights group Karapatan Southern Tagalog said

Laguinias and Corcolon are detained at the PNP-CIDG Southern Luzon headquarters at Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna.

The search warrant used to raid the unionist’s home was also issued by Sta. Cruz (Laguna) Regional Trial Court (RTC) Presiding Judge Divinagracia Bustos-Ongkeko.

‘Factories of bogus search warrants’

Karapatan said the Judge and her Court are “notorious” for issuing “bogus search warrants.”

Sta. Cruz (Laguna) Regional Trial Court Judge Divinagracia Burgos-Ongkeko delivering a speech before the Laguna Provincial Police office. (Photo from Judge Burgos-Ongkeko’s Facebook page)

The group likened Burgos-Ongkeko with fellow Sta. Cruz, Laguna Judge Cynthia Mariño-Ricablanca and Quezon City Regional Trial Presiding Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert as “factories” of orders that inevitably result in planted evidence.

Karapatan revealed that Mariño-Ricablanca have in the past issued invalid warrants against Calaca, Batangas  sugar cane farm workers who the police accused to have illegally possessed guns and explosives.

The charges against the farm workers were later dismissed because the search warrant, aside from its inherent irregularities, violated due process, the group said.

Burgos-Villavert’s search warrant against journalist Lady Ann Salem and labor union organizer Rodrigo Esparago was also dismissed by the Mandaluyong City RTC as it violated due process and inconsistencies in the testimonies provided by the police.

Karapatan accused Burgos-Villavert as the most notorious among the three, having issued the most warrants that arrested activists in Metro Manila and Negros island with the same allegations: illegal possession of guns and explosives.

One such order by Burgos-Villavert resulted in last year’s arrest of women’s rights activist Reina Mae Nasino who was seven months pregnant when Bagong Alyansang Makabayan’s Tondo, Manila office was raided by the same police unit: the CIDG.

Nasino was forced to give birth while in custody, but was denied the chance to nurse her infant.

The child’s death became an international scandal because of the “inhumane” manner jail guards conducted his internment.

Karapatan said it appears that some judges have become accomplices in the Rodrigo Duterte’s “witch hunt” against activists. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

DILG, NTF-ELCAC afraid of peace, NDFP consultant says

A National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant condemned “militarists” in the Rodrigo Duterte administration for opposing the possible resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Left and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

NDFP consultant Rafael Baylosis in a statement Friday said those opposing attempts to resume the negotiations are afraid that the peace talks would eventually lead to a genuine just and lasting peace in the Philippines.

“This is because they are afraid it might lead to certain agreements for reforms such as the free redistribution of land to peasants and national industrialization,” Baylosis said.

“They also do not want the possible grant of general amnesty to the CPP-NPA and release of political prisoners,” he added.

‘No more talks’

In a strongly worded statement last February 21, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTC-ALCEC) denied the possibility of the peace negotiations being resumed in the last 16 months of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“There will be no resumption of peace talks with the NDFP now or ever in as far as the Duterte Administration is concerned,” it said.

The task force said peace negotiations with the Left had always been a mistake, accusing the NDFP and its allied organizations, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, of having been insincere from the start.

The Department of Interior of Local Government (DILG) in a statement Wednesday, February 24, said it supports the NTF-ELCAC declaration.

“The [DILG] fully supports the position of the [NTF-ELCAC] opposing any move for the resumption of the failed peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF,” DILG officer-in-charge Usec. Bernardo C. Florece, Jr.
said.

Florece added that back channel efforts to resume peace negotiations with the NDFP are futile.

‘Their statements run counter to declarations by Duterte’s emissaries with the NDFP however.

Norway pushes for resumption

Labor secretary and former Government of the Philippines chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III revealed in a two-day online forum last week he and former Pangasinan Rep. Hernani Braganza were supposed to travel to The Netherlands last December to meet with the NDFP.

The trip did not push however as new coronavirus cases spiked in Europe since November.

Bello also revealed the Royal Norwegian Government, Third Party Facilitator to the GRP-NDFP Peace Process, had been working on back channel talks to resume the stalled formal negotiations.

He added that Duterte is again “very much inclined” to revive the negotiations the President scuttled in June 2017.

NDFP Negotiating Panel interim chairperson Juliet de Lima for her part said the planned back-channel talks would resume discussions on an interim peace agreement (IPA) that includes agreements on social and economic reforms.

IPA discussions shall also include possible coordinated unilateral ceasefire declarations as well as modes for their implementation, de Lima said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Military ‘sorry’ for false list of dead or captured NPA

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (UP) apologized for its false list of University of the Philippines (UP) students who died or were captured as New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

In a statement, the AFP said it sincerely apologizes to those “inadvertently affected by inconsistencies” in the list published on its Facebook account.

The AFP said its Civil-Military Operations Office is already conducting an internal investigation, adding it will hold to account those responsible.

The AFP apology,

The list had gone viral despite being deleted shortly after publication.

Among those listed as dead or captured NPA rebels are prominent UP alumni, including former government officials.

Former Congressman and Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Roan Libarios, former Government of the Republic of the Philippines Negotiating Panel chairperson and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation president Atty. Alexander Padilla, former Deparment of Environment and Natural Resources executive Elmer Mercado, and stage and film director Behn Cervantes who died of natural causes in August 2013 were among those listed.

False list

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the inclusion of at least two journalists in the list.

The NUJP said the listing of Agence France Presse bureau chief for Singapore and Malaysia Roberto “Bobby” Coloma and business and economic journalist Roel Landingin was “malicious red-tagging” by the military.

“It is appalling how the military office tasked with communicating with the citizenry has shamelessly resorted to such blatant falsehood to push the narrative of UP as the supposed ‘breeding ground’ of enemies of the state,” the NUJP said.

“We would normally dismiss this canard as laughably stupid. However, putting the people it names in mortal danger is no laughing matter at all. Especially since AFP units are known to spread disinformation such as this through their own social media accounts,” the media group added.

Schools reject Parlade’s allegation

In a related development, the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), De La Salle University (DLSU), University of Santo Tomas (UST), and the Far Eastern University (FEU) protested their inclusion in another list as recruitment havens for the NPA.

In a repeat of his allegations in 2018, National Task Force to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade said the NPA recruits new members from 18 Philippine colleges and universities.

ADMU President Roberto Yap, DLSU President Raymundo Suplido, FEU President Michael Alba and UST Vice Rector Isaias Tiongco jointly rejected Paralde’s statement against their schools.

The officials said their universities “seek to direct our students to engage in acts that contribute to the strengthening of social cohesion, defend the country’s democratic institutions, and promote nation-building.”

Parlade’s claims are “really getting old” and that the accusations were irresponsibly “cast without proof,” the school officials said.

Parlade’s statement and the AFP list followed defense secretary’s Delfin Lorenzana’s unilateral abrogation last week of the UP-Department of National Defense Agreement of 1989 requiring the AFP to seek permission before conducting operations in campus.

The move earned widespread condemnation from UP alumni and civil society groups. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

2020 saw most brazen abuses vs journalism—NUJP

The year 2020 had been particularly bad for journalism in the Philippines that saw more media workers killed, arrested, jailed and lose their jobs, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) reported.

The media group said four journalists have been killed in the Philippines, including Cornelio Pepino in Negros Oriental last May 5; Jobert Bercasio in Sorsogon last September 14; Virgilio Maganes in Pangasinan last November 10; and Ronnie Villamor in Masbate last November 14.

Villamor was shot dead by the Philippine Army that claimed the journalist was a communist supporter and killed in an encounter.

Maganes, who survived the first slay attempt against him in 2016 by playing dead, was killed inside their family compound in Villasis, Pangasinan.

“Their deaths have brought the total of media killings under Duterte to 19, and to 191 since 1986,” the NUJP said.

The International Federation of Journalists lists the Philippines as among the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world in 2020.

Their killing of four Filipino media workers figured in the list of 60 journalists killed worldwide in 2020 by the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The IFJ list made the Philippines the fourth most dangerous country for journalists in the world in 2020, along with Syria and after India (8 killed), Pakistan (7), Afghanistan (7).

The list made the country the most dangerous in Southeast Asia as well.

Twenty-seven journalists were killed in the Asia-Pacific, the most dangerous region for journalists in 2020.

Arrests and detention

Seven journalists have also been arrested, at least two of whom remain detention, both women and executives of alternative media outfits.

Those arrested in 2020 include Glenn Jester Hitgano in Jan. 21 (arbitrarily arrested during coverage); Frenchiemae Cumpio in Feb. 7 (illegal firearms possession); Ramil Traya Bagues in Aug. 18 (cyber-libel); Rommel Ibasco Fenix in Sept. 15 (libel and violation of Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009);  Virgilio Avila Jr.  in Nov. 10 (cyber-libel); Mia Concordia in Nov. 10 (cyber-libel); and Lady Ann Salem in Dec. 10 (illegal possession of firearms and explosives).

Cumpio, executive director of alternative media outfit Eastern Vista, was sleeping at a church group’s dormitory when arrested in the dead of night.

Her case was among those cited by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights report in June last year as a clear case of human rights violation.

Partial Committee to Protect Journalists list of jailed media workers where Frenchie Mae Cumpio appears.

Cumpio’s imprisonment also made it to the list of 274 journalists jailed in 2020 globally by the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The CPJ said the number was “a new high…as governments cracked down on coverage of COVID-19 or tried to suppress reporting on political unrest.”

Salem, editor of alternative news outfit Manila Today was arrested, of all days, on International Human Rights Day.

The NUJP has reported Salem’s case to the CPJ but the latter’s list has yet to include her name.

Salem is currently is in a Covid-19 isolation protocol at the Mandaluyong City Jail after her transfer from the Philippine National Police’s jail facility at Camp Crame.

CPJ infographic on countries where journalists have been jailed in 2020.

The rest of the arrested Filipino journalists were able to post bail, except Bagues whose current status the NUJP is trying to find out.

Red-tagging and charges

The NUJP said that the Philippine government had been especially vicious against the press the past year as compared to the first three years of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“[B]ad as the first three years were, 2020 trumped them all as Duterte and his minions ramped up their attacks on the free press even as the COVID-19 pandemic began to make its deadly grip felt,” the NUJP said.

The media group said the Duterte government displayed a “most brazen abuse of state power” by red-tagging journalists and media institutions.

Aside from Cumpio and Salem, various government agencies and officials red-tagged alternative media outfits Kodao Productions, Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, Northern Dispatch, Panay Today, Manila Today, Radyo Natin-Guimba as well as dominant media organizations ABS-CBN, Rappler, CNN-Philippines, among many others.

Veteran journalist and NUJP director and former chairperson Nestor Burgos Jr. had also been red-tagged.

Editors and staff of Baguio City-based Northern Dispatch faced various police-instigated charges in court throughout last year.

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr. were judged guilty in June last year of libelling a businessman with links to Duterte.

Maria Ressa in a press briefing after her conviction of libel last June 15. (Photo by R. Villanueva)

ABS-CBN closure

The NUJP said the pandemic gave Duterte convenient cover to make good his repeated threats to shut down ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ biggest media conglomerate.

As threats of arrest forced the growing crowds that had rallied to the beleaguered network since late last year to stand down, the House of Representatives allowed ABS-CBN’s franchise to lapse, forcing the network to stop broadcasting on May 5.

On May 5, the network stopped broadcasting and, two months later, in June, the majority of the House committee on congressional franchises sealed its fate, voting to deny it a new franchise to operate.

Duterte thus become the second president after Ferdinand Marcos to force ABS-CBN off the air, the NUJP said.

The closure left thousands jobless and the loss of ABS-CBN regional stations also left many areas without their major source of news and entertainment.

The full extent of this would become clear during typhoons Rolly and Ulysses that caught millions of victims previously dependent on ABS-CBN news and alerts unaware of the hazards of the disasters, the NUJP said.

We strongly condemn the NTF-ELCAC’s callous, dangerous, and evidence-less red-tagging of the Altermidya network,” media organizations including the Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University, the University of the Philippines Department of Journalism, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, the Foundation for Media Alternatives, MindaNews, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Philippine Press Institute as well as media outfits Rappler and VERA Files said.

Bright spots

All was not gloomy in 2020, however, as there had been bright spots in the local media community’s defense of press freedom, the NUJP said.

“Not least of this was the successful push to have UNESCO revert the status of the Ampatuan massacre to ‘unresolved’ after it was pointed out that the legal process is not finished and 76 suspects are still at large and will need to be tried should they be arrested, the media group said.

The NUJP also cited other notable victories such as the case of GMA workers who sued the network over unfair labor practices

In February, the Court of Appeals decided to reinstate, with no loss of seniority and with full back wages, 51 employees who had been illegally terminated while the Supreme Court in September ruled to reinstate 30 cameramen and assistant cameramen illegally dismissed by GMA in 2013.

The NUJP also said that despite “continuing efforts of the enemies of truth to spread disinformation, the media community has, by and large, successfully fended them off, including the paid influencers and trolls of government.”

“As we thankfully bid goodbye to 2020, we are also aware of what could be even greater challenges and threats to freedom of the press and of expression in 2021 and beyond…And so we look forward to 2021 resolved to continue defending and pushing the boundaries for press freedom in our land,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Another farmer killed in Bohol as 9 Tumandok are massacred in Panay

Another peasant activist in Bohol Province was killed just as nine Tumandok  civilians in Panay Island were being massacred last Wednesday in one of the bloodiest day for farmers under the four-year old Rodrigo Duterte government.

Lorenzo “Dodoy” Paña of Barangay Bantolinao, Antequera town was gunned down by unidentified motorcycle riding men around 9:00 AM last December 30 at Barangay Dorol, Balilihan town in Bohol, peasant organization Hugpong sa Mag-uumang Bol-anon-Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (HUMABOL-KMP) said.

Paña was on his way to bring lunch for his son working at a nearby construction site when fired upon by unidentified perpetrators.

Paña was a former officer of Hugpong sa Mag-uuma Dapit sa Kasadpan (HUMANDA KA), a formation of Humabol chapters in the first district of Bohol.

In 2018, the victim, along with his wife and children, worked as volunteers for the construction of a coconut processing plant managed by farmers organizations in Barangay Tinibgan, Maribojoc which now produces virgin coconut oil.

In June 26, 2018, the victim’s house was subjected to a warrantless search by around 30 members of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the said province.

His family complained of maltreatment during the said incident, HUMABOL-KMP said.

In previous years, the Paña family also reported of being harassed by state forces.

Paña’s killing happened while the 12th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (12IBPA) troopers and the PNP in Western Visayas killed nine Tumandok indigenous peoples in Capiz and Iloilo provinces, also in the Visayas.

Bohol peasant activist Lorenzo “Dodoy” Paña, killed in Balilihan, Bohol last December 30. (Humabol-KMP photo)

Immediate condemnation of the Tumandok massacre

The massacre in Panay Island earned swift condemnation from church leaders and organizations.

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, whose Diocese suffered similar police and military Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations (SEMPO) that also resulted in massacres, cried out, “Do we have to kill our perceived ‘enemies’ – especially if they are unarmed?”

“Is this the way we celebrate Christmas as a Christian country about to welcome the New Year and 500 Years of Christianity [in the Philippines?” the prelate asked.

“How long will this spiral of violence continue? Have we run out of peaceful means? Are we that desperate? Do we really, seriously believe this is the effective and lasting way to solve our social ills? I RAISE MY VOICE TO CRY OUT: “NO MORE KILLING!” We want PEACE – JUST and LASTING PEACE!” he added.

The Promotion of Church People’s Response (PNP) in Panay and Guimaras islands directly blamed PNP chief Debold Sinas for the death of nine Tumandok leaders and activists yesterday.

“The brazen extra-judicial killings and illegal arrests of leaders of the Tumandok, an indigenous people of Panay, on the early hours of yesterday in the mountainous villages of Tapaz, Capiz and Calinog, Iloilo is part of the nationwide implementation of PNP Chief Sinas’ version of ‘political tokhang’, his brainchild SEMPO,” PCPR’s Fr. Marco Sulayao said in a statement.

The faith-based group also blamed National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) agent Jeffrey Celis it said petitioned for the search warrants in Metro Manila Regional Trial Courts used for the operations.

“Blood is on the hands of NTF-ELCAC red-taggers, especially Jeffrey Celis, who according to [a] reliable source, petitioned for the said warrants,” PCPR said.

National labor federation Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) included President Rodrigo Duterte in the blame for the massacre.

“The blood of the Tumandok is in the hands of Duterte, Sinas, PNP and NTF-ELCAC. They wantonly kill the indigenous peoples to give way to projects of big capitalists,” KMU said in a statement.

“We condemn this heinous killing perpetrated by the mercenary AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) -PNP. It is most likely that the police and military will present the killed and arrested Tumandok as members of the New People’s Army when in fact, they are just farmers and indigenous people defending their ancestral land and farms against land grabbing,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said. 

Indigenous people’s group Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) also denounced “the government’s wanton disregard for human rights and laments the death of our people’s heroes.”

“Our fight against the construction of Jalaur and Pan-ay Dams have not ended yet so we remain resolute in defending what’s left of our rivers and forests. Despite violence and threats, we will relentlessly and fiercely stand against corporate plunder and the destruction of the environment,” Katribu said in a statement.

“The indigenous peoples have nowhere to run to anymore. We will certainly hold the line,” it added.

An IP rights advocate calls for the dissolution of the government agency they blame for red-tagging the victims that led to their massacre. (Katribu photo)

Red-tagged victims

Killed in the synchronized and simultaneous operations in the neighboring towns were former Barangay Captain and  current Tumandok nga Mangunguma nga Nagapangapin sa Duta kag Kabuhi (TUMANDUK) chairperson Roy Giganto, his Barangay Lahug co-councilors Reynaldo Katipunan, and Mario Aguirre; Eliseo Gayas Jr. of Barangay Aglinab, Tapaz; Mario Diaz of Barangay Tacayan, Tapaz; Artilito Katipunan of Barangay Acuna, Tapaz; and Barangay Nawayan chairperson Dalson Catamen of Tapaz.

Former TUMANDUK chairperson and Tapaz local government employee Marevic Aquirre is missing, believed to have been abducted by the police.

Two youth residents of Barangay Aglinab, Tapaz town are also reported missing.

The PNP reported it arrested 17 other Tumandok from its SEMPO.

“These Tumandok leaders were very active in reclaiming their ancestral land now occupied by the 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army military reservation. They were also active in resisting the construction of the Jalaur mega-dam,” PCPR said.

The community of Lahug also resisted the coercion of military troopers to sign a resolution declaring the CPP/NPA as “persona non grata” in their barangay, the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)