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Sea of white makes crusading Bishop’s heart grateful

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said his heart was filled with gratitude when he saw a sea of white as he celebrated Mass at the San Carlos Borromeo Cathedral last Christmas Eve and yesterday, Christmas day.

In response to his call that parishioners wear white during Masses on December 24 and 25 to demand for an end to extrajudicial killings in Negros Island, thousands of parishioners throughout the Diocese turned church pews to white, the fourth straight year they did so.

“I feel until now so much gratitude in my heart! For so many reasons, [including] that our people are still very much with us,” Alminaza told Kodao.

“We are very much in touch with our people and we truly express their deepest sentiments when we called on them to wear white as an act of solidarity and to express our desire for and commitment to peace, sanctity of life, human dignity and human rights, and our collective call to end the killings, COVID pandemic and abuse of our common home,” the prelate added.

Mass at San Carlos Borromeo Cathedral, San Carlos City, Neg. Occ. celebrated by Bishop Gerardo Alminaza. (Photo from the Bishop’s Facebook account)

Oplan Sauron

Towards the end of his homily at the funeral Mass for slain red-tagged community doctor Mary Rose Sancelan and husband Edwin last December 22, Alminaza again called on his Church’s faithful to collectively act for justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings in the island.

The Sancelans were shot to death by unidentified assassins at past five o’clock in the afternoon of December 15 near their home in Carmen Ville Subdivision, Barangay Poblacion, Guihulngan City.

Their assassination was the latest in a long list of extrajudicial killings in the island that included massacres of peasants and assassination of lawyers, activists, progressive politicians, dubious midnight raids that resulted in massacres in the past three years.

The Philippine National Police-Central Visayas’ counter-insurgency program Oplan Sauron has also resulted in mass arrests of workers, journalists and human rights defenders.

Sancelan, Guihulgan City health officer and Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) chief, was previously included in the hit list of the anti-communist vigilante group Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Komunista (Kagubak) in 2019.

Kagubak mistakenly named her as JB Regalado, Central Negros New People’s Army spokesperson.

Sancelan was among the five in the Kagubak hit list who have since been killed, including lawyer Anthony Trinidad, Heidi Malalay Flores, and Boy Litong and his son.

Mass at the St Anthony De Padua Parish Church, Toboso, Negros Occidental, ked by Fr, Martin Brodit. (Photo from Bishop Alminaza’s FB account)

Right values

But Alminaza expressed gratitude that the faithful of his Diocese “have not lost yet [their] right values and priorities : sanctity of life, human dignity and human rights, integrity of creation, solidarity. “

The prelate said the Diocese’s display of solidarity proved that it is “a listening Church.”

“I also feel affirmed, very happy, inspired and encouraged. It shows the collective efforts of everyone: our priests, religious, and lay faithful,” he said.

Alminaza said he witnessed how the members of the diocese reminded each other through text and personal message before they left their homes to wear white in accordance with his request.

“I witnessed how we all feel so empowered that we are all in this together! Our message is CLEAR: #WearWhiteForPEACE #StopTheKillingsPH #DefendLifeAndRights #SilenceKills #Justiceforallvictims #CareForThePoor #CareForOurCommonHome,” he said.

Christmas Eve Vigil Mass at Nuestra Señora de las Flores Mission Station, Brgy Masulog, Canlaon City. (Photo fro, Bishop Alminaza’s FB account)

Mixed emotions

Alminaza however revealed that while his brother priests were mostly happy to see a sea of white during the Masses, one told him he felt angry because of the continuing incidence of extrajudicial killings in Negros and throughout the country.

But the Bishop said that the priests of his diocese mostly felt happy with the response of the faithful.

“I feel further affirmed when another (priest) also shared, ‘Personally, I felt joy because I saw the lay faithful listening and participating and cooperating in our various advocacy and diocesan pastoral concerns, particularly our collective call to end the killings, commitment to peace, sanctity of life, and others,’” he said.

Another priest told him the people’s response has become a powerful symbol of the diocese’s collective awareness about the social realities the Church is faced with, the Bishop said.

The priest added he felt challenged not to get discouraged or remain in the sidelines because the people look up to [the Church] for guidance especially at this time.

Mass at St. Joseph Parish, Sagay City. (Photo from Bishop Alminaza’s FB account)

Bell ringing to continue

Alminaza told Kodao that the nightly 8 PM ringing of church bells throughout the Diocese will continue this Christmas [season], “and beyond until the killings stop.”

“The bells are intended to prick the conscience of those who move in our midst and exact evil in killing hapless civilians; they must turn from their wicked ways,” he said.

“The bells ring as a soothing reminder to families who have been victimized that we are with them in their grief. Most importantly, they are a clarion call to our people that we must rise and pursue justice and peace!” Alminaza added.

The Bishop said he is asking the vigilante group Kagubak to stop terrorizing the people in Guihulngan with a list of those to be killed. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Christmas and Fiesta Mass at the Holy Family Chaplaincy, Central Lopez, Sagay City. (Photo from Bishop Alminaza’s FB account)
Christmas Eve Mass at St. John Mary Vianney Seminary College, Inc., San Carlos City  ·(Photo from Bishop Alminaza’s FB account)

More rights violations with Sinas as top cop, groups warn

A farmers’ group and a human rights organization warned that more rights abuses will follow National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) commander Major General Debold Sinas’s appointment as the next Philippine National Police (PNP) chief.

Following the announcement by Malacanan Palace that the controversial officer is the country’s next top cop, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said Sinas’ record is enough proof that the police would be further tainted with more human rights violations once he assumes command.

The group said Sinas is accountable for Oplan Sauron in Negros it blames for the deaths,   arrests, and detention of farmers and activists during his stint as Central Visayas Regional Police Office chief.

“Sinas is also behind the arrests of Manila-based activists including Reina Mae Nasino. Sinas is also on the hook for the still unresolved brutal killing of peasant leader and peace consultant Randy Echanis last August 10,” the KMP said in a statement.

Sinas, described by the KMP as an “attack dog” of President Rodrigo Duterte, will replace outgoing PNP Chief Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan.

The police general also courted widespread condemnation by celebrating his birthday last March with a party at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City despite a government-imposed ban on gatherings.

The KMP said that with Sinas at the PNP’s helm the public must expect for the worst from the police and remain vigilant at all times.

“The PNP only serves at the pleasure of the President who terrorizes the people on a daily basis,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

Human rights group Karapatan for its part said it is not surprised at Sinas’ appointment as PNP chief as Duterte has a clear penchant for rewarding the most notorious of human rights violators with rank promotions.

Karapatan warned that with Sinas’s appointment, ”a bloody party of human rights violations” is sure to follow.

“Duterte’s most rabid and murderous lapdogs are given freer rein to merrily kill, kill, and kill with wanton impunity,” the group said in a statement.

Karapatan said it fears Sinas will continue the Duterte government’s “sham and bloody drug war and the repression of critics and activists.”

The group recalled that the Commission on Human Rights reported the increase of drug-related killings in Central Visayas from July 2018 to October 2019 when he was police chief in the region.

“Karapatan has nothing but indignation and disgust for Sinas’ appointment. The messages being sent are clear as day: follow the president’s orders and you will be protected and promoted,” Karapatan said.

“[T]his fascist regime is gearing up for an intensified crackdown on dissent and assault on human rights by appointing one of its most loyal butchers as the country’s top cop,” the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bacolod raids and arrests are Espenido’s handiwork—farmers

The mass arrest of 62 civilians, including three minors, and the raid on three offices in Bacolod City last Thursday, October 31 are the handiwork of controversial police officer Jovie Espenido, a farmers’ group reported.

“A real-life horror story is unfolding in Bacolod City and it is orchestrated by evil incarnate Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido – the newly-installed newly assigned deputy city director for operations of Bacolod City Police Office (BCPO). These vile acts attacking civil liberties deliberately intend to sow terror and fear across Bacolod City and Negros island anew,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

KMP’s reaction came after combined police and military operatives simultaneously raided the office of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), Bayan Muna and Gabriela starting at five o’clock Thursday afternoon and arrested the activists.

Those hauled to the city police station included six minors the authorities allege are undergoing “training and “indoctrination”.

The police said several firearms and grenades were reportedly recovered during the raids on the offices as well as in the home of Bayan Muna’s Romulo Bito-on and his wife Mermalyn, who were both arrested.

All three organizations have long been openly red-baited by the police and the military of being “legal fronts” of the communist movement.

The KMP however said the raids are “real-life horrors” that only add up to “the long list of state-sponsored atrocities under Memorandum Order No. 32.”

President Rodrigo Duterte issued MO 32 in November 2018 ordering more military and police troops in three regions including Negros.

Recently, the controversial Espenido, alleged to have ordered the bloody July 2017 raid in Ozamiz City that killed Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and his wife and 13 other persons, was assigned to Bacolod City.

A few days ago, Espenido said “it would be God’s will if blood would flow in Bacolod City” in the course of his anti-drugs and anti-criminality campaign.

“The conduct of these mass raids was clearly illegal and unjust that the raiding teams had to come up with preposterous accusations that the civilians were allegedly conducting firearms and explosives training in the offices. Napakasinungaling ng mga pulis at militar,” Ramos said. (The police and the military are such liars.)

“These attacks happened with the knowledge and authorization of President Rodrigo Duterte. This is de facto martial law creeping in Negros Island and the rest of the country,” Ramos added.

‘Gestapo-like raid’

Other human rights groups and some of those apprehended denied the accusations they were rebels and said the weapons had been “planted.”

A video taken of the search at the nearby office of Gabriela showed a police officer inspecting a revolver and ammunition taken from a backpack at a corner of the yard.

Among those arrested were known activist leaders John Milton Lozande and Danny Tabura of the NFSW, Proceso Quiatchon of the human rights group Karapatan, Nilo Rosales and Aldrin de Cerna of the Kilusang Mayo Uno.

Lozande said the raiders held them for around an hour and then he was called to a house in the compound and showed “an obviously planted” gun supposedly found in his bag.

Nine other persons were arrested at the Gabriela office and two more from the NFSW.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said among those arrested at the Gabriela office was Anne Krueger of the newly established alternative media outfit Paghimutad, which has been covering social issues, including extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses.

They were all taken to the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office.

Interestingly, the raids were covered by search warrants issued by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Branch 89 of the Regional Trial Court in Quezon City.

Karapatan, in a statement, called this suspicious and said this was reminiscent of the Oplan Sauron 2 operations in Negros Oriental in March, which were covered by search warrants issued in Cebu City.

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate also condemned the “dastardly Gestapo-like raid … simultaneously conducted by state forces against the offices of Bayan Muna, Gabriela and NFSW in Bacolod, Negros Occidental.”

He noted that the raids were conducted “at night before a long weekend so as to ensure that the courts are closed tomorrow so that the planted pieces evidence and subsequent trumped-up charges filed cannot immediately be challenged.”

Karapatan called the raids part of a “full-blown crackdown on activists and red-tagged legal organizations,” noting that earlier in the day, police arrested Cora Agovida, the Metro Manila chairperson of Gabriela, and her husband Mickael Tan Bartolome of the urban poor group Kadamay, and claimed a .45 caliber pistol and two grenades were seized from their home.

However, Pancito told media the raids, which he described as “part of cutting the source of manpower to Red areas,” or territory were the rebels operate, would prove to be a “big blow to the Red fighters of the New People’s Army” and would “trigger the downfall” of the insurgency on Negros. # (Raymund B. Villanueva, with reports by Visayas Today)

‘Stop the killings!’

“Hinding-hindi malulutas ng militarisasyon at pagpaslang sa mamamayan ang sigalot ngayon na nangyayari sa kanayunan. Stop the killings! Defend Negros! Resume peace talks!”—Prof. Judy Taguiwalo, University of the Philippines-Diliman

Armed men ‘abduct,’ grill Himamaylan villagers – rights group

By Visayas Today

Armed men believed to be military personnel barged into a home in an upland village of Himamaylan City early Friday morning, August 30, allegedly handcuffing and blindfolding occupants, including high school students, and forcing them into a vehicle as they searched for purported communist rebels, a human rights group said.

The September 21 Movement Southern Negros said the gunmen forced their way into the home of farmer Delia dela Rosa Pacheco, 64, in Sitio Maliko-liko, Barangay Carabalan around 3 a.m.

They then rounded up Pacheco, her niece Aiza dela Rosa, 24, and two other relatives, one a Grade 11 student, the other in Grade 10, and a guest, Teresita Camanso, 46, a daycare worker from Sitio Lanap, Barangay Buenavista who was staying for the night after attending a seminar at the Himamaylan city hall.

The statement quoted Pacheco as saying they were all ordered to lie on the floor as the gunmen cuffed and blindfolded them. They were later taken to the vehicle.

Camanso told the human rights group that the gunmen asked her if she knew “Loida” and “Toti,” who they said were members of the New People’s Army who were supposedly staying in the house.

She was also grilled about the formation of an indigenous peoples’ organization in her village. 

The other occupants of the house were also interrogated. 

The September 21 Movement condemned the incident and urged vigilance against what it called the “creeping militarism and dictatorship in Negros.” #

‘One death is too many’

Artwork by Jose Mari Callueng

“One death is too many. In the case of Negros Island, since President Duterte took an oath to “…do justice to every man and consecrate myself (himself) to the service of the nation,” at least 87 lives have been taken. Half of these were killed when Duterte ordered the deployment of more military troops there by virtue of the Memorandum Order No. 32.

“This is the image of Negros Island now. Once an island known as the “Sugarbowl of the Philippines,” has become a killing field. It is bloodied. And the killing won’t stop very soon. What with the threats from the President to deploy even more troops there.

“It won’t stop unless we stop the murderer in Malacañang.”—Jose Mari Callueng, human rights defender

Itanong Mo Kay Prof: Walang Tigil na Pamamaslang sa Negros

Panayam kay Prof. Jose Maria Sison, Chair Emeritus ng International League of People’s Struggle, ni Prof. Sarah Raymundo hinggil sa extra-judicial killings sa isla ng Negros. Sa kasalukuyan ay mayroon nang 87 ang napatay sa isla simula ng maupo sa Malacanang si Pangulong Duterte.


NUJP-Bacolod chairperson tailed by ‘suspicious rider’

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)—Bacolod Chapter chairperson Marchel Espina reported being tailed by a “suspicious motorcycle rider” while on assignment in Negros Oriental Sunday afternoon, August 4.

While returning from Canlaon City, Espina’s driver told her that they were being followed by a motorcycle rider, “who was of medium build and wore a bonnet concealing his face, a black jacket and pants and with a backpack.”

Espina was pursuing stories about the killings of civilians in Negros Island believed to be the result of the government’s intensified counter-insurgency drive.

Espina reports for Rappler.

Espina said the rider had tailed them for almost 18 kilometers, from Biak Na Bato to Taburda in La Castellana town.

She quoted her driver as saying he blocked an attempt by the rider to overtake their rental car and drove as fast as he could until they eventually lost the tail.

Motorcycle-riding gunmen have been reported as the perpetrators of many killings in the entire island in the past weeks.

At least 21 civilians were killed in Negros Oriental in the past two weeks, many by motorcycle riders. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Hindi Malayo ang Negros

By Luchie Maranan

Akala mo lang 
Wala kang kinalaman,
Wala kang pakialam
Sa islang naglalamay
Sa mga pinaslang.

Ang mapulang tilamsik at daloy 
Ay umaabot sa iyong kinaroroonan
Dahil maniwala ka’t hindi,
“Ang sakit ng kalingkingan
Ay dama ng buong katawan.”

Ang dilim ay malawak na inilalatag
Hanggang ang iyong 
Sariling liwanag ay di na mabanaag.
Nasa hangin ang pulbura ng salarin
Pagtutol ay pupulbusin.

Akala mo lang
Naumid na ang iyong paligid,
Ngunit dinig hanggang sa iyong isip
Ang hiyaw ng dumaraming
Tinutugis at inuusig.

Akala mo lang 
Wala kang kinalaman,
Wala kang pakialam
Ngunit ang Negros ay larawan
Ng iyong sariling bayan.

Hulyo 31, 2019

Baby Marjon

“Baby Marjon” by Jose Mari Callueng (Poster paint on paper, 20 July 2019)

“It was only on Saturday when I received photos of a crime scene of what happened in Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental. A picture of dead bodies lying on the ground. One was of a father named Marlon, the other was of a child, a one year old child named ‘Marjon.’ Before the investigators laid them on the ground, the baby’s dead body was found on a makeshift hammock. They were attacked while they peacefully slept.

“At Karapatan, we’ve been documenting rights violations of different forms–forced evacuations, illegal arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, among others. Since I joined this group of brave human rights workers, listing names and respective profiles of those killed under this murderous regime has become part of the daily routine. It never stops.

“Last week was the bloodiest in Negros, killing nine, a reflection of the dire situation of the entire island since President Rodrigo Duterte placed it under Memo. No. 32 which deployed more troops there. Many residents have been the subject of various rights violations since, such as harassment, intimidation, threats, if not murdered for being ‘suspected’ as members of the NPA.

“To write down a name of a defenseless one year old, Marjon is the most painful. He can barely talk, nor can he walk on his own little feet. He was murdered. My heart weeps as I put the image of a bloodied hammock on my drawing book. This is how low this government has become. This is too much.” — Jose Mari Callueng, Karapatan