Palo Massacre revisited: AFP loses case, falsely accused farmers freed

Nearly a year after the 19th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army massacred scores of peasants in San Agustin, Palo, Leyte, those who they falsely accused before the courts were freed after two judges dismissed the fabricated charges

Bayan Muna swiftly welcomed the news, praising the farmers for their vigilance.

The San Agustin Farmer Beneficiaries Multipurpose Cooperative and Bayan Muna-San Agustin chapter have their hands full with many tasks — they need to claim the land awarded them by the local Department of Land Reform office, which was the very reason why they were together at early dawn of Nov. 21, 2005 and which the 19th IBPA ended with what is known now as the Palo Massacre.

To coverup its crimes, the 19th IBPA filed trumped up charges against the survivors of the massacre, branding them alternately as 1) communist rebels; and 2) farmers agitated by Bayan Muna into armed fighting. One of those detained died while in jail due to questionable circumstances. The military alleged that the farmers were armed with low and high-powered weapons, and were staging an illegal assembly.

The regional and municipal trial courts dismissed the charges. Neighbors and kin of those detained sold carabaos and small properties, and pitched in whatever they can so their relatives and friends could be freed on bail for the remaining charge of illegal assembly.

The Palo Massacre is an example of extrajudicial killings and political persecution by the state. Perhps acting on orders of the local landlord, the 19th IBPA swooped down on the organized peasants and killed many of them. The military then demonized the peasants and their party, Bayan Muna, took the leaders to court to stop their advance to land reform, and continue to coverup the heinous crime of multiple murder that the soldiers committed.

The Arroyo government should immediately file appropriate charges against the 19th IBPA and that these goons also be charged before a court martial for violations of the laws of war — specifically those that say civilians and non-combatants should be spared by combatants such as the 19th IBPA. The DLR should also implement its earlier order favoring the San Agustin farmers group and make sure the landlord would not resist through the hiring of armed merceneries like the 19th IBPA or even the local police.

The world will never forget what happened to the peasants of Palo, Leyte, because we will always make them remember.

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