Speech of Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo on resurgence of political killings, trumped-up charges

Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo today delivered a speech before the House of Representatives to deplore the resurgence of extrajudicial killings and trumped-up charges against activists.

Full text of Ocampo’s speech follows:

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, I rise on an issue of collective and personal privilege regarding the resurgence of political killings and trumped-up criminal charges against members of my party Bayan Muna and other legal organizations.

The other night at around 6:00, Rolando Antolihao, 39, Bayan Muna leader in Kapalong, Davao del Norte was shot to death right inside his house in Barangay Gabuyan. According to initial reports by Bayan Muna and human rights group Karapatan in Southern Mindanao, two assassins in plainclothes knocked on Antolihao’s door and immediately shot the latter when he opened the door. He bore seven gunshot wounds.

Only six days ago at around 5:30 in the afternoon of November 6, another Bayan Muna member was killed in Compostela Valley. He was Danilo N. Qualbar, 48, coordinator of Bayan Muna and Public Information Officer of Compostela Farmers Association (CFA)- Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and a resident in Sitio Nursery, Brgy. Ngan, Compostela Valley. He was on his way home on board alone his motorcyle when he came across two armed men riding an XRM red motorcycle, who appeared to have been waiting for him. Qualbar was still able to talk to the perpetrators before they shot him. He sustained four (4) gunshot wounds in his back causing his death.

Antolihao and Qualbar – who were killed in just a span of five days – are the 133rd and 134th Bayan Muna members killed since 2001. Last August 15, Roel Dotarot, Bayan Muna member in Brgy. Monkayo, Compostela Valley, was also killed by motorcyle-riding armed men. The killers rode an XRM motorcycle as in Qualbar’s case.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, Bayan Muna vehemently condemns the killings of our members and hold the Macapagal-Arroyo administration responsible for these and other killings and enforced disappearances of scores of activists. The cases of Antolihao, Qualbar and Dotarot indicate continued extrajudicial killings under Oplan Bantay Laya II which Mrs. Arroyo ordered to be implemented early this year.

The area of focus of such killing has shifted to Mindanao. From July to September 2008, 19 extrajudicial killings took place in Mindanao, including the three Bayan Muna victims.

The surge in political killings especially in Southern Mindanao is being “complemented” by legal offensives in Southern Tagalog. Twin cases of trumped-up charges have been filed against activists in the region. A total of 72 activists and leaders of mass organizations have been charged with multiple murder and frustrated murder in connection with the ambush by the New People’s Army of policemen in Mindoro Oriental in March 2006. The respondents include Bayan Muna nominee Bayani Cambronero and human rights lawyer and Bayan Muna-Rizal officer Atty. Remigio Saladero Jr., who was arrested in a Gestapo-like manner last October 23 in his residence in Antipolo. Saladero is chief legal counsel of the Kilusang Mayo Uno and a member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers. Saladero and four other activists are now detained at the Calapan City Jail.

Another case of arson has been filed against Southern Tagalog activists and leaders (again including Saladero and Cambronero) in relation to the bombing of a cell site of Globe Telecommunications in Lemery, Batangas last August 2. Nineteen activists were initially charged but this was later amended to include eight others.

The Mindoro 72 and Batangas 27 cases are part of the “legal offensives” employed against perceived militant critics of the government. The Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), created through Executive Order 493 on January 17, 2006 and headed by National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, is responsible for the build-up and filing of spurious cases against leaders and members of mass organizations to demobilize these groups.

In fact, this representation continues to be the subject of trumped-up murder charges in connection with alleged mass graves in Leyte against which I petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari and prohibition in March last year. After hearing the oral arguments, the Supreme Court gave me provisional liberty while the case is pending before it. However, one of my co-accused, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Deputy Secretary General Randall Echanis, was arrested last January 28 and remains in jail despite the pendency of the case.

Moreover, last October 28, 2008 the Assistant Provincial Prosecutor in Hilongos, Leyte served two subpoenas to this representation in his Batasan office, requiring me to submit my counter-affidavit within 10 days after receipt of subpoena in relation to two separate murder charges related to the alleged mass graves in Inopacan, Leyte.

Meantime, Justice Secretary Raul M. Gonzalez placed this representation’s name again in the Bureau of Immigration Department’s hold order departure list.

Prior to this the progressive party-list bloc of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women’s Party have had to contend with trumped-up rebellion charges — more popularly known as the Batasan 6 case which was IALAG’s first “legal offensive” case – with the late Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran suffering hospital detention for more than one year. During the 2007 campaign period and onto the present, our bloc has also dealt with three spurious murder charges in Nueva Ecija. One of the identical cases has been dismissed by the Regional Trial Court while the two others were sent back to the prosecutors for being insufficient and flawed. These are all the handiwork of the IALAG.

Last June 1, 2007, the Supreme Court dismissed the rebellion case against the Batasan 6 and other leaders including Bayan Muna Director for Organization Vicente Ladlad. In its decision the High Court states: “We cannot emphasize too strongly that prosecutors should not allow, and should avoid, giving the impression that their noble office is being used or prostituted, wittingly or unwittingly, for political ends, or other purposes alien to, or subversive of, the basic and fundamental objective of observing the interest of justice evenhandedly, without fear or favor to any and all litigants alike, whether rich or poor, weak or strong, powerless or mighty. Only by strict adherence to the established procedure may the public’s perception of the impartiality of the prosecutor be enhanced.”

Mr. Speaker, since 2001, I have taken the floor many times to denounce this policy of political repression waged against perceived critics of the Arroyo government. I do so again today. And I shall continue to do so as long as this dastardly act continues. I call on government to abandon its counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya which includes extrajudicial killings and abolish the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG).

The report of Prof. Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions on his mission visit to the country last year states it very clearly: “Two policy initiatives are of special importance to understanding why the killings continue. First, the military’s counterinsurgency strategy against the CPP/NPA/NDF increasingly focuses on dismantling civil society organizations that are purported to be “CPP front groups”…Second…the criminal justice system has failed to arrest, convict, and imprison those responsible for extrajudicial executions. This is partly due to a distortion of priorities that has law enforcement officials focused on prosecuting civil society leaders rather than their killers.”

Prof. Alston categorically recommends that extrajudicial executions must be removed from government’s counter-insurgency program and states, “As Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the President must take concrete steps to put an end to those aspects of counterinsurgency operations which have led to the targeting and execution of many individuals working with civil society organizations.”

The Alston report likewise recommends that the “IALAG should be abolished, and the criminal justice system should refocus on investigating and prosecuting those committing extrajudicial executions and other serious crimes.”

What has the Arroyo government done with regard to the recommendations of the Alston report? What has the Commander-in-Chief done to rein in and hold accountable the state security forces implicated in the killings and enforced disappearances?

Government not only has chosen to ignore the findings and recommendations of the Alston report. It is embarking on a renewed offensive to go after its perceived enemies both through the legal front and through outright armed attacks. It is business as usual, murderous business.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, the 933 cases of extrajudicial killings and 199 cases of enforced disappearances since 2001 highlight government’s flagrant violation of human rights despite extensive international rebuke on the Arroyo administration.

The landmark actions of the Supreme Court in providing the guidelines for the Writs of Amparo and Habeas Data must be complemented by legislations that penalize the commission of grave human rights abuses such as enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings.

Still, with the Arroyo government’s seemingly callous maintenance of the climate of impunity, it is the people’s sustained vigorous opposition to such human rights violations that will ultimately spell the difference.