The town of Lupao in Nueva Ecija province was the site of a massacre where government soldiers under President Corazon Aquino killed 17 peasants in 1987. The same town is now reeling under a “continuing massacre” – the onslaught of killings and abductions of civilians by suspected military agents under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s counterinsurgency campaign.
By Abner Bolos
Gitnang Luson News Service
LUPAO, Nueva Ecija -Young rice grow robust in rice paddies in a small wooded hill in Sitio (sub-village) Padlao. But there are no houses here, only a lone abandoned hut and a haystack stand. Old cement structures on the ground bear witness to what used to be a community before the infamous Lupao massacre 19 years ago.
On Feb. 10, 1987, a platoon of government troops killed 17 farmers and their families including six children and two septuagenarians in Sitio Padlao, Barangay Namulandayan, Lupao, Nueva Ecija in retaliation for the death of their commanding officer who was sniped by New People’s Army guerrillas.
The carnage happened a year after the historic “people power” uprising installed Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino as president in February 1986. Aquino shortly after unsheathed the “sword of war” against the Marxist-led rebellion and unleashed a vicious attack that victimized mostly civilians.
The incident came to be known as the Lupao massacre, and shocked the world along with Aquino’s declaration of “total war” against the very same people who helped her become president. The 24 soldiers of the 14th Infantry Battalion were tried before a military court. They were all acquitted.
Before Aquino’s term ended in 1992, some 50 right-wing vigilante groups backed by the military sprouted all over the country. A long wave of human rights abuses resulted in the death of some 1,064 people mostly farmers and workers, the disappearance of at least 830 people and 135 cases of massacres.
Like now President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Aquino reaped harsh criticisms from local and other foreign human rights watch groups including Amnesty International.
Aquino failed to quell the popular movement demanding land, jobs and justice. By all indications, Arroyo, who also became president via a popular uprising in 2001, is headed the same way.
Igmedio Facunla, secretary general of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL-NE, Central Luzon Peasant Alliance-Nueva Ecija chapter) recalls that after the Lupao massacre, Namulandayan was practically deserted but the residents came back in trickles over the years as military operations waned.
In October last year, 30 more families went back to the village and started tilling the land. They harvested and planted new crops but now everything has become uncertain for the farmers because of intense military operations, Facunla told GLNS.
“It’s being repeated. Abuses from military operations sow fear in the villages and farmers are forced to leave their farms,” Facunla said.
Lupao is one of the towns in Nueva Ecija province reeling from a fresh onslaught of killings and abductions which have gripped the Central Luzon region since Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan vowed to crush the armed revolutionary movement before he retires next month.
Fr. Arlyn Ragaza, Lupao town parish priest who accompanied reporters to Namulandayan last week, pointed to a building near the school in the village center as he drove. “That’s the village hall the soldiers use as their detachment. It’s there where the interrogations take place,” he said.
Since June, soldiers have encamped in eight of the 20 villages in Lupao, including Namulandayan and Parista. Ragaza said the soldiers have a list of names of residents that they summon to the detachment for interrogations. He said that about 20 residents of Namulandayan who are in the list have not been seen since then and may have left the village out of fear.
Ragaza is known to be the only priest in Nueva Ecija province who goes to the detachments whenever a parishioner who has been summoned by soldiers asks for his help. He knows first-hand that people get hurt during interrogations.
“I was outside (the interrogation room). But I can hear blows being dealt on the person and his pleas for the beating to stop,” he said recalling the interrogation of a farmer who sought his help at the detachment in Namulandayan. He said the victim’s four-year old child was a witness to the interrogation and since then, he has asked the soldiers not to do the interrogations in front of children.