A Killing Too Far: Rebelyn Pitao

”The People’s Court does not kill innocent civilians, we carefully examine their crimes against the people before we carry out punishments,” he said.

Yet there is no such recognized court under national or international law and many people see absolutely no difference between extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by the military and those said to be committed by the NPA.

On January 7, the NPA are believed to have killed Saturnino Rizaldo, a suspected member of the military intelligence group. A month later, they also reportedly murdered a second intelligence agent in Paquibato district here.

In a mobile phone interview, Simon Santiago, southern Mindanao political director of the NPA, told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project that the NPA executed Rizaldo because of his “crime against humanity.”

“The NPA has standing order against those who have committed serious crime against the masses,” Santiago stressed.

The other victim he said was “a former NPA member turned military asset.”

Remembering Rebelyn

Parago said he waited until his daughter was 11 before telling her he was the known Commander Parago of Southern Mindanao. “When they (my children) asked me where I was, I often told them I was working abroad.”

Shortly after his release from a prison sentence in 2000 and learning that he would again go back to join the NPA, Parago recalled Rebelyn saying: “Pa, abi nako mag uban na ta hangtud sa hangtud (Pa, I thought we would be together again forever).”

Parago was captured by military agents in 1999 at his home in Toril district. He was released without preconditions after spending just under two years in jail.

He also recounted the time when Rebelyn asked for a new pair of jeans and he couldn’t give her one. “I told her to ask for the old pair of jeans from her older sister. Rebelyn did it and did not complain. When her mother was finally able to give her a new pair, Rebelyn was so happy and grateful. Even for the smallest things, Rebelyn never forgot to say ‘thank you.’ ”

Mrs. Pitao also recalled that since Rebelyn was still small, she really wanted to be a teacher. “Since she was small, that was her dream -and she really fulfilled her dream,” she said.

Rebelyn served as a substitute teacher for five months at St. Peter’s College of Technology and taught Grade 2.

Her mother recalled how happy Rebelyn was when she had her first salary of PhP 7,800 (USD 162). “She was so happy because that was her first time that she actually had some real money.”

Mrs. Pitao added said that her daughter’s fellow teachers were surprised to learn she was the daughter of Commander Parago. “Yet their treatment towards us never changed. They even sympathized with us because they knew we were not part of the conflict -we were not combatants.”

Held hostage

Mrs. Pitao claimed the military had harassed their family in the past. In 1999, she insisted, seven military agents came into their house and briefly held the family hostage to force her husband to surrender.

“They knew my husband was coming down to visit us because it was All Saints Day,” she recalls. “The children were so scared because we were all held at gunpoint.”

Parago also claims to remember the alleged incident: “I went there to visit but was surprised to see the military. I had a grenade with me but had I tossed it inside my house it would have killed my family as well as the agents –and so I let myself get captured.”

Mrs. Pitao said the incident was a traumatic experience for the children: “Trauma has been gone for a long time but now it’s back again because of what happened to their sister.”

Safety of the family

Davao City Police have been providing 24-hour security during Rebelyn’s wake and Mrs. Pitao said she was thankful to Mayor Duterte. While having gone on record as saying he dismissed all allegations that any military or police officers could be involved in the killing, the mayor has made a public promise to Parago to find those responsible. The two have even spoken together on the phone.

For her part, Mrs. Pitao is refusing to comment on her family’s future security: “We cannot say anything about it now or what are we going to do now. We have yet to talk about it. But I admit that we are very affected. I’m worried about my children because two of them are still studying and they are now worried for their security.”

Rebelyn’s death brings the number of victims of extrajudicial killings in southern Mindanao since 2001 up to 93 according to Kelly Delgado, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan for southern Mindanao region.

Authorities contest Karapatan’s figure and insist it is much lower. But it is not known if either figure includes an anti-mining activist who was shot dead by two gunmen on Monday March 9 in nearby Koronadal City.

Delgado claims the killing of Rebelyn was intended as a warning: “This is a message for the family members of not just the NPA but as well those who are in the progressive organizations that they too can be targets,” Delgado said. “It is also a message meant to demoralize our ranks.”

“Since the government has set 2010 as the deadline to crush the communist movement, extrajudicial killings may even get worse because civilians whom they suspect as communist supporters will become soft targets,” Delgado said.

“The killings have become systemic and it is impossible to stop them. What we can do now is to become vigilant and impose security measures among people.”

Retired Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have set a 2010 deadline to end the insurgency.

But last year, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Alexander Yano admitted that the government might not be able to wipe out the 40-year-old communist movement by 2010.

The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), turns 40 on March 29 –the day before a public hearing on vigilante killings is due to open here.

Bishop Delfin Callao of the Philippine Independent Church has said that an independent body needs to be created to investigate Rebelyn’s killing.

“How can you investigate if you are the accused?” Callao asked reporters in a press conference last week. The investigation, he insisted, should not allow any representatives from government agencies, police or military to join.

“This will assure us of complete impartiality and the findings can be the basis of any criminal charges to be filed against the suspects.”

The investigating body, he said, should be composed of the people from church and civil society organizations. “Even if the government authorities snub the results, the most important thing here is we surface the truth.”

Rebelyn’s funeral and burial is due to be held here on Saturday March 14. Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / Posted byBulatlat.com

*The author is a journalist based in Davao City and one of the founders of AKP Images, an independent photo agency.

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