By JOHN AARON MARK MACARAEG
MANILA — Progressive groups strongly condemned the killing of another activist and the unlawful arrests of ten others in Negros island.
Lito Itao, 49, was outside a store with his neighbors in sitio Culasi, barangay Buenavista, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental on the afternoon of Thursday, June 27 when armed men onboard a motorcycle drew a small firearm and shot him, according to Karapatan.
Itao is the 67th victim of extrajudicial killing in Negros since Duterte assumed office.
A day before, on June 26, three farmers namely Arnaldo Namu, Francisco Alabagan and his wife identified only as “Kapid” were arrested by men who introduced themselves as part of military intelligence group (MIG) in two separate incidents in barangay Mansalanao, La Castellana.
Namu is still missing as of this writing.
In Silay City on the same day, ten elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) forcibly entered the homes of siblings Hermin Escapalao, 57 and Jorex Escapalao the vice president of Hacienda Raymunda Farmworkers Union – National Federation of Sugar Workers to serve search warrants. Jorex is now detained at PNP-Silay City.
Later that day, in barangay Himalayan, Buenavista, members of 62nd Infantry Battalion Philippine Army arrested United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Pastor Jimmy Teves and farmers Jodito Montecino, Eliseo Andres, JP Romana, Rodrigo Medes, and Roger Sabanal.
According to Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), the arrested farmers and individuals were wrongfully tagged as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
Lt. Col. Dacoscos of the 62nd Infantry Battallion said in a statement that all were arrested “in accordance with existing laws.”
Karapatan-Negros, in a statement, countered that Judge Rodney Magbanua of Regional Trial Court Branch 61 issued the warrants on questionable grounds for arrests done in barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City and some of the victims were also arrested without any warrants of arrests.
“As the Duterte regime continuously intensifies its attacks, the killings and arbitrary arrests in Negros is setting a very dangerous precedence – that State forces can do whatever they want against poor peasants and communities, and brazenly promote tyranny and violence,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
Memorandum Order No. 32
Karapatan maintained that the rampant killings and targeted cases against activists and farmers could be linked and a direct result of the Memorandum Order No. 32.
Issued November last year in Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and the Bicol provinces, the MO 32 was said to eliminate rebel activities in the area to which the government insisted are CPP-NPA “infested”.
“…[t]hese are not isolated incidents but are direct results of a national policy that systematically represses and kills Filipinos,” Pabalay said.
Anakpawis Partylist Representative Ariel Casilao also blamed the said order.
“The Duterte regime is so cutthroat that amid national and global indignation against the March 30 mass killings, it continued to attack peasants and activists, in total disregard of the people’s democratic rights, due process and rule of law,” Casilao said.
Casilao called for the immediate and unconditional releases of the victims, scrapping of trumped up charges, and the immediate revocation of MO 32.