“In the end, it boils down to the question of what can we do.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — For the longest time, 27-year-old Crisa Andoy’s husband has been earning a living as a motorcycle driver in Quezon town, Bukidnon.
Their family has been making their ends meet from her husband Jeffrey Bayot’s earnings, which would fall somewhere between $4 to $9 a day. Along with Andoy’s daily income of $4 as a restaurant crew, it was enough to bring food to their table and send Bayot’s three children from his first marriage to school.
But their lives have recently been turned upside down.
On Aug. 11, at around 5:45 p.m., her husband was shot dead in their hometown. He was accused of being a “collector” for the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines even when residents practically knew each other and can testify how incredulous the accusation is.
Still, this is the fate for many farmers in the area. Peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said 15 farmers have been killed in Bukidnon alone, where martial law rule has been in place for past two years.
Bayot’s killing and how it was practically justified by a sheer vilification campaign go to show how deadly red-tagging can be — a statement human rights defenders have been saying all along.
In a speech yesterday, Sept. 12, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma urged church leaders and peace advocates to “listen to the stories on the ground” as they ring out loud and clear their calls for the resumption of peace talks in light of the worsening human rights situation under President Rodrigo Duterte.
“You cannot have a peace agreement if you are ignoring the suffering of the people,” he said.
In the first year of President Duterte, peace negotiations have accelerated unprecedentedly with its technical working groups working hand-in-hand to forge the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms.
Both parties – the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines – even entered into the longest simultaneous unilateral ceasefire in the history of peace talks.
However, during the Third Round of talks in Rome, the NDFP brought before the negotiating table the continuing military operations in many communities in the guise of civic operations even while the simultaneous unilateral ceasefires are in place. These, they said, resulted in vilification of progressive groups and other gross rights violations.
Military presence, too, has resulted in clashes with the NPA, which the Philippine government assailed.
At the same time – the agreement on social and economic reforms have reached significant milestones in addressing landlessness and lack of decent jobs in the country, to name a few.
President Duterte unilaterally terminated the peace talks and consequently declared the CPP and the NPA as terrorist groups. On the ground, however, this meant vilification campaigns against progressive groups, lawyers, student activists, and even media outfits and journalists who are critical in its reporting.
UCCP Bishop Reuel Marigza, also co-convenor of Pilgrims for Peace, lamented how President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 has implemented a so-called “whole of nation approach” in its counterinsurgency plan but is, at the end of the day, a “repackaged all-out war.”
Apart from the martial law rule in Mindanao, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform also decried the deployment of more government troops in the provinces of Negros, Bicol, and Samar, which they found “disheartening as it breeds more animosity and espouses more violence.”
No one to go to
Apart from using the entire government bureaucracy in supposedly crushing the revolutionary movement, the whole of nation approach also meant having no one to go to in times of grave human rights violation such as extrajudicial killings.
Much like the worn-out “nanlaban” (fought back) narrative for victims of Oplan Tokhang, the government anti-illegal drugs drive, those killed in Mindanao are immediately tagged as NPA members even before a proper investigation begins.
Andoy said her husband’s killing is possibly related to their support for a local candidate for the mayoralty post during the last elections. But like many others killed before her husband, he was immediately branded as NPA.
“The PNP would ask us how the case is faring when they should be the one investigating the case,” Andoy said.
One police officer even told her, “why should we help an NPA?” Even local government officials, she added, are not of any help in their quest for justice.
“But they were never able to recover a gun from my husband nor any proof that he is indeed an NPA,” Andoy said.
Reaching out to the victims
Archbishop Ledesma highlighted the importance of reaching out to the people to hear their stories to understand their plight and their calls for just and lasting peace.
Apart from church leaders, representatives from progressive and international humanitarian groups, and the diplomatic community were also present.
Long-time rights activist and former Social Welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo criticized the human rights record of the Duterte administration, from the bloody war against drugs to the attacks against human rights defenders.
She found it “chilling” that the “same henchmen” of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are the very same carrying out human rights violations under the present administration.
“In the end, it boils down to the question of what can we do,” said United Church of Christ in the Philippines Bishop Reuel Marigza said.
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima, on the other hand, said in a message that she is convinced that the rampant killings are perpetuated by those who are against peace and justice.
De Lima said, “Lahat ay may katapusan — ang mga lasing sa kapangyarihan.”
Andoy said she found solace when she heard the kind words of the bishop and the rest of speakers during the peace forum.