THE provinces of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental have both experienced communist insurgency-related violence recently, though not in the scale of the Maasin police station attack. In Negros Occidental, the New People’s Army-Northern Negros (Roselyn Pelle Command) murdered Roberto Lumayno and Danilo Braga in Calatrava on June 22. The NPA accused Lumayno of landgrabbing, murder and other crimes against farmers. Braga, Lumayno’s driver, was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Nine days later, a game fowl farm owned by a barangay captain in Bago City was attacked. The police suspects the NPA.
In Negros Oriental, troops from the 79th Infantry Battalion encountered about 30 members of the NPA in barangay Sandayao, Guihulngan City, last June 30. The rebels were reportedly on a recruitment mission. Guihulngan is an NPA stronghold.
On June 20, the NPA-Central Negros (Leonardo Panaligan Command) killed Ronnie Montejo, a retired member of the 11th Infantry Battalion, in Canlaon City. Ronnie was a successful intel operative while in active service. He is credited with the “neutralization” of several members of the NPA in Negros, including Roselyn Pelle from whom the NPA’s Northern Negros Command took its name.
My good friend Emma Calderon is the next target of the NPA in Negros. Emma and her younger sister were themselves members of the NPA until they surrendered to the Philippine Army in November 2009. The two spent the next one-and-a-half years in jail, most of it in the Guihulngan district jail. Eventually, all the cases that had been filed against them over the years were dismissed. Unlike captured members of the NPA who are usually provided with private lawyers by NPA-allied organizations, the Calderon sisters were assisted by a lawyer from the Public Attorneys Office. He was handling the defense of nearly all of the more than 100 inmates in the jail.
Once freed, the Calderon sisters returned to the family home at the foot of Mt. Canlaon in Canlaon City. The family has a small farm and runs a business selling soft drinks, meat, vegetable seeds, among others. Emma has remained active in community affairs. She is quite a hardheaded person but always ready to sacrifice her own small comforts and safety in order to help others.
Soldiers from the Army’s 11th Infantry Battalion gave moral support to Emma and her sister while they were detained, and regularly checked on them. Emma has returned the kindness by sharing insights with the soldiers. For instance, once she lectured about herbal medicines that could be made from local plants and how to self-medicate in the mountains, far from doctors and pharmacies. She also passes information to the authorities about suspicious-looking people in the community. Some of these people turned out to be members of the NPA.
If there is something that the NPA does not forgive, it is that former members and supporters help the military. Many have been murdered in cold blood over the years.
Emma and her family—her father has been crippled after suffering a stroke—are being accused by the Leonardo Panaligan Command of landgrabbing and of abuses against the farmers. “Kung mapatunayan ng Rebolusyonaryong Hukumang Bayan, hindi magdadalawang-isip ang NPA sa paparusa sa inyo batay sa bigat ng krimeng inyong nagawa” (if the revolutionary court finds proof of these crimes, the NPA will not hesitate to impose the appropriate punishment), the NPA-Central Negros warns in a statement dated June 21 and posted on the official website of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Of course, the accusations of landgrabbing and other abuses are ridiculous and are being used as an excuse for the NPA to murder yet another of their old foes.
Ronnie Montejo served the country as an effective intelligence operative whose work led to the neutralization of numerous key NPA members. Emma, once with the NPA, an enemy of the state, turned around and committed herself to help, not undermine, the government. Ronnie is dead, Emma warned that she will be next. Is this the peace that peace talks are giving us?
One step closer to justice: Lloyd Lancer Gonzaga, the alleged mastermind of and one of two principal accused in the February 15 murder of lawyer Mia Mascariñas-Green, was finally arrested. He was caught in Davao City by a joint team composed of the Philippine National Police of Bohol and Davao City, and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Regions 7 (Central Visayas) and 11 (Davao Region). The family of Mia Green, in an emailed statement, thanked the PNP and the Duterte administration for “their tireless efforts to capture this suspect.” Gonzaga was thought to be an “untouchable” because of his connections in the PNP and NBI.
Romarico Benigian, the other principal accused in the murder of Green, remains at large. Hopefully, he will soon be joining Gonzaga at the Tagbiliran City Jail.