THE July 21 ambush in Guihulngan City that saw the New People’s Army kill six policemen signaled an escalation of violence in this city. Two days after, 28-year-old Glenn Absin, who had once been charged with rebellion, was shot dead in front of his four-year-old son. The following day, Alberto Tecson, the local leader of a fisherfolk group, was killed in front of his two children.
Estrellita Estandarte was walking along the highway early in the morning when she was shot by a motorcycle-riding assassin. Barangay Hinakpan Capt. Leudigario Binera was killed in front of his house. Farmer Arcadio Jurado was attacked and shot dead while grazing his carabao. Oscar Asildo, Jr., a Bayan Muna organizer and an employee of the Department of Education, was killed at 11 in the morning in front of a building where students were taking a national assessment test.
These are some of the more recent victims of extra-judicial killing in this central Negros city of 96,000 inhabitants.
“It’s so scary and we don’t know when it will end. It seems that every party is taking revenge or anyone has taken advantage of the situation. It really isn’t safe anymore,” a local teacher told me.
A friend who works with the provincial government observed that many suspect that the government is behind the killings. “All (the peace and development efforts) that we have done especially in those Red areas have been put to waste because of this violence,” he said.
The four Catholic dioceses in Negros have issued a pastoral letter expressing deep concern over the killings, with particular mention of Guihulngan.
To justify the July 21 ambush, the NPA presented a list of crimes allegedly committed by the Guihulngan city police. The most prominent of these was the gruesome Calago double murder with arson. To recall, unidentified assailants attacked the Calago home in Barangay Tacpao on the evening of May 24, 2015. Endric Calago, a barangay councilor and leader of a local affiliate of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, was riddled with bullets from an M16 (the police recovered 63 empty shells from the crime scene). His wife, Rosalie, a barangay health worker, died from suffocation as the house was set on fire. Her body was burned beyond recognition.
The local police – and the Commission on Human Rights – pointed to the NPA as the perpetrator. The case was declared solved. The evidence: fliers found at and near the scene of the crime with the logo of the NPA Central Negros. They appeared to be statements informing the public that Endric had been sentenced to death for his betrayal of the people. However, the NPA, in its official website, disowned these ‘statements’ as fabricated and accused the Army’s 11th Infantry Battalion of murdering the couple. The Calagos were known to be hostile to the military.
On May 24, the second anniversary of the double murder, the NPA Central Negros issued a statement repeating this allegation: “Ang mag-asawa nga Calago brutal nga ginpatay sang mga katapo sang 11th IBPA sadtong Mayo 24, 2015.”
After the bloody July 21 ambush, however, the NPA shifted the blame to the police. The August edition of their publication Ang Bayan states that the “police also shot and burned to death barangay councilman Endrique Calago and spouse Rosalie on May 2015.”
The Guihulngan police, in response, posted a Facebook message on August 14 not only reiterating that the NPA had killed the Calagos, but claiming that Endric was a recipient of a livelihood project from Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo and that he had shaken the hands of soldiers a week before he and his wife were murdered. This supposedly angered the NPA. However, those of us who followed events in Tacpao on May 2015 never heard of this—and we were actually there. Tacpao is a very small community that made it to the news on May 7, 2015 when Degamo’s convoy was ambushed.
As for the recent killings, the police allege that the NPA is purging its ranks but has presented no evidence to support this view. The NPA blames the police and accuses the latter of paying some members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Bongcayao Brigade to kill ‘innocent civilians’.
The hatred in the hearts of the relatives of those killed lives on. For every killing perpetrated by one side, there will be more hatred, more thirst for revenge.
Since the pullout of army troops last year, the NPA has recruited and trained more fighters, according to the NPA Negros Island Command. The July 21 ambush was proof of that. Did some of the civilian victims help the NPA? Some were definitely connected with organizations known to support the NPA.
If, on the other hand, the NPA perpetrated the killings, as claimed by the police, where is the evidence? The NPA is a criminal organization while the job of the police is to prevent and solve crimes.