FARMERS AND PEASANT ADVOCATES, ENDANGERED! JUNK ANTI TERROR LAW!
Farmers and peasant advocates are being killed and many Filipinos are still in dire poverty. At least 260 farmers were killed under Duterte’s presidency as of July 2020. Intensified militarization of peasant communities including the aerial bombing in Eastern Visayas last October 2019 and the dropping of eight bombs last July 15, 2020 in Lianga, Surigao del Sur continue to displace and traumatize farmers and their families.
While we face worsening poverty due to the economic crisis brought by the health crisis, the pandemic is being exploited to advance corporate interests and their corrupt counterparts in the government and to further oppress peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities through militarization, terrorist-tagging, and enactment of laws that violate even the most basic human rights. Peasant advocates and development workers are not spared from these.
Last August 10, 2020, Randall “Randy” Echanis, a peasant leader and longtime activist and peace consultant, was killed in his own home in the early morning. He chaired the Anakpawis Partylist. He was active in their peace-making negotiations with the Philippine government, and participated in the joint working committee that produced the CASER or Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms, which aimed to address the roots of the armed conflict that has persisted for the past 50 years.
He was also a member of the technical working group of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL), the first of the four-item substantive agenda in the peace negotiations between the Philippine Government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Signed in 1998, the CARHRIHL was a product of the peace process that aims to end the decades-long armed conflict via negotiated political settlement.
Ka Randy’s aspirations are ingrained in the promised reforms contained in the Genuine Agrarain Reform Bill (originally sponsored by his partylist) and CASER that could better the lives of millions of Filipinos.
On the night of August 17, 2020, Zara Alvarez was gunned down while on her way to her apartment unit. She was the research and advocacy officer of the Negros Island Health Integrated Program, an NGO that serves peasant and poor communities. She has been instrumental in the documentation of human rights violations against farmers and other rural poor, and in the conduct of numerous fact-finding missions on peasant killings such as that of Sagay Massacre last 2018.
Like Echanis and other development workers and peasant advocates, Alvarez was tagged among the more than 600 people that the Department of Justice wanted to declare as terrorists in a proscription case filed in February 2018.
Progressive groups already raised alarm over posters and tarpaulins hanged in strategic sites in their respective regions tagging known leaders of people’s organizations and NGOs as early as April of this year. The recent ones are the reported posters bearing the names and photos of development workers and peasant and lumad advocates several places in Davao City which branded them as “human rights violators’’ and “berdugo’’ or executioners.
Negros is once again under attack. Three days before the killing of Alvarez, Reken Remasog, a 24-year old farmer and father to a nine-month old son, was amputated and shot dead by the elements of 62nd IB of the Philippine Army on August 14, 2020, in Sitio Maluy-a, Brgy. Sandayao, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental. Neighbors account say Reken's legs were broken and his lifeless body bore signs of physical violence. His younger brother, Reniel, 17, along with two other minors, Meriam Benero, 17, and Mary Ann Pesculado, 15. were illegally arrested and facing trumped-up charges of murder. They are currently detained and in the custody of the 62nd IB who falsely claimed the minors to be NPA recruits.
Two hours after Zara Alvarez was murdered, Karapatan Negros Island Secretary General Clarizza Singson also received death threats saying "she is next".
The red-tagging/conditioning is a prelude to more vicious attack carried by those who are eager to silence dissent.The passing of the Anti-Terrorism Law has emboldened elements behind this smear campaign against progressive leaders and development workers making them clear targets.
The struggle for the realization of people's rights is still a long way to go. The Filipino people will continue to fight for equal and sustainable development, a genuine land reform and national industrialization for a genuine development that is based on peace and social justice.##