Philippines still plagued by killings and arrests of food producers
“It alarms us that even Filipino farmers, who are food security front liners in a country barely winning the battle against the COVID-19, have become targets of the Philippine government’s more brutal crackdown,” says Peter Murphy, Chairperson of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP).
In a statement, ICHRP, a global network of human rights advocates, has strongly condemned the killing of farmers in this time of the pandemic. On top of the already slumped agriculture and distressed food producers, the relentless killings and attacks have wreaked fear in the country’s rural areas.
The farmers slain by state forces were identified as Jeric Vuno, Jerry Palanca, Robert Villafuerte, Raymundo Tañada, and Jaime Tañada residents of Dolos village in Bulan, Sorsogon province, 600 kilometres south of Manila. According to local reports, the victims were forcibly taken from their homes and executed at around 5 am on the morning of May 8.
The massacre was denied by the Philippine authorities, who instead claimed that the farmers were rebels. However, reports say that it was the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) who arrived that day and summarily executed the residents including Robert Villafuerte, who according to locals, suffers from a mental health problem.
Neighboring residents were also harassed and beaten up by the armed authorities which resulted in physical injuries. The victims were Alvin Abuyog, Randy Golimlim, Marissa Estiller, and her two children.
Another, more recent case is the illegal arrest of farmers in Calaca, in the province of Batangas early morning of May 10 by a joint police and military operation. According to sugar workers and members of the Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Coral ni Lopez (Organisation of Farmers in Coral ni Lopez-SAMACOLO), the seized victims were Virgilio Vidal, Marcelo Vidal, July Julongbayan, Leovino Julongbayan, Doroteo Bautista and Roilan Tenorio. The farmers’ group said that they were illegally arrested and that the arresting team forcibly entered the houses and planted guns, ammunition, and explosives. Local residents said that some of those arrested are their village officials and had been facilitating the distribution of cash aid a day before the incident.
The global human rights group has condemned President Duterte for using the COVID-19 as an occasion if not an excuse to further his aims to implement de facto martial law throughout the country. ICHRP highlighted the comment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet that the Philippines’ “highly militarised response” to the pandemic had led to the arrest of more than 120,000 people including activists leading relief efforts.
“It is but heartbreaking and ironic that the killings and abuses continue at a time when we are trying to save lives from the lethal coronavirus,” says ICHRP. The government’s counterinsurgency operations in rural areas have been non-stop despite UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ reiteration for a global ceasefire. With the massacre in Sorsogon and the recent arrests in Batangas, food producers and rural folks have become the collateral damage. Since Duterte became president, there have been nearly 250 political killings of farmers.
“We call on our international colleagues to press for the accountability of state forces in the killings, arrests and other human rights violations in the Philippines,” ICHRP concluded.#