Progressive groups in the Philippines on Thursday condemned the killings of nine members of the largest ethnic group in the hinterlands of Panay that is opposed to a dam project on the island and demanded justice for the victims.
Calling the killings a “massacre”, members of the coalition of twelve party-lists in the Philippine House of Representatives, the Makabayan bloc said they would seek for a congressional investigation of the predawn raids by police and soldiers that led to the deaths of members of the Tumandok community.
The nine people were killed in separate raids in seven hinterland villages in Tapaz town, Capiz province, on Wednesday. One of them was Roy Giganto, a former village chief and an incumbent village councillor of Barangay Lahug.
“The year-end spate of killings in Panay is a chilling conclusion of a year marred by bloody attacks on rights defenders and ordinary citizens amid the pandemic,” said Congress Representative Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women party list.
“These butchers in uniform have long been terrorizing communities since time immemorial. Now, under a bloodthirsty Commander in Chief, they have ramped up their efforts to silence the growing number of Filipinos calling for justice and opposing development aggression,” she added.
The Gabriela Women’s Party and other members of the Makabayan bloc would file a resolution to investigate the police and military operation, Brosas said.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) meanwhile said those killed were New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who fought back when the officers served search warrants and found firearms, ammunition and explosives in their houses.
Police said 16 other villagers in Tapaz and neighboring Calinog were arrested.
Village chief Jobelyn Giganto of Lahug and Roy’s sister-in-law and neighbour, said policemen barged into his house around 4 a.m. and “dragged his wife out [of the house]and shot him.”
“We are not armed and how can they say he fought back when all of us were asleep when they came,” Jobelyn told the Inquirer by phone on Thursday.
Danilo Ramos, chairman of peasant rights advocacy group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) said the Tumanduk leaders were fighting against the construction of the multibillion-peso Jalaurmega dam in Calinog, Iloilo province, which would submerge their homes and farmlands in their ancestral land.
Some of them were also previously harassed and put under surveillance by the military, and most were accused of being rebels, Ramos said.
The Tumanduk leaders were told by the military to sign up as NPA surrenderees one month before the raids, said Defend Negros group spokesperson Ariel Casilao. When they refused, he said, they were warned that they could be charged under the new antiterrorism law.
“True enough, they were killed Negros-style,” he added, referring to the brutal massacre of farmers in Negros Oriental in 2018 and 2019.
The activist science group Agham (Science), which helped conduct an environmental investigation of the dam project, demanded justice for the Tumandok and the punishment of state forces for their “heinous crimes.”
The Jalaur River Multipurpose Project Phase II (JRMPP), locally called the Jalaur Dam, was designed to produce hydropower and supply water for irrigation in the province of Iloilo. (Source: INQUIRER.net)