Stop the Killings of Peace Consultants in the Philippines!

On Friday, May 28th, elderly peace consultant and former priest Rustico L. Tan was shot and killed while sleeping in his home in Pilar, Camotes Island. Tan had been abducted by state forces in 2017 and charged with murder, before the charges were dismissed in 2019. He was charged again in 2019, at age 78, with charges filed in Bacolod City. He was released on bail, with his last hearing only the day before his murder. Before his death, Tan had been an organic farmer on Camotes Island.

Just the day before, Thursday May 27th, the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Western Visayas (PNP-CIDGWV) killed Reynaldo Bocala and Willy Epago in Iloilo, Panay. This is the same unit, headed by Colonel Gervacio Balmaceda Jr., who were responsible for the massacre and mass arrests of indigenous Tumandok community leaders in December 2020. Subsequent to those killings and mass arrests, Julie Catamin, a Tumandok barangay captain who had photos of CIDGWV members planting evidence at the scene of the massacres, was also assassinated. Not long after this, A.K. Guillen, lawyer for the Tumandok prisoners, was stabbed in Iloilo.

Bocala was the husband of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant “Concha” Araneta-Bocala. Both Bocala and Araneta-Bocala fall under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed by the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in 1995. The JASIG protects those involved in the peace process in the Philippines from “surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions.”

Since November 2017, when President Duterte unilaterally canceled peace talks between the rival governments, consultants to the peace process have been the targets of harassment, mass arrests, and extra-judicial killings. This pattern includes direct killings by state forces and assassinations by anonymous assailants.

Thus far, five consultants have been assassinated or killed: Randy Echanis (72 years old, tortured to death in his home in August 2020), Agaton Topacio and Eugenia Magpantay (68 years old, killed by police in their home in November 2020), Randy Malayao (assassinated during a bus ride in January 2019), and Julius Giron (killed by police at age 70, while convalescing in Baguio City).

Another eight consultants have been arrested, including Rey Claro Casambre (69yo), Adelberto Silva (74yo), Vicente Ladlad (72yo), Ferdinand Castillo (60), former priest Frank Fernandez (73yo), Reynante Gamara (63yo) and Esterlita Suaybaguio (60), and Wilfredo Mapano (74yo). These arrests have universally included trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, despite the advanced age and often ill-health of the consultants.

These killings represent the violent repression of the legitimate struggle of the Filipino people against the US-backed Government of the Philippines. The NDFP and their peace consultants represent the people in their fight for an alternative that represents the interests of the broad masses. In criminalizing opposition, the current US-Duterte regime further delegitimizes itself and descends further into fascism. It heads toward all-out war against peace consultants under special protections, and against ordinary citizens. 

We extend our sympathy to the families of Tan, Bocala, and Epago, and call for justice for their deaths. We call for the GRP to return to the peace talks process and for the Canadian government to impose sanctions against NTF-ELCAC spokespersons Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and Lorraine Badoy from entering Canada. These would be appropriate actions for the GRP and Canada to take in light of the string of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings associated with the NTF-ELCAC.

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