A red-tagged doctor and her husband were gunned down by men riding in tandem yesterday at around 5:30 PM, near their home in Carmen Ville Subdivision, Brgy. Poblacion, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental.
According to human-rights group Karapatan Negros Island, the victims were identified as Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan, city health officer based in Guihulngan City as well as the head of the Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) in the city, and Edwin Sancelan, a local government officer. She was the only doctor in the city.
“We believe that this is part of the liquidation operation of the NTF-ELCAC,” the group said.
Prior to the murders, Dr. Sancelan had been placed in the Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Komunista’s (KAGUBAK) hitlist, wherein they claimed that Dr. Sancelan was a certain “JB Regalado,” the spokesperson of Leonardo Panaligan Command of NPA Central Negros.
According to Guihulngan City Police Chief Bonifacio Tecson, five others in the hit list had been killed beforehand, making her the sixth person to be killed in KAGUBAK’s hit list. These five included lawyer Anthony Trinidad (14th on the list), Heidi Malalay Flores (11th), Roberto Caday (12th), and Boy Litong and his son (both in 15th).
The Guihulngan City Inter-Agency Task Force against Emerging Infectious Diseases (GCIATF-ED) released a statement earlier today, mourning the loss of their Incident Commander.
“The Task Force reels from the loss of a courageous and dedicated frontliner who was instrumental in placing under control the previous spike of COVID-19 cases in the City last November,” said GCIATF-EID.
Additionally, the task force expressed confusion and shock over the murder of their fellow frontline worker.
“Even now, we grapple to fill the gaping void Dr. Sancelan left in the service and in the Task Force. We ask the public for time, for us to come to terms with our grief and our sense of loss,” GCIATF-EID said.
The Council for Health and Development (CHD), a national organization of community-based health programs in the Philippines, condemned the murders.
“We are enraged that such [an] act of impunity knows no bound[s] even at a time when the whole nation is gripped by the pandemic. Her killers deprived the people of Guihulngan much needed health services especially in this most difficult time,” the CHD said.
CHD added that, having finished medical school through the help of the Franciscan friars who supported her, Dr. Sanchelan chose to serve Guihulngan as its only public health physician instead of going to the cities.
They described the doctor as “a quiet, soft-spoken and dedicated doctor whose gargantuan tasks as the city health officer involved not just medical consultation but administrative work as well.”
Meanwhile, Karapatan condemned the killing of the couple, arguing that this incident further proved the fears associated with red-tagging.
“Their killing reveals that the threats of tagging individuals as part of the New People’s Army are real and certainly not contrived,” said Karapatan.
Karapatan added that the murder was only the latest in a series of killings following red-tagging, citing Executive Order No. 70 and Memorandum Order No. 32 as having “legitimized” the increase in presence of state forces in various provinces.
“How many more people need to suffer the fate of the dozens of individuals killed – red-tagged as terrorists and then end up dead? Health frontliners like them who rendered invaluable service and sacrifice especially during the pandemic were not only exposed to a deadly virus but to a dangerous political environment,” Karapatan said.
House deputy minority leader Carlos Zarate lambasted the attack, considering it the “height of impunity” given that the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor had only recently released its initial report. The report said there was “reasonable basis” to believe Duterte’s drug war was responsible for crimes against humanity.
“It is as if the undemocratic and militarist forces in this country [are] daring the office to take action now because these forces are protected and cannot be touched,” said Zarate.
Zarate noted that Sancelan’s death was “tragically ironic” because she was the head of the GCIATF-ED, and held a large amount of responsibility for the pandemic response in her area.
“These assassins really respect no one. Like those who hanged tarpaulins red tagging Bayan Muna and the Makabayan bloc at U.P Los Banos last night, they are daring everyone to catch them because they believe they are [u]ntouchable under this administration,” Zarate said.
“Her only crime, much like the soon-to-be born-infant Jesus in a manger, was her unselfish service to the poor people of Guihulngan – both as a ‘bario doctor’ and as ‘defender of the poor,’ the bishop said.
Furthermore, Alminaza noted the contrast between her service to the government and the failure of the government to protect her.
“Dr. Sancelan’s life and her commitment to true government service deserved a worthy recognition. Sadly, the same government that was expected to recognize her dedication to government service, failed to protect her,” Alimanza said, wondering how can the people trust the government.
He then encouraged people to join him in prayer against the “senseless” and “unstoppable murders” they were currently facing.
National labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) denounced the “merciless” shooting of the couple.
“Ang pagpaslang sa kanya ay unti-unti ring pagpatay sa kakayahan ng mamamayan na bumangon mula sa, at sugpuin ang pandemyang COVID-19. Kahit health workers ay di ligtas patakarang Kill, Kill, Kill ng rehimen,” said the group.
Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines urged to stop the attacks, noting that Dr. Sancelan was the only doctor in Barangay Calamba prior to her murder.
“We condemn this series of harassment, silencing, and another brutal killing! We denounce the spate of killings & other forms of state fascism against the Filipino people!” said the organization.
Following this murder, a seperate shooting was reported in Guihulngan at 5:30 pm in Barangay Calamba. The victim was a 50-year-old resident identified as Saeler “Israel” Alsong who was also killed by a riding-in-tandem. [P]
Photo from Dr. Mary Rose Genisan Sancelan / Facebook