The shadow of COPLAN ASVAL still looms over Southern Tagalog, with families and friends still seeking justice for their loved ones.
A month after COPLAN ASVAL left nine Southern Tagalog progressives dead and six more arrested, the victims’ families, colleagues, and paralegal teams of the victims reiterated their plea to government agencies that the murdered were innocent people.
Letters and appeals were sent to officials of the Office of the Vice President (OVP), Department of Justice (DOJ), Senate of the Philippines, House of Representatives, and the Batangas local government through human rights alliance Karapatan (TK) Timog Katagalugan. This was done in the hopes that the investigation into the massacre would speed-up. (READ: 5 patay, 7 arestado matapos ang ‘Bloody Sunday’ sa Timog Katagalugan).
Karapatan-TK spokesperson Kyle Salgado explained that for the DOJ to prove that the law is prevalent in arrests and killings, they need to act quicker than security forces. Itigil ang pagpapagamit ng mga korte bilang search warrant factories at parusahan ang mga punong sangkot sa red-tagging at mga paglabag sa karapatang pantao,” he said. whom they claim to come-up with excuses and utilize courts for warrants.
“Hinihimok namin ang DOJ at iba pang mga ahensya ng gobyerno na pabilisin ang imbestigasyon hinggil sa Bloody Sunday massacre, at gumawa na ng mga angkop na hakbang para pigilan ang pagdami ng mga pinapaslang at iligal na inaaresto,” he added.
Salgado said that perpetrators will repeatedly shed the blood of their victims if abuse remains unchecked.
In an online protest conducted by Defend Southern Tagalog (ST) last April 7, different groups, networks, and activist movements, express their dismay towards the slow process of the investigation and the still ongoing abuse towards progresive groups and individuals in light ofthe recent murder of labor leader Dandy Miguel (READ: Lider manggagawa Dandy Miguel, patay matapos pagbabarilin sa Calamba).
“Justice delayed is justice denied. At sa harap ng tumitinding atake ng pasismo ng estado, naririto pa rin ang iba’t-ibang mga organisasyon na patuloy na kikilos, lalaban, makikibaka, at maninindigan para sa hustisya at katarungan para mga kasamang pinatay at kasalakuyang nakakulong” Defend ST spokesperson Charm Maranan said, calling to free jailed activists and to give justice to victims of the state’s fascist actions.
Brutal force and police chase
Earlier on March 12, Defend ST conducted an online press conference, a week after “Bloody Sunday,” for relatives of the crackdown victims to share their testimonies regarding the arrests and killings.
Santiago Bacasno, condemned the killing of his son, Mark Lee Bacasno, also a member of Rizal-based urban poor group San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD-K3). He said that Mark Lee was only making a living for his family. Santiago questions if this is the implication of the Terror Law, highlighting that the police, who immediately killed Makmak, presented no arrest warrant.
“Nakikibaka siya sa buhay, para buhayin ang kanyang mga anak. Hindi po maganda ang nangyayari sa mundo natin, sa batas ng Pilipinas. Bakit ganun? Patay agad, wala nang tanong-tanong. Masakit po,” he said, expressing his fear of armed forces having no mercy for the poor.
Jerry Caristia from Karapatan Cavite’s paralegal team recounts the circumstances that led to Emmanuel “Ka Manny” Asuncion’s death in Dasmariñas, Cavite. Asuncion served as coordinator and spokesperson for Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Cavite.
Caristia recalled that four vans and three police vehicles arrived at the Workers’ Assistance Center (WAC) in Cavite, forcibly entering Asuncion’s office. This alarmed two of Asuncion’s companions. The police reportedly beat both of his colleagues, before dragging them outside without presenting any warrant or explanation.
“Narinig nilang si Ka Manny ay nakikiusap doon sa mga kapulisan na, ‘Tao rin naman kami, maawa naman kayo,’ at hindi rin nagtatagal ay nakarinig na sila ng putok doon sa second floor,” Caristia recalled. From the second floor, he remembered Asuncion’s body being dragged downstairs where Asuncion was brought to the hospital without bringing his wife and staff.
Asuncion’s wife Liezel called for justice.
“Kami po’y nanawagan ng hustisya – hustisya sa lahat ng mga biktima na walang hagos sa pagpaslang […] kailangan makamtan natin ang hustisya. ‘Yun lamang, bahala na ang D’yos sa kanila,” she said.
According to BAYAN Southern Tagalog (ST), Asuncion reportedly received regular harassment within the communities he serves. BAYAN ST tried reaching out to his office on the morning of the incident, only to receive news from concerned neighbors that Asuncion was already dead.
BAYAN ST spokesperson Casey Cruz raised the suspicion that the operatives who arrived at the WAC in Cavite came from Bay Municipal Police station. Bay, Laguna is distant from Rosario and Dasmariñas, Cavite, where the police claimed to have reached after chasing Asuncion. Cruz said that this manifests the irregularities of the police operation.
“May mga intelligence na nagsasabi na halos limang taon na daw nila hinahanap si Ka Manny na napakataliwas dun sa gawain ni Kuya Manny,” said Cruz. She emphasized Asuncion’s active participation in rallies, adding that he was a person who had nothing sinister to hide.
Together with Asuncion, among those who were killed in the massacre were couple Ana Marie “Chai” Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista from Nasugbu, Batangas. Both of whom are staffers of Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA). According to the accounts of the couple’s nine-year-old child, which were reported by Salgado himself, the couple were hunted by police, awakened with their loud knocking, and then dragged out of their cottage.
Police initially entered a different location from where the husband and wife were found which was a few cottages away from their home addressed in the search warrant. The police then brought the couple to the warrant’s indicated location of Sitio Hulu, Brgy. Calayo in Nasugbu, Batangas, where they were later killed. Salgado said that this might be the police’s scheme into legitimizing their operation, given that their search warrant was on a different address.
The local community was said by Salgado to be shocked about the news, since Chai only rents cottages owned by their family and Ariel is a simple fisherman. The operation was also done too early for any witnesses.
“Itong sina Chai Evangelista ‘tsaka si Ariel Evangelista ay ka’y kapwa rin mga organizers […] ang family talaga nila ay family ng mga organizers sa Batangas no’ at subjected na talaga sila sa mga harassment even before the time of their arrest, the time of their death …,” Salgado explained.
Salgado further criticized the brutality against activists who he said represent the interest of the minorities.
“Ang sinusukli ng gobyernong ito ay ang pangre-red tag, pagpatatanim ng armas, at ito na nga ang malala, ang pagpaslang sa mga mararangal at prinsipyadong tao,” Salgado said. He brought up how the culture of impunity let perpetrators freely get away from their actions, while the victims’ families are left suffering and pleading for justice.
Planted guns and explosives
The remaining victims’ relatives and colleagues express similar accounts of police barging into their homes and offices, where guns and explosives immediately “appear” as the operatives do their search.
Testimonies were also shared by Madelyn Lanzanas, daughter of jailed Karapatan paralegal and KAPATID – Families and Friends of Political Prisoners member Nimfa Lanzanas, narrating the time when her children and mother were awakened with a search warrant.
“Mga 4:50 AM daw po, pinasok sila, ginising sila para palabasin ng bahay. Bago sila lumabas bukas pa yung ilaw non, nung silipin ng mama ko, patay na,” the young Lanzanas said.
During the search, she said that a van carrying black uniformed personnel arrived at the scene where they then called her mother inside to report that a piston and armalite was found.
“Imposible nga pong magkaroon kami ng ganun sa bahay. Ang panawagan ko lang po na sana makalabas na si mama kasi sa edad niyang 61, sa estado namin sa buhay, wala po kaming kakayahan na magkaroon ng ganong bagay sa bahay,” she said.
Meanwhile, Marife Valdeavilla, a fellow volunteer of jailed Elizabeth Camoral from Defend Yulo Farmers, recounted that the police immediately went to the rooms of Camoral’s house. She said police ordered them to drop on the ground without any search warrant which only came after 30 minutes since their arrival. She claimed that the gun found was planted by the operatives from Philippine National Police (PNP) Cabuyao.
“Wala po kaming gano’n sa opisina. Kami ay mga volunteer lang po ng Defend Yulo Farmers na tumutulong sa mga magsasaka, na humihingi ng tulong para sa usapin ng lupa ng mga magsasaka sa Hacienda Yulo. Wala po kaming tinatago na kahit ano pong baril o kung ano pang bagay na kahina-hinala duon sa loob ng opisina namin,” Valdeavilla said.
Carl Corcolon, son of Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) National Council member and Water System Employees Response (WATER) Secretary-General Ramir Corcolon, said that the police’s claim that weapons were found in their home was not credible.
He emphasized that his father served as a government employee for decades, so he was well aware of the repercussions in owning those firearms.
“Kaya hindi rin ho kami makapaniwala na mangyayari ho sa kanya ito, dahil ang tatay ko ay maprinsipyong tao, at alam ng napakaraming tao, lalo na ng mga natulungan niya na hindi siya ganun na tao na may masamang hangarin sa kapwa niya,” he stated.
Corcolon said that his father worked hard in sending them to decent schools, and even enrolled him in a review center for his board exams. He said that he and his family worked honorably, denying that his father was an armed rebel or a member of a criminal organization that leads in robbery extortion, as claimed by the PNP.
The senior Corcolon was one of the two labor leaders arrested before COPLAN ASVAL. The other being Arnedo Lagunias, an ex-official of labor groups Lakas ng Manggagawang Nagkakaisa sa Honda (LMNH-OLALIA-KMU) and Alyansa ng Manggagawa sa Engklabo (AMEN). Both were reportedly reigned-in on bogus charges (READ: 2 lider-unyon sa Laguna, inaresto sa magkaparehong araw).
When asked about their call to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, Corcolon asked for help for the release of his father.
“So sinabi ko nga ho na ang tatay ko ay nagsisilbi sa gobyerno ng halos 30 years na, walang derogatory record, walang criminal record… mapapatunayan lang ho ito na ang tatay ko ay hindi isang terorista, armed rebel, o kahit anong miyembro ng criminal group.”
The latest online protest reiterated these calls for justice after a month of continuous demands for accountability against the attacks. Osram Amolat of the Free Nimfa Lanzanas campaign highlighted how Nimfa Lanzanas has been calling for the release of her son, who is a political prisoner for seven years, but is now also jailed for her “alleged” case.
Amolat condemned in what she claims to be illegal arrest and planting of evidence towards progressive individuals like Lanzana. “Buong lakas namin ipinapanawagan ang agarang paglaya ni Nanay Nimfa at ibasura ang lahat na gawa-gawang kaso laban dito. Panagutin ang rehimeng Duterte sa mga lumalalang atake sa Timog Katagalugan, palayain ang mga bilangong politikal sa buong bansa” she said.
May there be justice
Days after the letters were sent, DOJ secretary Menardo Guevara acknowledged that the office has received them and plans to have a dialogue with the families, including those of the slain Evangelista couple about the investigation
“We’re happy that the families of the victims have expressed trust in the AO 35 committee. We’ll surely coordinate with them during the investigation,” Guevarra said. He also stated that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) hasn’t directed an initial report to the DOJ.
Meanwhile, the provincial internal affairs service (IAS) of PNP Batangas recommended an “administrative case of grave irregularity” against the police involved in the murders of the Evangelistas.
It is yet to be determined which PNP office would officiate the filing of the case but Karapatan-TK said that the families are already arranging their next steps with their paralegal teams.
Despite these seeming steps towards justice, police accused BAYAN-Batangas spokesperson Erlino “Lino” Baez for illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Baez was one of the activists whose house was raided on COPLAN ASVAL.
The complaint was issued by Sto. Tomas Batangas prosecutor Geronimo Gonzales last March 29, with Panday Sining Batangas (PSB) adding that Baez’s camp was unaware of it until his paralegals brought a case to the DOJ. He is expected to submit his counter-affidavit against these accusations on April 22 and 29. [P]
[P] File Photo by Dianne Sanchez
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