Last December 1, nearly nine months after the infamous Bloody Sunday massacre that left nine progressives dead and four arrested, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Administrative Order (AO) 35 Special Investigating Team (SIT) has recommended the filing of murder complaints against 17 policemen who were involved in the killing of labor leader Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion.
Several progressive groups including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Cavite, Defend Southern Tagalog (ST), and Bayan Muna Partylist have expressed their support for the DOJ’s move.
In an interview with the Perspective, BAYAN-Cavite spokesperson Jerry Caristia expressed that they welcome the DOJ’s recommendation to file murder complaints against 17 policemen who were involved in the crime.
“Isa itong malaking tulong at kinikilala ng BAYAN-Cavite ang naging papel ng AO 35 ng DOJ para kasuhan yung mga PNP [Philippine National Police] personnel. Isa itong malaking tagumpay sa mga mamamayan at kahit papaano, natatanaw ng mga mamamayan ng Cavite na papalapit na ang hustisya,” Caristia expressed.
[“This move is a huge help and BAYAN-Cavite recognizes the role of DOJ AO 35 to file charges against the PNP personnel involved in the crime. This is a huge victory for the citizens and in some way, citizens of Cavite see that justice will finally be served.”]
AO 35 established the “Inter-Agency Committee on extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons”.
The 17 law enforcement agents who will face murder complaints are PLT. Elbert M. Santos; PLT. Shay Jed Sapitulla; PSMS Hector R. Cardinales; PMSSG Ariel P. dela Cruz; PSSG Joemark Sajul; PCPL Ernie A. Ambuyoc; PCCPL Mark John A. Defiesta; PCPL Arjay Garcia; PCPL Caidar Dimacangun; PCPL Bryan Sanchez; PCPL Ericson Lucido; Pat. Jayson Maala; Pat. Juanito Plite; Pat. Jonathan Tatel; Pat. Prince Benjamin Torres; Pat. Jaime Turingan; and Pat. Lopera Rey Dacara.
Makabayan senatorial candidate and Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares shared Caristia’s sentiment in a Facebook post, saying that the move is a “small victory for human rights”. However, he emphasized that there must be a continuous fight for justice for the other human rights violations victims under the Duterte regime.
“The pursuit of justice should not end with this indictment. There are still hundreds of murder cases that need to move forward to find closure and justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings under this administration. Only until all lives lost under this impunity are accounted for and given justice can we claim victory,” Colmenares added.
Meanwhile, Defend ST spokesperson Charm Maranan stated that the DOJ’s move is “a step in the right direction” and is a result of the collective fight for justice of the families of the victims, their legal representatives, and other allies in democratic spaces.
“The move to press charges against the perpetrators for assassinating Ka Manny is a step in the right direction, and shows Ka Manny’s glaring innocence from the ‘nanlaban’ tag by the police that allegedly warranted police to shoot and kill Asuncion. Charges against those currently jailed should also be dropped,” Maranan added.
In a statement, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also supported the DOJ’s move and reiterated their plea for the protection of activists and human rights defenders.
“It is expedient that the government will ensure accountability and justice for each death and other alleged cases of extrajudicial killings to demonstrate seriousness in fighting the pervading climate of impunity. We hope that this development will provide the momentum to propel more actions that can show [the] government’s regard for life and adherence to the rule of law,” CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.
Justice for all
The murder of Ka Manny is the first case in the Bloody Sunday massacre where murder complaints have been recommended against the suspected perpetrators. Caristia stated that they are calling for the same steps to be followed for the eight other cases.
“Kaisa rin kami ng mga iba pang BAYAN chapters sa Southern Tagalog. Kailangan din kasuhan yung mga ibang PNP personnel na nag-conduct ng police operation sa iba pang biktima ng Bloody Sunday. Kung may nakitang dahilan ang DOJ at ang AO 35 panel na kasuhan yung 17 [na pulisyang kabilang sa pagpatay kay Ka Manny], inaasahan namin na ganun din ang maiging actions nila sa mga ibang biktima,” Caristia said.
[“We are one with the other BAYAN chapters in Southern Tagalog. They also need to file charges against the other PNP personnel who conducted police operations leading to the deaths of the other Bloody Sunday victims. If the DOJ AO 35 panel saw a reason to file charges against the 17 policemen involved in the killing of Ka Manny, we hope that those actions will be the same for the other victims.”]
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that in addition to providing justice to those killed in the Bloody Sunday massacre, those who were imprisoned during that day should be released.
“All victims of the Bloody Sunday raids deserve no less than justice. Those who remain imprisoned such as human rights worker Nimfa Lanzanas should be released, and we continue to urge that similar murder charges be brought against the perpetrators and commanding officers involved in the killings of all the nine who were killed,” Palabay said.
In addition to the announcement of AO 35 SIT’s move in Ka Manny’s case last December 1, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also said that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is “winding up its interviews of witnesses” for the death of partners Ariel Evangelista and Anna Mariz “Chai” Lemita-Evangelista. Guevarra added that the AO 35 SIT report on the couple will be out in “about two weeks”.
The Evangelistas are part of the environmental group Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA).
Furthermore, Guevarra announced that the killings of Puroy dela Cruz and Randy “Pulong” dela Cruz were not included in the AO 35 because “no cause-oriented connection was established”. The two are indigenous Dumagats who have fought against the building of the Kaliwa Dam.
However, Maranan disagreed with Guevarra’s statement and said that the deaths of the two dela Cruz — as well as those of Abner Damas Mendoza Esto and Edward Damas Mendoza Esto, members of San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD-K3) — were politically motivated.
“We attest that there is clear motive from the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the PNP, such as their local peace engagements in Dumagat areas in Rizal province, adding to the weight of the dela Cruzes’ and Estos’ deaths as politically-motivated killings. The DOJ should have [taken] note of these circumstances, and the cases of harassment from the 2nd Infantry Division of the AFP and PNP Rizal be noted,” Maranan said.
A hero’s legacy
Before becoming a labor leader and activist, Ka Manny himself was a worker in the late 90’s for the Enlin Steel Corporation in the Cavite Economic Zone in Rosario, Cavite. He was illegally laid off from work and sought help from Father Joe Dizon and the Cavite Workers Assistance Center (WAC) for his case.
“And then, through time unti-unting naunawaan ni Ka Manny yung papel ng mga manggagawa at yung pag-uunyon, yung karapatan sa pag-uunyon para sa pagsusulong ng interest hindi lamang ng kanyang sarili, ng kanyang pamilya o ng kanyang hanapbuhay kundi lahat ng manggagawa sa Cavite,” Caristia explained.
[“Through time, Ka Manny realized the role of workers and unionism, the right to form unions to forward not only his own interests or the interests of his family, but for the interests of all Cavite workers.”]
He then became part of the Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW) and eventually became its secretary general. He was a full-time organizer for workers in Cavite, especially in the Cavite Economic Zone.
Ka Manny was also said to have extended help to poor communities in the province, as well as peasants from communities including Lupang Ramos and Lupang Kapdula, which are some of the farmers’ communities suffering harassment from state forces and private entities.
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Ka Manny was eventually elected as the secretary general of BAYAN-Cavite. He was holding the said position when he was shot multiple times by policemen last March 7. His last words were “Tao rin naman kami” [“We are people too”].
“Talagang nakay Manny Asuncion na yung lahat ng katangian na dapat taglayin ng isang aktibista. Isa siyang mahusay na organisador. Isa siyang mahusay ng mobilisador. Isa siyang mahusay na propagandista at edukador. Kaya sa pagkawala niya nung March 7, talagang napakalaki ng epekto ng mga mamamayan sa Cavite,” Caristia said.
[“Asuncion has all the characteristics that an activist must have. He is an excellent organizer. He is an excellent mobilizer. He is an excellent propagandist and educator. That is why his death last March 7 has a huge impact on Cavite citizens.”]
Continuous calls for justice
On the motive behind Ka Manny’s killing, Caristia said that the target of anti-insurgency programs have always been legitimate organizations whose aim is to help the masses.
“Malinaw naman sa aming pananaw at malinaw sa aming paniniwala na wala namang ibang dahilan ng pagpatay kay Manny Asuncion kundi yung kanyang patuloy na pagsusulong ng interest ng mga mamamayan,” Caristia said.
[“It is clear to our perspective and belief that there is no other reason for Asuncion’s killing other than his continuous actions to forward the interests of citizens.”]
Caristia emphasized that the fight for justice for Ka Manny continues.
“Kaya noong nakaraan, tuloy-tuloy yung pagsisikap na mapanagot yung lahat ng dapat na managot sa pagkamatay ni Ka Manny Asuncion kasabay rin nung pagpapanawagan doon sa mga iba pang napaslang doon sa Bloody Sunday massacre,” Caristia added.
[“There are continuous efforts to hold Asuncion’s killers accountable, along with the calls for justice for the other Bloody Sunday massacre victims.”]
Caristia also explained that the youth has a very important role in exposing all formal killings, intimidation, human rights violations, and destruction of democratic spaces.
“Kung pababayaan lang ng mga kabataan yung nangyayaring pagpatay at mga extrajudicial at political killings, harassment, at human rights violations, unti-unti na talagang mawawala yung mga democratic space natin. Kaya napakahalaga talaga ng papel ng mga kabataang estudyante para itulak natin ang gobyerno na panagutin ang lahat ng dapat managot sa pagpatay kay Ka Manny at iba pang mga biktima ng Bloody Sunday Massacre,” Caristia reminded.
[“If the youth ignores the cases of extrajudicial and political killings, harassment, and other human rights violations, our democratic space will slowly fade away. The role of youth and students is important in pushing the government to hold criminals accountable, such as the killers involved in the deaths of Asuncion and other Bloody Sunday massacre victims.”] [P]