ITOGON LAND DEFENSE ACTIVIST: NEXT DEATH SQUAD TARGET?Published by MAC on 2006-05-17
ITOGON LAND DEFENSE ACTIVIST: NEXT DEATH SQUAD TARGET?
17th May 2006
APIT TAKO MEDIA ALERT
The 94th political activist to die at the hands of GMA's death squads was Jose Doton, Chair of the anti-dam alliance TIMMAWA (Tignay dagiti Mannalon a Mangwayawaya iti Agno or Peasant Movement to Free the Agno), killed between 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on May 16, some two kilometers from his home in the municipality of San Nicolas, on the Agno river's floodplains in Pangasinan. We fear that the next intended victim is his former Council of Elders member, Virgilio Aniceto of Itogon, Benguet.
Like Doton, Aniceto is a leader in a local chapter of the militant KMP (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or Peasant Movement of the Philippines). And like many other recent victims of political assassination, Aniceto is a pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
In recent weeks, Aniceto has been tailed by three men, one boarding the jeepney with him everytime he heads home, and two following the jeepney on a motorcycle, also of the racer type which Doton's killers rode. In Aniceto's home barrio, Ucab, at least two other men have been asking residents about the pastor's movements, as if trying to establish his routine. But there is no real pattern to Aniceto's movements, and his neighbors have, anyway, refused to answer all questions regarding his comings and goings.
On 10 May, two of the aforementioned men accosted and tried to forcibly restrain a seven-year old girl in Ucab Proper, in order to interrogate her about Aniceto and her father. But the child bit the hand that was tightly gripping her forearm, broke free, and ran to report the incident to her elders. She said the men had shown her a picture of her father and "Uncle Vergel", and that the word "WANTED" had been written under the picture, in marker ink. She also said that this was the third time the men had accosted and unsuccessfully tried to question her on the whereabouts of her father and her uncle. But it was the first time they had tried to restrain her.
The little girl is the daughter of Eduard Fernando Mangili, Secretary-General of APIT TAKO (Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti Taéng Kordilyera or Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland), a regional chapter of the KMP. He is also First Vice-Chair of the multi-sectoral Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA). It will be recalled that his name, along with that of APIT TAKO Chair Julian Gayumba, appeared on a death squad hitlist that the CPA got hold of in February and exposed to the public.
The others identified in the said hitlist are Joan Carling, CPA chairperson; Windel Bolinget, CPA secretary general; Manuel Loste, Bayan Muna-Cordillera Coordinator; Jose Cawiding, Bayan Muna-Cordillera member, and Xavier Akien, secretary general of the Mankayan-Quirino-Tadian-Cervantes Danggayan a Gunglo (MAQUITACDG). The MAQUITACDG is an inter-municipality alliance protesting the mining activities of Lepanto Mining in Mankayan.
Immediately upon learning of the hitlist, the APIT TAKO secretariat made arrangements for Mangili and Gayumba to continue their work in other provinces in the Cordillera, not knowing that the safety of another APIT TAKO leader, Aniceto, also needed to be secured.
Since that time, suspicious-looking characters have been seen prowling around Ucab Proper, a tightly-knit neighborhood where almost all the residents are related to one another either by consanguinity or affinity, and thus a place where strangers and strange doings easily stand out. With Mangili's disappearance from the neighborhood, the strangers seem to have focused on Aniceto.
Aniceto and Mangili both figured prominently in the struggle that the people of Ucab and several other, surrounding communities successfully waged in the early 1990s to defend their ancestral villages against the expansion of open-pit mining within the municipality of Itogon. Both were also among the leaders of the Itogon people's more recent and less successful effort to save their communities' ancestral domains from the impact of the San Roque Dam. Both are now playing key educational roles in the ongoing CPA campaign to prevent the implementation of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's plan to have transnational giants in the mining industry seize control of gold-rich lands throughout the Northern Luzon Cordillera.
Local peasant and labor leaders, and UCCP pastors identified with Bayan Muna, have been the preferred targets of political assassination squads implementing the Arroyo regime's Oplan Bantay Laya (Operational Plan for Guarding Freedom). And these targets' homes and neighborhoods have been their preferred assassination sites.
We know that the killings are aimed at depriving us of leaders - and particularly of spokespeople - valuable to the campaigns we have been waging in advancement of the national and democratic interests of the Filipino people. We know that the strategy of targeting local leaders and situating the killings in or near these leaders' homes is meant to drive fear into the hearts of the communities that are our national democratic movement's mass base.
We are exerting our efforts to deny the assassins their targets. But at the same time, we must persist in our campaigns as we urge you to assist in both. We then call on our friends, partners, associates and peace-loving citizens to denounce the continued surveillance, harassment and threats on the lives of Cordillera activists. Let us resist the worsening political repression in the Philippines. We appeal for support in exerting pressure on the Philippine military and the Arroyo regime to stop political killings and respect human rights.
APIT TAKO Secretariat Coordinator for Education and Information
Mila Lingbawan Singson
APIT TAKO Human Rights Officer
16 Bukaneg St., Baguio City 2600 Philippines
(+63) (74) 619 0320