One of the victims, Merlyn Diones Bermas, exposed the the February 12, 2012 massacre involving members of the Philippine Army’s 49th Infantry Battalion.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — A 48-year old woman and a four-year old boy were killed by members of a suspected death squad in Labo, Camarines Norte in Bicol.
At around 3:30 pm on August 7, Merlyn Diones Bermas, the village chairwoman of Malaya village in Labo and pre-school pupil Gerald Oreza were shot and killed by four members of what is alleged to be a death squad operated by the Philippine Army’s 9th Infantry Division, according to an urgent action alert sent by human rights group Karapatan. Injured during the same incident was 45-year old farmer Cenon Maulion, also a resident of the same barangay as Bermas.
That day, Bermas was returning to her house after going to the market at the Labo town center. She and other residents of Malaya village were on board two “haulers,” the usual transportation vehicle for villagers in the area. A hauler is a motorcycle with a sidecar without a roof.
The child Gerald was inside the sidecar, sitting next to the farmer Maulion. Gerald’s mother, in the meantime, sat behind the motorcycle driver, and Bermas sat at the rear of the motorycle. On board the second hauler were four other Malaya residents.
As the two vehicles made its way towards Labo and was passing through the adjacent village of Anameam, a motorcycle ridden by two men sped past the second hauler, and positioned itself between the two vehicles, just behind Bermas.
One of the men on the motorcycle pulled out a gun, prompting one of the passengers of the second hauler to shout out a warning to Bermas.
The gunman fired twice, hitting Bermas in the back, and the four-year-old Gerald in the head. The gunman fired for a third time, grazing Maulion in the back. As the gunmen fled, a second motorcycle, with two men on board, followed, speeding past the two vehicles.
Witnesses and the other passengers took Bermas and Gerald to the Camarines Norte Provincial Hospital in Talobatib village, Labo, where she was declared dead. Gerald was transferred to the Bicol Medical Center in Naga City where he later died. Maulion was grazed by a bullet on his back.
According to reports from Karapatan, the witnesses did not see the faces of the perpetrators except to say that the drivers of the motorcycles wore helmets. The passengers, one of whom was the gunman, wore ski masks. They also wore long-sleeved shirts and gloves. The gunman’s motorcycle had no plate number, instead only a “for registration” sign. The second motorcycle’s plate number was covered by a black jacket that was tied around the waist of one of the passengers.
Karapatan said that as the chairwoman of Malaya village, Bermas helped expose the Feb. 25, 2012 massacre in her community, where farmer Benjamin Mancera was killed, along with his two sons, Michael, 10 and Richard, seven years old.
Mancera’s 14-year-old daughter was wounded when 49th Infantry Battalion soldiers strafed their hut. Bermas also assisted the surviving members of the Mancera family in seeking safety after the military issued death threats against them.
Karapatan also said that Bermas’s daughter had told the human rights group that her mother had also received death threats from suspected military agents on her cellphone. The military also accused Bermas of being a member of the New People’s Army and threatened to kill her.