Thirty-seven persons have become victims in politically-motivated killings
since last January, while more than seven have disappeared without a
trace. A number have survived attempts on their lives. Who could be behind
this spate of violence and abductions?
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA AND ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Rev. Edison Lapuz, conference minister of the United Church of
Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and a leader of the Promotion of Church
People’s Response (PCPR) in
had just come from the burial of his father-in-law when he was killed May
12 in San Isidro, Leyte, central Philippines. At the time of his death, he
was busy organizing a mining conference for church people in
Just five days before, at around 8 p.m., lawyer and party-list
group Anakpawis (toiling masses) municipal coordinator Ambrosio Matias and
his eldest son, law student Leonard, were killed in Llanera, Nueva Ecija.
Each died from a single bullet. At the time of their death, father and son
were handling land disputes in Nueva Ecija.
Fely Matias, widow
of slain lawyer Ambrosio Matias, with youngest child
The deaths of Lapuz and the elder Matias and his son bring to 37
the number of victims in what appear to be politically-motivated killings
since last January this year alone. Meanwhile, more than seven have
disappeared without a trace during the same period. A number, including UN
judge ad litem Romeo T. Capulong, have survived attempts on their lives.
The victims and other targets of assassination have included
lawyers, a councilor, priests, party-list coordinators, human rights
volunteers and activists.
Who could be behind this spate of violence and abductions?
In one of these cases, the March 13 killing of Aglipayan priest
William Tadena, 37, in Tarlac, a suspect was arrested and identified by a
witness as the perpetrator of the act. A statement by Bp. Alberto Ramento
of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI of Philippine Independent
Church)’s Tarlac Diocese cites an autopsy report saying that Tadena died
after sustaining four wounds from .45 caliber pistol bullets.
The suspect, Reynaldo Navarete, is reported to be facing murder
charges previous to the killing of Tadena. He has also recently been
Tarlac City police to the March 3 killing of Councilor Abelardo Ladera,
45, according to a newspaper report.
In one other case, the March 9 killing of activist leader and radio
commentator Romeo Sanchez, 39, in
Baguio City, local police have arrested a suspect, identified as Aris
Vinoya. No witness has come forward to identify the man as the
There is no detailed information or finding yet as to the
connections of these suspects.
But human rights, labor, and criminal lawyer Remigio Saladero, Jr.,
who was interviewed by Bulatlat, observed that the visible patterns
in some of the more celebrated among these cases – as culled from
Bulatlat interviews with witnesses as well as investigating police
units, police reports, and newspaper accounts – can give hints as to who
are behind the killings and abductions.
One of the patterns, Saladero said, lies in the apparent
professional manner in which some of the more noted killings were done.
Sanchez, a coordinator of the progressive party-list group Bayan
Muna (People First) in the Ilocos region, was shot at close range at the
public market in Baguio City (254 kms north of Manila) on March 9, while
looking around for second-hand clothes. “Autopsy revealed that the point
of entry of the gunshot wound is located below the left ear and exited on
the right portion of the temple,” the report from the Baguio City police
states. “There was also an observed powder burns (sic) on the point
of entry, which manifests a shot made at close range.”
The police report also states that a bullet from a Magnum .380 gun
was recovered from Sanchez’s body.
Ladera was likewise slain with a single bullet. So was
Leyte lawyer Felidito Dacut, 51, killed March 14.
But in the latter two cases there is another pattern: both were
shot by marksmen.
A report by the
Tarlac City police acquired by Bulatlat said that former Army Lt.
Clemente Lundang had been interviewed by the investigating team as a
witness to the Ladera killing. He had helped Ladera’s two companions bring
him to the hospital after he fell from a gunshot wound while buying spare
parts for his jeep at an auto supply shop. Lundang said that before Ladera
fell, he had seen a dark blue van park on the other side of the road where
the auto supply shop was located, or about 20-30 meters from where Ladera
Another witness, a nine-year old girl, interviewed by Bulatlat
said she saw the marksman inside the same van.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Lundang said that the
assailant could have used a double-action handgun, as only shrapnels were
recovered from Ladera’s body. He also said that the gunfire sounded only
like a tire burst.
“Is that kind of gun or equipment accessible to ordinary people or
civilians?” Saladero asked.
Asked to comment on this, Saladero said that the assailant could
have also used a silencer (or suppressor) for his gun.
Leyte lawyer Felidito Dacut, a Bayan Muna-Eastern Visayas
coordinator, was on board a passenger jeepney with a companion identified
only as Felix when killed March 14. As the jeepney cruised along
Arellano Street in
Tacloban City, Leyte at about
6:45 p.m. Philippine time, two men
on a motorcycle drove near the victim, and one of them fired a shot behind
Dacut. The bullet, fired from a .45 cal. pistol, pierced through his
There is, nonetheless, also a visible element of professionalism in
the killing of Sanchez. “Whoever did it made sure the victim died,” a
report from the Baguio-based Northern Dispatch quotes the doctor
who autopsied Sanchez as saying.
Another pattern noticeable in the prominent cases is the impunity
with which the acts were perpetrated, Saladero observed.
Brothers Roger and Sergio Viray of the fishing village Sapang
Kawayan in Masantol, Pampanga – who were both involved in organizing a
local chapter of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya (Pamalakaya
or National Forces of the Fisherfolk Movement) – were abducted at around
1:30 a.m. Philippine time on Feb. 18. Many of the villagers were awake
then, as fishing boats had just arrived.
One of those awake then was an elderly neighbor of the Virays. In
an interview with Bulatlat, he recounted that about 10 men with
long firearms had asked to be taken to the houses of Roger and Sergio. He
had obliged, not suspecting what would happen next.
Witness points to spot where the Virays'
abductors set foot
When they reached Roger’s house, they immediately asked for the man
and talked to him when he went to the door. First they asked him for
coffee, and were told there was none in the house.
Then the witness was told not to listen to what they were talking
about. Six of them led Roger away while four of them looked after the
After a few minutes, two of the men who had led Roger away returned
to the house, saying he had asked them to look for something. They
searched the house but came out with nothing.
When the two left, the four who were looking after the witness
Another witness, Roger’s son, recounts that the men who searched
their house after leading his father away said he had asked them to find
his cellular phone and some documents. “My father has no cellphone and we
don’t keep any documents in the house,” he said.
Other witnesses interviewed by Bulatlat said Sergio had
tried to come to the rescue of his brother, and himself ended up being
Witness points to spot where Juloya's
gunman stood. Juloya had jumped into the canal at left. A few meters
away stands the barangay hall (blue building)
Meanwhile Ladera, Sanchez, Tadena, and Dacut were all killed in
public places and in broad daylight: Sanchez was shot at the
Baguio City public market at around
a time when public markets are teeming with customers. Ladera, Tadena and
Dacut were killed on highways.
Human rights and labor lawyer Charles Juloya of Aringay, La Union
survived an assassination attempt March 21. Interviewed by Bulatlat
in a hospital in Metro Manila, he said he had parked his car near an
eatery in front of his office when he saw his would-be assailant a few
meters away, holding a gun. As the gunman fired, he ran in a circle to
evade the bullets, before ducking behind a jeepney parked nearby and
finally jumping into a canal. When he groped for his pocket, the assailant
The gunman had fired eight bullets from a .45 caliber pistol, said
a report from the Aringay PNP; of these, only two managed to hit Juloya.
The time was
12:30 p.m. Aringay police chief PCInsp. Eduardo Abadoy told Bulatlat
that the three policemen who were on duty at the outpost near the scene of
the incident had tried to pursue the assailant but failed to catch him.
One of the witnesses to the incident told Bulatlat that the
barangay (village) office was closed that day; sources from the office
explained to Bulatlat that they had attended a fiesta
(feast) the night before and no one was able to report for work that day
except for two health workers – who were out by 12 noon.
Juloya would later learn, from onlookers, that the assailant had
been on the spot for a long time before the shooting happened. “The man
clearly knew what time I would arrive and where I would park my car,”
“The impunity is noticeable in these cases,” said Saladero. “If you
are a private hired killer, if you don’t have strong connections, you
wouldn’t do such things with such impunity.”
Curiously, Saladero also observed, in almost all of the noted
cases, the angle of “intra-organizational rift” within the Left had been
consistently floated by the investigating police units.
Indeed, in the copies of police reports obtained by Bulatlat
on the cases of Sanchez and Juloya, the angle of alleged Left intramurals
appears first on the list of possible motives.
In the particular case of Sanchez, cited as the first possible
motive is: “Intramurals within the Organization relative to the alleged
misunderstanding of Bayan Muna Cordillera and Bayan Muna Region 1.”
But in interviews with Bulatlat, personalities connected to
both Bayan Muna-Ilocos – which covers Region 1 – and Bayan Muna-Cordillera
said there was no rift between the two chapters.
Juloya, likewise, is cited in the Aringay police report as
discounting the angle of “Left intramurals” in connection with the
assassination attempt on him. He repeated this in the interview with
In the case of Danilo Macapagal, 51, who was abducted in front of
his house at 8 p.m. March 3, officers of the investigating police unit
said that a dispute within the Nueva Ecija chapter of the Bagong Alyansang
Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) may have had something to do
with his abduction, considering that he relinquished his post as chairman
of the said organization in 2003 after serving for more than 20 years.
According to PSupt. Henry Teaño, deputy director of the Philippine
National Police (PNP) in Nueva Ecija, who also heads Task Force Macapagal
which is responsible for investigating the Macapagal abduction, their
interviews with Bayan-Nueva Ecija leaders and members showed that
Macapagal relinquished his post as Bayan-Nueva Ecija chair in 2003, citing
poor health (he is said to have developed asthma then). In an interview
with Bulatlat, Teaño said that asthma is not developed in later
But Saladero, who said he had also followed the Macapagal case,
said: “He had resigned as Bayan-Nueva Ecija chair in 2003, but he was in
another line of work when he disappeared.” At the time of his
disappearance, Macapagal was a coordinator of Bayan Muna-Nueva Ecija,
according to a relative of his who was interviewed by Bulatlat.
Meanwhile, PSSupt. Alex Paul Monteagudo, Nueva Ecija police chief,
told Bulatlat that the motive for Macapagal’s abduction was
“possibly personal,” even as Teaño admitted that Macapagal had no personal
enemies. Monteagudo did not elaborate on this point.
“Everyone who could benefit from his disappearance is a suspect,”
“Who else would have a motive for abducting Macapagal?” Saladero
asked. “They themselves say he had no personal enemies. Who would benefit
from his disappearance? None other than those whose toes he had stepped on
in his crusade as an activist.”
In the cases of Ladera and Tadena, newspaper accounts have cited
police sources as saying that the killings were the handiwork of the New
People’s Army (NPA). In a briefing paper of the military’s Northern Luzon
Command (Nolcom), Ladera in particular was tagged as one of the
“supporters” of the NPA in the Hacienda Luisita strike.
But Saladero said that from historical experience, the NPA had not
killed anyone without admitting the act. “Why so? Because they consider
that a political victory on their part,” he said. “They would explain why
the person was killed or ‘punished.’ But in these cases there is no
admission by the NPA.”
Finally, Saladero said that there is a noticeable silence on the
part of Malacañang about these abductions and killings.
He noted that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is silent even on
the case of Danilo Macapagal, a known second cousin of hers. An earlier
Bulatlat report has an account of Macapagal-Arroyo telling her cousin
in a gathering, “We are relatives, I wish there were no protests here.”
“Either Malacañang is not in control of the situation or it has a
hand in it,” Saladero observed. “Whichever way, the president is
Photos by Dabet
A Reign of Silence by
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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