March 12, 2009

Justice for Rebelyn

Bambi Santos was an activist, a full-time staff member of the national democratic alliance, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN). She was in charge of many things foremost of which was mobilizing artists to contribute to the cultural work attendant to the political mass campaigns that BAYAN led. She was also a budding creative writer who graduated with a journalism degree from an exclusive all-women college, the only child of science professionals who had dedicated all their lives to government service.

She was killed at the age of twenty-seven, in what military authorities said was an encounter. Witnesses contend however that there was a raid on a farmer’s hut where Bambi was resting with several companions. She was hit in the leg and thereafter allowed to bleed to death. She was unarmed. She had gone on a leave of absence from BAYAN to do political immersion among poor peasants in Mindanao. She had planned to write stories and poems about her experiences.

I had the difficult task of informing her family about her death and of traveling all the way to Pagadian City to retrieve her remains and bring it back to Manila. She died at the height of the campaign to oust President Joseph Estrada and after we had grieved for her and buried her, we just had to tell ourselves that justice would come with the change of government.

But that didn’t happen. We did what we could to try to determine who were the military officials involved in the raid but they had been quickly reassigned and we faced a blank wall regarding their whereabouts. We filed a case with the Commission on Human Rights; we even filed a case with the Joint Monitoring Committee of the Negotiating Panels for the government-National Democratic Front peace negotiations.

Impunity is still the name of the game in this country ruled by the elite classes of big landlords, big traders and local partners of multinational corporations as well as several generations of politicians who make politics and government one big, profitable business as well.

They craft the socio-economic policies that fuel armed revolution and political dissent. They direct the counter-insurgency campaigns that engender such gross human rights violations. They authorize and then protect from prosecution and punishment the state forces and paramilitary death squads that do the dirty work of killing the likes of Bambi Santos.

Now another young woman has fallen victim to state terror. Twenty-year-old Rebelyn Pitao had just embarked on a career as a teacher. But unlike other eager, aspiring mentors, Rebelyn happened to be the daughter of “Kumander Parago,” legendary NPA leader operating in Southern Mindanao.

That was her only “crime”: to be the daughter of the revolutionary nemesis of the government’s armed forces in that area, and sister to a young man who recently joined the NPA after an attempt on his life and in the wake of the extra-judicial killing (EJK) of his uncle, Pitao’s brother, by suspected military assassins.

The Pitao family believes that Rebelyn was mercilessly targeted by the intelligence officers of the army’s 10th Infantry Division, to break the fighting spirit of “Kumander Parago” and his “red fighters” and to instill fear in the hearts of the peasant families that give them succor and support. Beyond the actual killers (who by all indications had brutalized and raped Rebelyn before finishing her off) the Pitao family holds the Arroyo regime accountable, because of its murderous counter-insurgency programs, Oplan Bantay Laya I and II (OBL).

OBL has already victimized hundreds of unarmed activists, church people and professionals suspected to be supporters or sympathizers of the CPP-NPA. It continues to wreak a wide swathe of death, destruction and displacement especially among peasant communities considered to be rebel strongholds. This despite a reported decline in the number of EJKs since the latter part of 20007, after the Arroyo regime’s human rights record was roundly denounced and domestic and international pressure was brought to bear on the regime.

A more sinister but no less plausible motivation and planned scenario by the brains behind Rebelyn’s cold-blooded murder is to provoke a political situation that would prevent the possible resumption of the formal peace talks between the government and the NDFP.

This plausible explanation as to why and how this condemnable killing of Pitao’s daughter has taken place stands on the persistence of strong, if not dominant, hawkish voices in the Arroyo cabinet including that of Mrs Arroyo herself, Executive Secretary and former General Ermita and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales. They can not countenance a resumption of peace talks with the NDFP.

One possible objective of Rebelyn’s heartless killing is to provoke the NPA to go on a “rampage” and commit alleged atrocities that can then be used to justify the regime’s renewed hard-line position and its withdrawal of recent overtures to talk peace with the communist-led armed movement.

Although such has not taken place and the CPP-NPA spokespersons have vowed such will not be their way to achieve justice for Rebelyn and her loved ones, the NDF’s chief negotiator, Luis Jalandoni, has said formal resumption of peace talks at this time has become untenable. For how can the NDF hold talks with the government in the face of such outrage?

De facto President Mrs. Gloria Arroyo was reported to have “ordered” government human rights agencies to investigate Rebelyn’s murder. The military spokesperson in Davao worried out loud about the bad press the military was getting. He was not so much alarmed by Rebelyn’s gruesome murder but that this will again be blamed on the military_and with good reason.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, a low-ranking buffoon who likely got his current top position as a reward for honing his practice of kissing ass into a fine art, says that if the NDF insists on blaming Mrs. Arroyo and General Ermita for Rebelyn’s death then they can also pin down Luis Jalandoni and Jose Maria Sison for the killings of military and police by the NPA.

The CPP for its part announced that it has directed the NPA to arrest and bring before a “people’s court” several military suspects in the heinous crimes against Rebelyn Pitao. It identified the suspected perpetrators as Sgts. Adan Sulao and Ben Tipait of the AFP’s Military Intelligence Group XI, Cpl. Alvin Bitang of the Military Intelligence Battalion (MIB) of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division, and a certain Pedregosa, another intelligence agent.

We are not holding our breath in expectation that anything will come out of this government’s “investigations”. Little do we wonder now what kind of revolutionary justice the peasant masses in the countryside pin their hopes on. #


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