Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region


Tabang Palo

October 19, 2006

To Whom This May Concern:

On November 21, 2006, we will be remembering the first year anniversary of what is now popularly called as the "Palo Massacre" wherein peasants through a "tiklos" (collective farming) reclaimed a land (balik-uma) taken from them by a local landlord, were fired upon by elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion based in Kananga, Leyte under the command of then Major Lope Dagoy. (He was promoted to a rank higher thereafter for the mass killing).

Nine (9) lives were lost including the infant borne by Alma Bartoline who was then 7 months old pregnant when the fateful incident happened. Many were also wounded while a total of nine (9) individuals were arrested and put behind bars.

There was a widespread public outrage over the incident, not only from the local community but also from the national and international front. Many responded by sending solidarity statements as well as material and financial support to the victims.

For that, we express our gratitude and appreciation for the valuable help. The money received was used for the hospitalization expenses of the wounded, burial expenses of the deceased, paralegal expenses of the detained and other related expenditures. Such did not only make our work notch easier to support the victims but it also boosted the morale of the unjustly detained, the bereaved families who lost their loved ones and the whole peasant community who was shocked and terrorized by the military's unwarranted and undemocratic action.

Allow us to give you some updates on the Palo case.

a. Criminalization to Justify the En Masse Deaths and Consequent Military Abuses.

Criminal charges were filed against the peasants who survived the massacre. They are now facing cases in two (2) different courts, a case of "illegal possession of low-powered firearms" is lodged at the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) in Palo, Leyte while another case of "illegal possession of high-powered firearms" together with "illegal assembly" are docketed at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Tacloban City.

At the MTC, the prosecution panel has just wrapped up the presentation of their witnesses and evidences and it is now the turn of our defense lawyers to present witnesses and evidences to prove the innocence of the accused.

We are very glad that the Legal Aid Program of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Leyte Chapter braved to handle the defense and has even pledged to initiate the filing of counter-charges against the military men involved. Pro bono lawyers of the IBP are representing the poor farmers in court despite the threats they receive from military perpetrators.

b. Case Dismissal.

Last October 3, 2006, the presiding judge of the RTC dismissed the case of "illegal possession of high-powered firearms" filed against the accused. The IBP lawyers filed a parallel motion at the MTC also to dismiss the case of "illegal possession of low-powered firearms" citing the same grounds. Moreover, the accused alleged that the said firearms were just "planted" by the government troopers on the incident site as they did not possess or own them. The hearing for the motion is set on the 23rd and/or on the 27th of October 2006.

c. Temporary Liberty and Death in Detention.

With regards the charged peasants, two (2) were already released on bail. Despite the high amount of bail bond, they have been prioritized to have temporary liberty because of the death threats they received inside the detention center, at Kauswagan Provincial Jail.

Meanwhile Joselito Tobe, a member of Concerned Citizens for Justice and Peace and BAYAN MUNA Party-list died in detention. The Kauswagan Provincial Jail authorities alleged that he suffered a stroke. But the aggrieved parties are taking it with a grain of salt considering that the two (2) weeks prior to his death; he informed us that he and co-detainee Arniel Dizon were receiving death threats. Tobe's colleagues are crying justice for a possibility of a foul play.

d. Inefficacy of the Government's Land Reform Program.

This was the real issue that led the farmers to organize themselves and claim the land that rightfully belonged to them. Indeed, it was a struggle of members of the San Agustin Farmers Beneficiaries Cooperative (SAFaBenCo) who were given with Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). To assert their proof of ownership, they were supported by like-minded people and peasant organizations from other municipalities.

Few days after the massacre, an official from the DAR National Office went to the area to make their investigation. Then on December 23, 2005, SAFaBenCo received a letter from DAR saying that the land is actually theirs confirming their CLOAs. The DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) issued a decision on December 6, 2005 affirming their previous decision of the DAR Adjudicator which states, "that the plaintiffs-appellees (members of SAFaBenCo) being prior possessor and cultivator of the lands should be immediately reinstated and be maintained in peaceful possession and cultivation having been identified already as farmer-beneficiaries of the land in question".

Now, we are working out the issuing of "writ of execution" for the decision to be made final and land finally turned over to the rightful owners.

In this context, the fight for justice is not over yet.

We had strongly faced some unfortunate events with the untimely demise of Mr. Joselito Tobe and the exorbitant bail money needed. But there were also some battles won. To top it all, the victims' resolve to attain justice has not wavered. One such move is the filing of counter-charges against the real culprits – the ones who actually used the guns and the same people who peppered them with bullets and grenades - bonnet-clad elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion headed by Lt. Col. Lope Dagoy and 1Lt. Luel Adrian Benedicto.

Our Appeal

Again, we are knocking at your generous hearts for help. We need your help in the realization of our filing of the counter-charges against the military men responsible for the unlawful and undemocratic attack. Lawyers from the IBP informed to prepare money that will be used in the filing (expenses for the necessary filing fees; mobility of witnesses to and from the courts, lawyers and paralegals; procurement of papers; and documentation expenses) and sustaining the case. It is in that regard we are asking for assistance again.
We do hope that with your continued support, we will finally give justice for the victims of the Palo Massacre.
In case you need additional information on the case and other data with regards the Palo case, feel free to contact us.

For your perusal, we are also attaching our original Urgent Appeal we released last November 2005.

Thank you and God Bless!

For the Tabang Palo secretariat,

Secretary-General, PCPR-EV

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Tabang Palo is an endeavor of the different sectoral organizations, non-government organizations and people's organization under KATUNGOD-SB-KARAPATAN who are now looking after the victims of this incident to ask the involvement of the general public to extend help to the victims.

For your donations, you may contact us at the address and telephone numbers below:

The Tabang Palo Secretariat
P.O. Box 204, Tacloban Central Post Office, Tacloban City, 6500 Leyte
Mobile Phone: 09218134588(Johann)
Tel. # (053) 321-7690





Has Life Become Too Serious?

October 14, 2006

Is it only me, or does it seem as though things have just become far more serious and complicated than they used to be?

The world is moving at a very fast pace and it can almost seem as though life is running you, rather than you running life.

Time goes by so quickly, and the days and weeks can appear to blend one into the next and before you know it another year has gone by and you’ve only just kept up! But is there something you can do to change this state of affairs?

After all, how can it be that with all the technology and advancements that are supposed to 'save us time' and make life easier and less stressful, many of us never seem to have the 'time' to stop and go after our goals and dreams, or even to spend much quality time with our friends and loved ones?

Think about this for a moment – it makes no sense! We live in a world were virtually everything we had to do manually in the past can now be done by a machine; you would think this would then free us up to spend our time doing the things we like to do and having fun – but does it?

Generally we seem to work harder and longer hours to stay abreast with the financial demands of surviving in the modern world. Because of this the ‘living of life’ can sometimes take a back seat in order to make room for time spent ‘earning a living’ – take a good look around you; it seems to me that we are all too busy working to be doing any ‘living’!

When and how did it get so serious?

Hold on to Your Dreams

What, after all, is the point to it all? If our days are filled with work and stress and worry, how much room is there for loving, and giving; for laughter and tears, and enjoying the company of others; the exchanging of ideas, and discovery of new things; of achievements and disappointments, successes and failures; the fun and excitement and anticipation of reaching for the sky, and dreaming your dreams and making them become a reality.

Where has all that ‘feeling’ and enjoyment of life gone?

Some people have argued that as one grows older life must inevitably become more serious, and “one must be more careful” and “not take the risks that one may have taken in one’s youth” – that this is “how life is” and how it must be – basically that ‘life changes you’. But is that really the case?

Contrary to some trains of thought having fun does not need to mean ‘being irresponsible’, and to be ‘responsible’ it does not necessarily require that you become ‘serious’.

Do people really change in that way as they grow older, or is it circumstances in life that seem to require a different response and they just stop dreaming their dreams, which then get lost along the way?

Could it be that you still have all those same burning desires, still want them and consider them to be valuable, but that you have ‘pushed them down’ or adapted them to ‘fit in’ with the world around you?

There’s an easy way to find the answer to that question.

First of all you need to remind yourself of those things that you have dreamt of achieving in your life. The things that you felt were important, that you wanted to do or experience or change in the world.

You may have wanted to be a teacher, a builder, a doctor, an explorer, an engineer, or the best parent to your children that you could be. You may have wanted to be a painter, a pianist, a ballet dancer, a lion tamer, an actor, a policeman, or a train driver.

You may have dreamed of going on safari, driving across America, going around the world in eighty days, or sailing the seven seas while taking in the seven wonders of the world. Or you wanted to go to the moon, fancied a trip in a time machine, or aboard the Star Ship Enterprise.

Maybe you wanted to win an Oscar, or a Nobel prize, develop an important cure, become a missionary, discover a species of animal hitherto unknown, break the land speed record, or find a secret island and search for buried treasure.

Perhaps you wanted to have a house with a white picket fence, a Ferrari, a massive diamond ring, a yacht, a pet tiger, your own football team, or a magic wand that you could use to make wishes come true, and make everything in the world come right.

Whatever your desires the options are as varied as they are limitless – this world is your oyster - so go on, have some fun and see for yourself how much you can dream!

Take a moment to write down those things that come to mind. Don’t worry if they seem unrealistic or appear impossible or vague or don’t fit in with your lifestyle now; just write down your thoughts in as much detail as you can, and add why you’d like to be or do or have the things on your list.

Now, to find out the answer to the earlier question, ask yourself this:

“Would I still like to achieve these things that I listed down, if I were free to do so?”

If the answer is “Yes” then you have answered the question – and proven the critics wrong!

You are still the same person who felt those things; you do still want to live life to the full - it’s not your dreams that have changed, it’s the way you react to the world around you that is different, and because of this your dreams have been clouded or forced into the background – but they are still there!

The business of ‘living’ seems to have become exactly that – a business – it’s become hard work, and the day to day of it all can sometimes make us settle for less than we originally hoped for.

But just think of the times that you have achieved a goal, something that you set out to do, when you overcame all obstacles and made it happen; remember how good it made you feel?

Well, that achievement started with a desire, a dream, and a stated goal that you decided you would like, and you set out to achieve it. Nobody gave it to you - it was your power of thought and determination that got you there. Sure, you may have had some help along the way, but it all started out with you deciding to do it and then going for it.

It’s never too late to get back into the habit of reaching for your goals - you don’t need money, or power or position or circumstance to be able to have dreams and aspirations, it only takes imagination – and just remember this; before you can turn your dreams into reality you must know what they are; to picture them in your mind and keep fresh!

Hold on to your dreams – they are yours to create as you will; don’t let them get forgotten – keep them alive – you never know where they might lead!





Justice for Bishop Ramento

A Statement by the Hong Kong Campaign for the Advancement of Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (HKCAHRPP)
October 6, 2006

"The country's extrajudicial killings are not a secret. What do the police have to fear?"

Bishop Alberto Ramento, a leader of his church, a key figure of the ecumenical movement in the Philippines, an advocate for the poor, a worker for justice, a promoter of peace such a man was suddenly awakened at about 4:00 a.m. in his room in the convent in Tarlac City and brutally stabbed to death on October 3. Why was a bishop of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), or Philippine Independent Church a man of God and the people killed so violently?

The initial explanation of the police is robbery and homicide. Why though would robbers go to the second floor of a convent to rob a bishop who had lived simply all his life and who had been a champion of the poor? What valuables would such a man possess? To steal goods from a 69-year-old man in his sleep, why would he have to be stabbed seven times?

The explanation of the churches and human rights groups in the Philippines and around the world is that Bishop Ramento's violent death rather fits the pattern of hundreds of others in the Philippines over the past few years, i.e., another extrajudicial killing. The common denominator of the death of these priests and church workers, journalists, lawyers, peasants, workers and students is that they have upheld the rights of the poor, the majority of the population in the Philippines, and consequently, they have been critics of the policies of the Philippine government and the actions of the country's vested economic interests. Like many of the other victims, Bishop Ramento had also received death threats prior to being killed.

Why then did the police not reach the same conclusion as well? The country's extrajudicial killings are not a secret. What do the police have to fear? Who are they trying to protect? Are the police not implicating themselves or the military in Bishop Ramento's death by claiming it was a robbery and homicide?

Thus, the Hong Kong Campaign for the Advancement of Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (HKCAHRPP), a local coalition of concerned human rights, migrant and student organizations and individuals, joins others in the Philippines and throughout the world in condemning the violent death of Bishop Ramento and calls for an immediate and independent investigation into his killing. This case is an opportunity for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to honor her pledge in September to invite a delegation from Europe to monitor the Philippine government's response to the country's extrajudicial killings. The European monitors should play a proactive role in the process to ensure that a proper and impartial investigation is conducted.

Bishop Ramento was a church leader who sought to give witness to his faith by seeking justice for the poor. Like the Christ he followed, he was crucified by the powerful forces of his time for his words and deeds. President Arroyo though cannot wash her hands and deny her responsibility for ensuring that his case ends with justice. Bishop Ramento's death is an opportunity for President Arroyo to prove to all Filipinos and the international community that she truly wants to solve the scourge of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.





The Killings Must Stop

Statement of European Church and Civil Society Organisations
October 6, 2006

"We also condemn the violence and killings of the armed opposition groups..."

We are concerned about the upsurge of politically motivated killings and the constant deterioration of the human rights situation in the Philippines in recent years. Amnesty International informs that at least 51 political killings took place in the first half of 2006, compared to the 66 killings recorded in the whole of 2005. Since March 2006 we received an increasing number of reports on political killings – at times on a daily basis. We are particularly worried about the killings representing a pattern to target a broad range of critical and non-violent people involved in local or national politics.

We recognise the government’s initiative to increase efforts towards investigations into a number of assassinations. We stress the need to sustain these efforts, to investigate all political killings and to prosecute the perpetrators and their accomplices and to give justice to the victims and their families in order to prevent further escalation and grievance. We support civil society initiatives and efforts to press for investigations of political killings and human rights abuses. We also condemn the violence and killings of the armed opposition groups. Their doings should however not be used as a justification for human rights violations and killings committed by paramilitary forces and the government. The use of paramilitary forces in the Philippine government’s all-out war against the New People’s Army (NPA) and other armed left groups as well as the spread of armed paramilitaries is particularly worrying. The decision of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) leadership to set up armed partisan forces counterattacking operatives and masterminds of the killings does also cause great concern. We believe that these developments will lead to further deterioration of the human rights situation, severely threatening those engaged in non-violent, critical and investigative forms of civil and political activism.

We call on all government departments concerned, especially the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), to investigate all killings with a political background, prosecute the perpetrators and their accomplices and to deliver justice to the victims and their families. We call for the implementation of Republic Act 6981, providing witness protection, security and protection for activists facing death-threats.

We call for an independent investigation into the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to investigate allegations concerning the use of political assassination as a counter-insurgency strategy.

We call on both the government and the CPP to continue serious peace negotiations and to respect human rights.

We call on the armed opposition groups to refrain from the use of political killings.

We call our own governments and the United Nations (UN) to pay attention to these alarming developments and to urge the Philippine government to end the killings and guarantee justice for all victims.





A government serious to put an end to graft and corruption

September 26, 2006

"...graft and corruption is associated in the context of Philippine setting as a fact of life or to some who harbor ill feelings in their native land considered the same as a way of life."

No matter what people critical to the Arroyo administration might say on the campaign of the government to stamp out graft and corruption and whatever criticisms from both domestic insights and foreign views there may be, we can clearly see that the government is laying down all its cards on the table in order for the Filipino people and the rest of the world to look at a country painstakingly fighting an age-old social ill that took place not only in our country but also plaguing and worse in other countries of the world.

It cannot be denied and seems abhorrent to admit as what most people think in society that graft and corruption is associated in the context of Philippine setting as a fact of life or to some who harbor ill feelings in their native land considered the same as a way of life.

Our countrymen’s negative attitude and foreign observers’ bad outlook on the earnest, honest and best efforts exerted by the government to carve down, stamp-out and eliminate graft and corruption in the country, have made the Arroyo administration stronger and determined in its lonely but steady fight against it.

The government steadily implementing anti-corruption measures like putting anti-corruption programs in every department and agency, intensified lifestyle checks, less signatures to get papers moving and cut red tape and a strong team up among the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit and the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission and surely supervising all these things to achieve and attain a graft and corrupt-free Philippines.

Big fishes and not small ones are now investigated, some suspended and dismissed from government service and a considerable number of people occupying big positions in the government are now under tight watch and surveillance because of their unexplained and hidden wealth, are but just a few of the relentless campaign and drive of the government to weed out undesirables licking and prostituting the financial coffer of the country.

It is but true that stamping-out graft and corruption is a gargantuan task to do that even the harshest critic of the administration openly admits it to be and these critics might also share the same belief that eliminating graft and corruption could not happen overnight.

Although we entrusted the long and arduous fight of graft and corruption to the government yet we have to inculcate in our sound mind that we should not leave it alone to the government rather the best thing we can do is to rally behind the efforts of the government to track down, be vigilant and be responsible enough as a watchful citizen in scrutinizing and even to the extent of having an eye in every inch of government transactions so that graft and corruption will not thrive in the country.

The very least we can do is to have faith in our government leaders’ effort in the big fight against graft and corruption in the country.




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