Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros’ speech denouncing the killings and torture of farmers in Masbate and Bondoc by the NPA

PRIVILEGE SPEECH: The Masbate and Bondoc torture/killings

Delivered on March 10, 2008

Ginoong Speaker, mga kagalang-galang na kapwa kinatawan, isang
magandang hapon sa inyong lahat!

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a point of personal and collective
privilege. There are three stories that need to be told and need to be
heard today.

The first one is the story of Salvador “Boyet” Vale, Jr., a
farmer-leader from Bgy, Royroy Batuan, Masbate leading a group of
farmers petitioning for agrarian reform. On November 30, 2007, he was
intercepted on his way to the farm, and was made to descend from his
horse with the use of an armalite. He was forcibly dragged to a nearby
house where he was tied up with heavy rope. Bound and gagged, the men
took turns hitting him repeatedly with their armalites and punching
him in his chest, back, shoulders and ears. After three hours of
repeated abuse, he was fed two spoonfuls of rice. Before he was
released, he was warned that the members of his organization should
not pursue their desire to own the land that they till. The
perpetrators were all known in the community as members of the New
People’s Army or the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the
Philippines.

Just one month later, on December 22, 2007, a recently-elected
Barangay Captain and farmer-leader of Samahang Magsasaka ng Hacienda
Batuan in Masbate, one Mark Anthony “Butchoy” Vale, was killed by
armed men and women at Sawang Batuan around 1 in the afternoon. His
desecrated corpse, seen by his wife, was a gruesome mess and there was
a total of three gunshot wounds on his body, and one on his head. His
permit to carry firearms bore a bullet hole and was found next to his
body, leading to the conclusion that the piece of paper was brought
close to his head and the bullet was made to pass through it in a
final act of mockery. According to his wife, Shiela, Ka Butchoy had
been receiving text messages from a certain Ka Ricky, known to the
community as a member of the NPA, discouraging the peasant
organization from pursuing their land claims, in particular, the
Petition for Leasehold filed before the Department of Agrarian Reform.
It is a known fact that the landlord Rafael Resurecion, has been
paying revolutionary taxes to the NPA platoon in the area.

Meanwhile, in Sito Centro, Bgy. San Vicente San Narciso, Bondoc
Peninsula, Quezon, on February 19 of this year, one Deolito “Julie”
Empas, a farmer leader in the Uy landholding and a duly-elected
Kagawad, was abducted by armed men suspected of being members of the
NPA. He was inside a small videoke bar in the barangay when armed men
subdued him and tied his arms behind his back. They also went forcibly
dragged him to his house where he was made to surrender his things to
his captors, including his licensed firearms. According to witnesses,
he was trembling and looking extremely fearful.

Julie Empas is the farmer leader who replaced Felizardo Benitez as
the President of Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Sitio Centro, who, it can be
recalled, was also slain by armed men affiliated with the NPA. Months
before his abduction, Empas had intimated to his wife that he was
being sent death threats by the NPA and the goons of the Uy family.
He was abducted in the very same place that Benitez was killed.

Ito po ay tatlong kwento ng tatlong magsasaka sa lalawigan ng Quezon
at Masbate – tatlong magsasakang namumuhay ng payak at nangangarap ng
payak para sa kanilang sarili. Tatlong lider na nangahas ipaglaban ang
karapatan sa lupa at ipaglaban ito sa gitna ng matinding hamon ng
lipunan Dahil buo pa din ang pananalig sa sistema sa kabila ng
maraming pagkabigo, tumakbo sila sa halalan sa pagnanais na lalong
makatulong sa kanilang mga kasama. Si Boyet Vale at si Julie Empas ay
mga nahalal na kagawad sa kanilang mga barangay sa Masbate at Quezon.
Si Butchoy Vale naman ay isang Barangay Captain.

Much has been said about the plight of our farmers in the countryside.
This is of course due in no small part to the fact that in June of
this year, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, first set in
place by RA 6657, is set to expire. Debates on its extension, as well
as the possibility of inclusion of several peasant-friendly reforms,
have resurfaced persistent historical problems in the peasant
struggle. Onerous leaseback arrangements, farmland-as-collateral,
stock distribution options – all these have figured prominently in
discussions concerning the rights of our country’s farmers.

And yet, there is very little that has been said about the brazen
killings, torture and abductions that are taking place in the
countryside at the hands of those who profess to be defenders of the
masses. In a tragic irony, these landlords—traditional elites, as they
are often perceived — use the revolutionaries in order to protect
their landed interests.

Sadly, this is not an isolated event, but rather, it is consistent
with a pattern of peasant violence attributable to the NPA. As early
as 2004, Julie Empas had already reported being the subject of
continuous threats and intimidation from the NPA. Two sons of
identified NPA member Bobong Becamon came into his house and told him
to go with them to an undisclosed location. When Empas declined, the
two men left; but Becamon soon appeared and partook of Empas’ morning
meal, placing his magnum .357 beside him. He then reiterated his sons’
instructions. Empas replied that he cannot leave without any of his
relatives accompanying him. The guerilla agreed and Empas hurriedly
left for his brother’s house. His relatives, however, advised him not
to go with Becamon and he left San Narciso that same night. The
following day, several NPA militants entered his home and rummaged
through his things—practically turning his house upside down,
inside-out.

Ganito po ang pang-araw araw na buhay nilang magsasaka – nakasadlak sa
kahirapan, kagutuman at kawalan ng lupang sarili, namumuhay pa sa
takot, peligro at pangamba dulot ng pagsasanib ng masasamang pwersa
laban sa kanila.

In 2003, Reymundo Tejino was killed and his death was claimed by the
Maria Theresa De Leon Command of the New People’s Army. This command
also accused Dioscoro Tejino of maintaining a private army and
explicitly justified the attack on him and his family. In its website,
the Communist Party of the Philippines claimed responsibility over the
attack and called both Reymundo and Dioscoro counter-revolutionaries.
The Joint Monitoring Committee of the National Democratic Front and
the Government of the Republic of the Philippines has to date not
acted with decisiveness on the complaint lodged by Dioscoro Tejino for
murder and attempted murder. Dioscoro lives in perpetual fear for his
life, but continues to fearlessly assert his rights even in the face
of so many threats.

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, agrarian reform cannot take place without
agrarian justice and agrarian justice cannot take place without
fundamental concepts of human rights. The obligations imposed by a
rights-based framework are obligations not only on the state, but also
on non-state actors. Even as we join our voices in solidarity when
their non-combatants are being victimized by extra-judicial killings
perpetrated by the State, we will not hesitate to call them on their
own human rights violations – particularly when they are leveled
against the weak and the vulnerable, the very same sectors they
purport to represent and defend. Sadly, for the residents of Masbate
and Bondoc Peninsula, the members of the NPA look virtually
indistinguishable from the landlords who routinely abuse and take
advantage of them.

As we continue to press for a new and reform-oriented Agrarian Reform
law this year, so too does AKBAYAN seek to remove the silence cloaking
an issue that remains invisible where peasant rights are spoken of.
There can be no social justice in a field of dead bodies.

We fight for their right to land. We fight for their right to life.

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