Another farmer-leader gunned down in Batangas

Farmer leader Rene Rodriguez was gunned down by two masked men on November 7 in Batangas province, according to a statement by the militant peasant alliance Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).

Witnesses cited by the KMP said that Rodriguez was killed after sustaining three gunshot wounds to the chest and head from two unidentified men riding a motorcycle.

The incident occurred at Sitio Caybunga, Balayan town at around 8:00 am, reported human rights group Karapatan.

Rodriguez was a member of Samahan ng Magbubukid sa Batangas, a provincial chapter of the KMP.

His death makes him the 21st extrajudicial killing (EJK) under the Aquino administration, according to Karapatan.

Of the 21 EJKs recorded since President Benigno Aquino III assumed office, 13 are from the farmers’ sector, including Rodriguez, said KMP.

KMP condemned attacks against “legal and democratic activists, [especially] peasants struggling for genuine land reform.”

The trend of EJKs, which reached its peak under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, continues until now since the Aquino administration “has promoted Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL)… in the countryside,” said Antonio Flores, KMP spokesperson.

OBL refers to a counterinsurgency program that requires government military forces to saturate rural areas suspected of harboring communist-led New People’s Army rebels.

OBL, which the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been implementing as part of its vow to defeat the NPA by the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s term in June 2010, has been linked by various militant and human rights organizations to the spate of EJKs in the Philippines over the past decade. (See: Rights advocates criticize Oplan Bantay Laya extension.)

Estimates of EJKs in the Philippines since 2001 have reached over 1,100, based on reports from Karapatan.

Mrs. Arroyo, Aquino’s predecessor, was in a state of “almost total denial” regarding the human rights violations under her administration, which included hundreds of EJKs and enforced disappearances, according to a 2007 United Nations fact-finding mission led by Special Rapporteur Phillip Alston.

Some local and international organizations have argued that this state of affairs is continuing under Aquino.

On Monday, however, Aquino said that “In the first six cases of extralegal killings or suspected extralegal killings, the Secretary of Justice has informed me that we have filed cases on not less than five or six already and syempre (of course), we have to go through the process but we are highly confident that we will be securing convictions.”

Protests drowned out by carols

Meanwhile, KMP members carrying a mock coffin held a protest action at the gates of Camp Aguinaldo on Tuesday morning, two days after Rodriguez was killed, to condemn the AFP for its alleged role in the continuing EJKs.

The militant farmers’ organization also scored Aquino for what it described as his “obstruction of genuine land reform” in the case of Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita.

Military forces, including a fire truck, were on standby during the protest.

The protest action was peaceful, without any violent confrontations, according to a report aired over radio dzBB.

Military personnel brought out loudspeakers and began playing Christmas carols, drowning out the program being held by the activists.

The AFP has used this technique of drowning out the noise of protest with loud music before, but it was the first time this year that Christmas songs were used, reported radio dzBB.

KMP’s Flores vowed, however, that the farmers “will never cease calling for justice for Rodriguez.”

Protesters later proceeded to the Department of Justice (DOJ), where they sought a dialogue with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

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