State forces kill 14 farmers within a day
The scourge of SEMPO in Negros
Police and military forces successively killed 14 farmers just within a few hours on March 30 in Negros Oriental. The victims add to the seven farmers killed from December 2018 to January under the campaign of suppression dubbed as SEMPO. Starting from 1 a.m., the latest killings were perpetrated in Canlaon City and the towns of Sta. Catalina ang Manjuyod. Eight were killed in Canlaon City, four in Manjuyod and two in Sta. Catalina.
Leonora, wife of victim Ismael Avelino, recounted that they were roused from their sleep at around 2:30 a.m. when at least six armed men with faces covered barged into their house. Leonora and her two young children were dragged outside, while Ismael was left inside with both hands raised. Afterwards, gunshots from inside the house were heard, as well as from their neighbor where Ismael’s elder brother Edgardo was simultaneously killed.
Ismael and Edgardo were both members of Hugpong Kusog Mag-uuma sa Canlaon-Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, which was being headed by the elder Avelino.
In Franklin Lariosa’s case, the police surrounded his house at around 5 a.m. and presented a search warrant for an M16 rifle. Lariosa was brought outside his house, where his wife and family waited for him. When Lariosa denied that he was hiding a rifle, the police shot him thrice. The culprits also stopped Lariosa’s mother who rushed to his aid.
Following the bloody operations, the Philippine National Police (PNP) bragged about its Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations (SEMPO). Those killed were presented as partisan operatives and supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA). Aside from them, around 12 other civilians were arrested in the said operations and were charged with trumped-up cases. The PNP presented planted firearms and explosives as evidence.
The SEMPO (also called Oplan Sauron) is the Duterte regime’s current fascist scheme in its attack against the people of Negros island. Among its salient features are the “shock and awe” tactics and synchronized besieging of targeted barangays; utilizing municipal offices to put up checkpoints and file charges against those arrested; premeditated killings and arrests; continuous issuance of arrest and search warrants, including signed blank warrants for whoever the police and military wish to arrest or kill.
Although the PNP is at the forefront of SEMPO, it abides by the command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command (AFP Centcom). The Centcom is currently headed by Lt. Gen. Noel Clement, a notorious rabid follower of Jovito Palparan.
In preparation for SEMPO, the military and police campaigned for fake surrenders in July-August 2018. The massacre in Sagay and the killing of the victims’ lawyer were carried out in October. Following this, two enemy battalions pursued the farmers who conducted collective farming in Sagay. The repositioning of troops in Negros Oriental was also completed in November 2018.
The AFP used “peace and development” operations in barrios to map out houses of suspected supporters or families of Red fighters, as well as members of legal peasant organizations tagged as “communist fronts.” The list of those to be arrested and killed was based on these data.
The first wave of SEMPO was carried out in Guihulngan City on December 27, 2018. Simultaneous operations were conducted in Mabinay and Santa Catalina. On that day, five farmers were killed in Guihulngan City and more than 20 were illegally arrested in the said towns. This number ballooned to seven killed and 57 illegally arrested when operations continued until the second week of January and spread out to the towns of Canlaon, Moises Padilla, Isabela and La Castellana. (Read more details in Ang Bayan, January 7 and February 21, 2019.) Up to 3,000 personnel were employed by the AFP and PNP for this operation.
In accordance with the “whole-of-nation approach” of Duterte’s campaign of suppression, the AFP Centcom utilize courts in issuing warrants and filing of charges. Under SEMPO’s first wave, all 119 search warrants were signed by Judge Soliver Peras of the Regional Trial Court 7 in Cebu.
The AFP likewise made use of local government facilities in transporting soldiers and policemen, despite concealing the operation from local government units. Even the governor of Negros Oriental denied that he was informed of the latest SEMPO operations.
The SEMPO resulted in the forcible evacuation of residents, destruction of their crops and theft of their cash and properties by operating troops of the military and police. Because of this, landlords in the island were emboldened to create and beef up their private armies and goons.
The AFP and PNP’s brutality was met with widespread condemnation from mass organizations of peasants, the religious, media and even agencies of the reactionary government. In Iloilo City, a protest against the AFP and PNP’s bloody operations was mounted by Bayan and Anakpawis in front of Camp Delgado on April 1.