BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN
Bishops of Bacolod City and Negros have joined five other prelates of Panay and Romblon in demanding for a thorough investigation, by creating an independent body, to look into the killing of nine leaders of indigenous peoples’ community, who were tagged as alleged members of the New People’s Army, in police and military operations in Iloilo and Capiz late last year.
In a pastoral letter dated Jan. 15, bishops Patricio Buzon of the Bacolod Diocese, Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, and Louie Galbines of Kabankalan joined Cardinal Jose Advincula of Capiz, Archbishop Jose Lazo of Jaro, Bishop Jose Corazon Tala-oc of Kalibo, Bishop Marvyn Maceda of San Jose de Antique, and Bishop Narciso Abellana of Romblon in condemning in the strongest terms all the killings, especially of the tumandoks.
The pastoral letter will be read in all masses in all churches of Western Visayas on Jan. 24, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said in a post.
On Dec. 30, nine leaders of the Tumandok tribe were killed in synchronized police and military operations in Panay while 18 other tribe members were arrested, it added.
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Similar incidents also took place in Negros Oriental in 2018 and 2019, where synchronized PNP and Philippine Army operations also claimed the lives of 20 civilians suspected as NPA members, who allegedly put up a fight against authorities.
Lawyer Flosemer Chris Gonzales, chairperson of the Legal Cooperation Cluster Region 6 of Task Force ELCAC, said in a statement issued by the Police Regional Office 6, that he cautioned the bishops from making hasty, false and presumptuous conclusions, stressing the possibility that they may have been misinformed.
“Our bishops need to see the truth from the perspective of an unbiased mind. They must set themselves free from all forms of biases, misconceptions, and one-sided narratives that may have been fed to them by equally biased sources,” Gonzales said.
“As Catholics, we adhere to the teachings of the Church but that does not mean that our bishops are not prone to errors in judgment,” he added.
Gonzales maintained that the individuals who were arrested were subjects of legitimately issued search warrants. “You cannot conclude that atrocities were committed. That is simply irresponsible,” he added.
The Western Visayas bishops also demanded for a stop to the militarization of IP communities, so that tumandoks can return to their homes, and for the PNP and AFP to follow conscientiously the ethical standards in the rules of engagement in their police or military operations.
They also demanded that police officers be required to use body cameras in all operations to protect the police against false accusations, and also protect the civilians from the use of violence or abuse of power, such as planting of evidence, illegal arrest, and even killings.
Gonzales, meanwhile, criticized the bishops on what he called their “deafening silence” on the murder of soldiers, policemen, and civilians by the NPA. “We are wondering why you allowed yourselves to be used and exploited by the CPP-NPA propaganda machinery,” he asked.*