Gov’t, bishops disagree on killing of indigenous leaders in Panay

Published January 19, 2021, 11:26 AM

by Tara Yap

ILOILO CITY – The government’s anti-Communist task force and Catholic bishops do not see eye-to-eye on the case of the death of indigenous peoples (IPs) in Panay Bukidnon during a deadly raid of alleged hotspots of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Iloilo and Capiz last December 30.

Members of the Panay Bukidnon indigenous peoples (IPs) when they fled their homes after a deadly raid that killed nine in Iloilo and Capiz provinces last December 30, 2020.  (Photo courtesy of Panay Today)

 “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,” said Atty. Flosemer Chris Gonzales, chairperson the Legal Cooperation Cluster of the Western Visayas Regional Task Force-End Local Communist Armed Conflict (Western Visayas RTF-ELCAC).

Gonzales’ statement, which was released January 19, was in response to the January 15 pastoral letter of the Catholic bishops in Western Visayas. 

The regional Catholic hierarchy, including Cardinal Jose Advincula of the Archiocese of Capiz, and Archbishop Jose Romeo Lazo of the Archdiocese of Jaro in Iloilo, signed the pastoral letter that sought answers and justice for the death of nine tribal leaders who were killed when the Philippine National Police (PNP) served warrants of arrest for illegal possession of firearms and explosives last December 30.

The bishops pointed out that, based on witnesses’ testimonies, the persons were murdered, and did not die because they resisted arrest. They also said the killings created a “climate of fear and uncertainty” among the Panay Bukidnon communities.

But for the Western Visayas RTF-ELCAC, the bishops were misinformed of the details of the police operations in Calinog town, Iloilo province and Tapaz town, Capiz province.

“The individuals who were arrested were subjects of legitimately issued search warrants. You cannot conclude that atrocities were committed. That is simply irresponsible,” noted Gonzales.

“It is also irresponsible on your part to conclude that those who died in the police operations were deliberately killed. The use of reasonable force in the police operations were prompted by the fact that those who lost their lives engaged the law enforcement officers by force of arms during the implementation of the search warrants,” added Gonzales.