Open Letter to the authorities: Deep concern about the assassination of Messrs. Fernando Bejino and Pascual Guevarra

22/07/2010
Press release

Re: Deep concern about the assassination of Messrs. Fernando Bejino and Pascual Guevarra

Your Excellency,

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), expresses its utmost concern about the recent killings of Messrs. Fernando Bejino and Pascual Guevarra, both community leaders in the Philippines.

According to the information received, on July 9, 2010 at around 4.30 pm, Mr. Pascual Guevarra was shot dead by an unknown individual who broke into his house in Barangay San Isidro, municipality of Laur, Nueva Ecija Province. Mr. Guevarra’s grandson, Mr. Ronnel Viloria, was also injured as he tried to wrest away the gun. The perpetrator then run away on board of black motorcycle without a license plate driven by another man. On July 5, 2010, while Mr. Guevarra was away, Mr. Byrone de la Cruz, engineer at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), had presented himself at Mr. Guevarra’s house to inform him that the farmers affected by the DPWH projects would receive a compensation and told Mr. Guevarra’s daughter that he would come back on July 9, 2010 and insisted that Mr. Guevarra should not live the house that day. However, he did not come back on said date, and Mr. Guevarra was shot dead by an unknown individual. The day of shooting and previous days, Mr. Gueverra’s family members report noticing suspicious individuals around the house.

Mr. Guevarra was a leader of the Alliance of United Farmers in the 3100 Hectares in Fort Magsaysay (ALMANA 3100), a movement of displaced farmers who oppose the plan to evict them from their land. In 1991, the Administration of President Corazón Aquino awarded Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) over 3,100 hectares, located inside the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation (FMMR) - home to the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army - to thousands of peasants and other residents displaced by the eruption of the Mount. Pinatubo. On June 24, 2008, Brigadier General Ralph Villanueva, Commanding General of the 7th Infantry Division addressed a letter to the Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer of Nueva Ecija, Mr. Orlando Tumacay, requesting the latter to revoke the CLOAs and to defer the issuance of new ones pending. ALMANA 3100 conducted a fact finding mission on October 5-6, 2009 with the support of the Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon and the Philippine Peasant Alliance and since then they have actively lobbied and held dialogues with concerned agencies regarding the farmer’s plight.

Similarly, on June 27, 2010 at around 1.30 pm, Mr. Fernando Bejino was killed while he was travelling with his wife and mother in a public jeep from Poblacion to Barangay Casalaan, municipality of Siaton, Negros Oriental Province. One of the perpetrators, another passenger wearing a cap, got off the jeep at the junction known as “Lamtoc” and ordered “those not involved” to disembark. At that point, another individual who was sitting across Mr. Bejino shot five times at him and killed him on the spot. The two assailants vanished in the commotion, strangely unnoticed by the soldiers stationed at the nearby plant.

Mr. Fernando Bejino was an active member of Kasayan Farmers Association (KASAYFA) and a fervent opponent to the operation and planned expansion of the “Jathropa Plant”. According to the information provided to us, the privately owned Jathropa production stands at 18-20 hectares and it is bordered on all sides by forest lands tilled by members of the KASAYFA. The planned expansion would imply clearing additional hectares of residential lands to be planted with corn and other crops, some of which are for biofuel purposes, endangering the farmers’ lots and livelihoods.

Prior to his death, the victim was harassed by the vigilante groups reportedly created by the military and operating as paramilitary forces. He was reportedly pressured to admit his alleged involvement with some underground movement linked to an armed rebel group and told to surrender to clear his name, for which he was offered money and other forms of compensation. Mr. Bejino denied the military’s allegations and refused to confess to any charges that he never committed. On December 10, 2009, after the commemoration rally of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he had also been visited in his house by unidentified men who urged him to “surrender”, as if he belonged to a rebel group.

The Observatory recalls that several community leaders have been victims of assaults and threats in the Philippines for opposing economic projects that could affect their livelihoods and have negative environmental impacts. On June 26, 2010, Father José Francisco Talaban, parish priest of Nuestra Señora de la Salvación, was victim of an attack while we was sleeping in Barangay Bianoan, municipality of Casiguran, Aurora province. Three laminated pamphlets found within the church compound after the attack listed down the names of eight community leaders targeted by the group who perpetrated the attack[1].

The Observatory condemns the ongoing threats and attacks against community leaders that aim at harassing voices asserting their rights and calls upon authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of members of ALMANA 3100 and KASAYFA as well as of all human rights defenders in the Philippines. The Observatory also urges the authorities to order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the killings, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law.

The Observatory further urges the Philippines authorities to put an end to acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in the country, so as to conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by the Philippines.

The Observatory kindly urges you to act expeditiously in the framework of your mandate with regards to this situation and we express our sincere hope that you will take these considerations and requests into account.

Yours sincerely,

Souhayr BELHASSEN
FIDH President

Eric SOTTAS
OMCT Secretary General

 [1]

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