ON THE KILLING OF BAYAN MUNA LEADER IN BICOL:
'THEY'RE TRYING TO STOP US' -- SATUR
The deputy minority leader at the lower House last week linked the recent killing of Rodolfo “Pong” Alvarado –- leader of Bayan Muna (BM or People First) –- in Ligao City, Albay to the government’s thrust to prevent the party-list group from winning seats in this year’s elections. “If they can’t have our party disqualified, they’ll do what they can to cripple it to prevent it,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo in an interview with Bulatlat.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The deputy minority leader at the House of Representatives last week linked the recent killing of Rodolfo “Pong” Alvarado –- leader of Bayan Muna (BM or People First) –- in Ligao City, Albay to the government’s thrust to prevent the party-list group from winning seats in this year’s elections.
“If they can’t have our party disqualified, they’ll do what they can to cripple it to prevent it,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo in an interview with Bulatlat.
Alvarado is the 122nd BM member killed since 2001 by political assassins widely believed to be government forces.
He was also the fourth activist killed in Bicol in just three weeks. On Dec. 11, BM member Cris Frivaldo was shot dead by gunmen in Irosin. He was the younger brother of Irosin municipal councilor Max Frivaldo, also a BM member, who was killed inside his house earlier this year.
On Dec. 12, human rights lawyer Gil Gojol was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding gunmen after attending a court hearing. His driver, Danilo France, also died in the attack.
Gojol, a former Sorsogon provincial board member, was also a lawyer of Sotero Llamas, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Llamas himself was slain in May last year.
Then on Dec. 21, Francisco Bantog, a BM provincial auditor in Donsol, Sorsogon, was shot 20 times by three motorcycle-riding gunmen.
Alvarado, 53, a Bicol regional coordinator and Albay provincial chairman of BM, was also the party-list group’s sixth nominee. Aside from being a BM leader, he was also a convener of the Bicol People Opposed to Warrantless Electricity Rates Increases (Bicol POWER) and was part of the secretariat of the Bicol Movement for Disaster Response (BMDR).
Reports reaching Bulatlat said Alvarado was driving his car in front of his house in Ligao at around 5:30 p.m. last Dec. 31 when fired upon by a lone gunman. Alvarado sustained eight gunshot wounds and died instantly, the reports further show.
Alvarado’s killing occurred just 15 days after National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales gave a radio interview in which he sought the Red-tagging of “leftist” candidates for the 2007 elections. In a Dec. 16 interview with government-run dzRB, Gonzales asked that “left-leaning” party-list candidates be “labeled” as “communists” to warn the electorate –- particularly soldiers and policemen, he said –- against allowing those he called “democracy’s enemies” to get congressional seats.
“There will be plenty who will run in the party-list in the coming elections and we have to describe them all,” Gonzales said. “As National Security Adviser, it is important (for me) to show soldiers and police what groups are being used by the communists to continue their bad intentions on the public.”
Gonzales did not name in the radio interview which party-list groups “are being used by the communists.”
However, in a forum at the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City in August last year –- in which Bulatlat was present –- Gonzales particularly named BM as a “recruiter” and “financier” of the clandestine New People’s Army (NPA), which is led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The CPP-NPA has been waging armed struggle against the government for more than 30 years.
“There are two frames of their (the communists’) struggle: armed and legal,” Gonzales said in the forum at the Sulo Hotel. “Those in the legal frame say they should not be included among those pursued by General Palparan because they are in the legal arena. Let’s get into the moral plane: you are the ones advocating armed struggle, you are the ones strengthening armed struggle, you are the ones who give resources to strengthen armed struggle –- and you say you should not be included.”
“That’s what Satur Ocampo and the others say,” Gonzales continued. “What do you mean you should not be included? You are the ones recruiting for the NPA, you are the ones giving money to the NPA, you are the ones making the rebellion grow –- and you say you are innocent?”
The General Palparan Gonzales was referring to is retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., who has earned notoriety for the countless shocking cases of human rights violations in the areas under his command.
BM, which was formed in 1999, has twice topped the elections for party-list groups. It first ran for congressional seats in 2001 and was able to send all its first three nominees –- Ocampo, Crispin Beltran, and Liza Maza –- to the House of Representatives.
Beltran and Maza later led their own party-list groups, Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) and Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), to victory in the 2004 elections.
BM is currently represented in Congress by Ocampo, Teddy Casiño, and Joel Virador.
The party-list group has been noted for its staunch advocacy of independence in economic and foreign policy, social justice, good governance, and human rights.
“That is a clear signal to Bayan Muna members about what the government and the military will be doing to derail us in our campaign and block our possible victory in the coming polls,” Ocampo said on Alvarado’s killing.
Ocampo also took issue with Gonzales’ allegations on BM as a “recruiter” and “financier” for the NPA, and on party-list groups which “are being used by communists” supposedly to strengthen the armed struggle. He noted that Gonzales –- who is a leader of the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PDSP or Socialist Democratic Party of the Philippines) –- has been accusing BM of being a “communist front organization” since 2001.
“We have challenged Gonzales several times either to stop his black propaganda against us or to present clear evidence for his allegations,” Ocampo said. “But he has yet to present documentary evidence on that.”
“The legal organizations they are branding as ‘front organizations’ end up becoming targets of physical elimination,” Ocampo further noted.
Based on data from BM, four of its leaders and organizers were killed in 2003. The number shot up to 16 the next year, which was an election year. The next year, BM recorded 36 of its leaders and organizers ending up as victims of political killings.
In an interview with Bulatlat in 2005, BM deputy secretary-general Robert de Castro said many of the killings of his group’s leaders and organizers occurred in areas where it garnered high numbers of votes. Ocampo made the same observation. Bulatlat