Jay-ar Mercado was an indigenous people’s organiser and member of Bigkis at Lakas ng mga Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan (BALATIK). He was working with the indigenous community in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro when he was murdered by suspected state agents on 21 January, 2020.
For seven years, he lived among the Mangyan indigenous people when he could have looked for a paid job to support his family. Instead, he chose to serve the indigenous people and the peasants in the countryside. According to human rights group Karapatan-Timog Katagalugan, witnesses recounted that Mercado was alive when he was taken away by suspected soldiers.
The military later took Mercado’s remains from a local funeral parlor and buried him on 31 January, 2020, without even his relatives being informed, deliberately violating their rights to claim his remains and have him properly buried.
On 1 February, 2020, Mercado’s family began their search for the slain organiser. When they arrived at a local funeral home in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, they were informed that the military had already claimed and buried the body the day before.
The family then proceeded to Bulalacao Municipal Police Station, where four soldiers, allegedly from the 4th Infantry Battalion, accosted them. The soldiers questioned the family’s credentials and insinuated that they were not Mercado’s actual family.
According to an update from Karapatan Southern Tagalog, Mercado’s family managed to talk with Bulalacao Mayor Ernilo Villas, who said that a court order would be needed to exhume Mercado’s remains. According to Villas, the order to bury Mercado came from Governor Humerlito Dolor.
The Municipal Health Office claimed that the remains could only be exhumed after three to five years.
His body was finally exhumed on 5 February, 2020; following which an examination showed it had a broken left hand, a smashed nose, and multiple bullet wounds.
Mercado’s death is the latest in a long line of attacks by state forces on the indigenous peoples and advocates going as far back as Oplan Habol Tamaraw under Jovito Palparan. Mindoro’s indigenous Mangyan population currently faces threats of development aggression from private corporations and state forces.
Last year saw increased militarisation in Mindoro, as well as crackdowns on peasant organisers and rights advocates. The military has declared Karapatan Southern Tagalog persona non grata in Mindoro.