On 18 April, 2020, the 61st IBPA, a unit of the Philippine army, shot and killed John Farochilin in Brgy. Cabalaunan, Miag-ao, Iloilo. Farochilin was Sangguniang Barangay member of Brgy. Onop and the chairperson of Alyansa sang mga Mangunguma sa Miag-ao. He had actively campaigned for farmers’ rights – even meeting, a short time before his death, with the Commission on Human Rights to discuss partnering in a public education campaign to highlight human rights issues and to air concerns about violations of human rights committed by government troops.
Farmers’ group Pamanggas confirmed that John Farochilin was one of its council members. “We are saddened as we are angry at the cold-blooded murder of a dedicated peasant leader,” Cris Chavez, Pamanggas secretary general said: “Farochilin was a key leader in the campaign to address hunger and poverty among farmers of Iloilo and to seek government assistance to help peasants affected by the impact of the El Niño weather phenomenon.”
The Philippine Army claimed that Farochilin and the 11 others arrested and detained, were members of the New People’s Army (NPA), and that the minors among the group were “child warriors” recruited by the rebels.
The 3ID said in a statement that soldiers arrested seven persons, including a minor, and recovered firearms, improvised explosive devices, medical paraphernalia and rebel documents.
The human rights group Karapatan said those arrested were civilians and residents of the village of Igpanulong in Sibalom town in Antique province. The mother of one of those arrested, said the men captured by the military were just gathering honey from beehives which they intended to sell in the local market, when they were chanced upon by the soldiers.
Since the unit’s deployment on Panay Island, the 61st IB has been implicated in numerous human rights violations – ranging from the search of homes without a warrant to the planting of evidence, illegal arrests, and even the murder of two farmers in Maayon, Capiz, in 2017. In all these cases, the 61st IBPA uniformly claimed that the victims were NPA members, thereby shielding its members from any proper investigation of the incidents.
Land and environmental rights defenders and defenders from indigenous communities face very serious risks in the Philippines as they attempt to peacefully defend their land and oppose major industrial projects. These HRDs are disproportionately represented in the figures of the HRDs killed in the past 18 months.