ILOILO CITY — Unidentified armed men gunned down two members of a human rights fact-finding mission and wounded another in Bayawan City in Negros Occidental on Tuesday afternoon.
The fatalities were identified as Elisa Badayos, a 59-year-old Negros Oriental coordinator of the human rights group Karapatan, and Eleuterio Moises, a village watchman and a member of Mantapi Ebwan Farmers Association.
Carmen Matarlo, 22, was wounded in the shoulder and was in stable condition as of 9:30 p.m.
Elisa Badayos was the wife of former labour leader and desaparecido Jimmy Badayos.
In a phone interview, SPO2 Archer Birjes, investigator of the Bayawan City Police Station, said the victims were in a habal-habal (a modified motorcycle) when they were fired at by at least two men at Barangay Nangka around 3:40 p.m.
The three victims were taken to the Bayawan District Hospital where physicians pronounced Badayos and Moises dead on arrival.
Matarlo was later taken to Dumaguete City, the provincial capital of Negros Oriental, which is about 106 kilometers from Bayawan City.
Badayos had a gunshot wound in the head, while Moises was hit in the armpit.
Police recovered empty shells from a .45-caliber pistol at the site of the incident
Investigators were still determining the identities of the gunmen and the motive of the attack.
According to Birjes, the victims dropped by the Bayawan City Police Station before noon to coordinate with the police that they were going to Nangka to see the village chief, according to Birjes.
But in a statement, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said the victims went to the police station to report an earlier incident wherein armed men tried to stop them from entering Hacienda San Ramon in Barangay Nangka where they would be conducting a fact-finding mission.
Patrick Torres, executive director of the Cebu-based Farmers Development Center and a member of the fact-finding mission, said they were on the last day of their four-day activity when the attack happened.
The three victims separated from the 30-person contingent to go to Nangka to interview farmers who reportedly had been harassed by security guards of a land claimant involved in a land dispute.
He said the attack prompted concerns over the security and safety of the other participants who belong to human rights organisations and groups of women, workers and youth in Cebu and Negros Oriental.
The fact-finding mission was conducted to investigate reported cases of killings, harassment and other human rights violations in several towns in Negros Oriental.
Torres said nine members of farmers groups and militant organisations had been killed this year in Negros Oriental. These include eight in Guihulngan City alone.
The killings in Guihulngan happened after the July 21 attack of New People’s Army rebels on the Guihulgan City Police Station, during which six police officers, including the chief of police, died and three others were wounded.
Karapatan condemned the attack.
“The attack on human rights defenders are becoming more rampant, more brutal, more fearless,” Palabay said in a statement. “The perpetrators know they will be dealt with impunity, as human rights have lost force and meaning especially under this regime. Fact-finding missions are a mechanism for human rights organizations to confirm reports of abuses, and this incident has only proven how fascism works to outrightly kill those who dare to question.” /atm