That a young woman was abducted in the dark on her way from work in Toril to home in Talomo, both districts of Davao City, brutally tortured and killed hours later then her body dumped in an irrigation canal in San Isidro, Carmen, Davao del Norte was most barbaric. That the killing will most probably derail again the resumption of the GRP- NDF peace talk and prolong the 40-year communist insurgency is tragic.
The revolting question is: Why was Rebelyn abducted, tortured and killed? Her only misfortune — neither a fault nor crime — was being the daughter of the elusive top commander of Pulang Bagani Command of the Southern Mindanao New People’s Army. Is the sin of the father the
sin of his family and clan? This seems to be the thinking.
Rebelyn’s uncle, Danilo, her father’s brother, was abducted and killed in Tagum City last year. Harassed and almost killed by suspected military agents, Ryan, Rebelyn’s brother and the eldest of the Pitao children, left his gainful tricycle driving and joined his father in the mountains.
Pitao’s wife, Evangeline, and his children – two girls and three boys – are law-abiding and gainfully living. Rebelyn was a teacher; Rio is a nurse; Ryan, an automotive graduate, was employed; and the two other boys must be schooling. But if they are continuously harassed and threatened, they can be pushed to the mountains.
Who Thinks So?
What has happened to the Pitao family is not an isolated reality. How many leftists, labeled as communist supporters, have been slain or have disappeared? Even some religious and non-government organizations working in rebel-affected areas are not spared. If friends and
sympathizers of the government’s enemies are thought to be its enemies, for the members of the rebels’ families to be thought so is not remote.
In the cases of Rebelyn, her brother Ryan and uncle Danilo, could they have been thought of advocating and advancing the cause of their father? The family has long been closely watched by strange men, said Rebelyn’s mother. Who are these men?
Rebelyn’s father, Leoncio Pitao alias Commander Paragao, is positive that the MIG (Military Intelligence Group) had his daughter abducted. They have had his family under surveillance and are closely following his other daughter, Rio, a nurse. Only they have the motive (INQUIRER.net, March 8).
Enraged residents of Davao City do not believe the military officials’ denials of military involvement. A cigarette vendor, Miranda, felt insulted, saying, “Who else could do that? Are we idiots? They can deny it, but we know that it is only the military that has the capacity and the motive to do something as brutal as that.” (INQUIRER.net, March 8)
Lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate said, noting how the abduction “happened with military precision”, that “only an organized group could have carried out the abduction”. His implication is clear. (MindaNews, March 7)
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a close friend of Pitao, publicly assured his friend that the military as an organization was not involved in the abduction and killing of his daughter. If ever some in the military did it, they did so of their own. He reminded Pitao that his daughter’s killing could have been retaliation for some killing by the rebels under him. (MindaNews, March 8)
The mayor has been visibly ambivalent – sympathizing with his friend in the NPA but covering the military from blame. Is that of any comfort?
Top officials of the 10th Infantry Division of the Mindanao Southeastern Command have not only denied military involvement in Rebelyn’s abduction but, above all, they have condemned the barbarity of her torture and death. This should be well noted.
Major Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu, 10th ID commander, can vouch for his men that they had no hand in Rebelyn’s killing. But the 10th ID is not the military. Can he speak for MIG as a separate command or for other commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines?
General Mapagu can deny the involvement of the men of the 10th ID. However, can he deny knowledge of the LIO (Low Intensity Operations)* military missions to defeat the communist insurgency? Can he deny the existence of Oplan Bantay Laya?
*[Low Intensity Operation is a military term for the deployment and use of troops and/or assets in situations other than war. Generally these operations are against non-state actors and are given terms like counter-insurgency, anti-subversion and peacekeeping. (Wikipedia)]
Obviously, Rebelyn was abducted by military men not in uniform or the civilian assets of the military intelligence service, the MIG. They operate clandestinely; they are heartless and brutal. Men in uniform follow rules of engagement; the LIO operators do not.
Unfortunately for General Mapagu and other 10th ID officers, the people know. That cigarette vendor Miranda said it all: “Are we idiots?”
Whether truly or just pretentiously alarmed, President Arroyo ordered the Presidential Committee on Human Rights and the Commission on Human Rights to probe the killing of Rebelyn. In its front page story, the Philippine Sunday Inquirer (March 8) described Arroyo as “outraged.”
To be taken seriously, Arroyo should visit Rebeleyn’s wake and there repeat her order. Neither the PDI nor other national media quoted the President. Press Secretary Cerge Remonde only said so in Radyo ng Bayan. What she said, we would like to read or hear to be sure that that was not just pakulo (to impress) [GMA’ press managers are capable of that, like Ermita’s “Paikutin natin sila” (Put one over them)]
In fairness to President Arroyo, she should not be blamed for the death of Rebelyn. She does not want to see such abuse of human rights. But as AFP commander-in-chief, she cannot evade command responsibility. She has tolerated if not encouraged LIO.
Major Gen. Jovito Palparan was a glaring, convincing example. He was notorious for LIO while still a colonel in Mindoro; the more when he was transferred to Samar and Central Luzon. In each new assignment, he earned a star. And President Arroyo cited him for his anti-insurgency “successes” in her State of the Nation Address.
Who could take her seriously whenever she condemned extrajudicial killings? She can stop extrajudicial killings by LIO operators if she orders so. How sincere is her order to two human rights bodies to probe Rebelyn’s case?
Of What Use?
Despite the outcry from national, international and the United Nations human rights organizations, extrajudicial killings and disappearances attributed to LIO operators have continued. Is the President convinced that despite contrary indicators these will break the resolve and morale of the rebels to fight for their cause then surrender?
Pitao said it. The death of his daughter will not break him. The more that he and his men will stand for their cause. His son Ryan said his sister’s death has emboldened him. The outrage over the brutal death of Rebelyn reveals the backlash of LIO.
The government must re-examine its anti-insurgency policies. Of what use is keeping the same policies and strategies dating back to the Marcos era?
President Fidel V. Ramos has paved the road of peace negotiation with success. But President Joseph Estrada and President Arroyo failed to carry on Ramos’ initiative. On her part, Arroyo could have clinched the peace with the communist rebels. But she only stood at the bridge
watching the water passing under.
Do the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the NPA with the National Democratic Front really want to overthrow the Philippine Government? That spurred Marcos to use military force to annihilate the CPP-NPA. Could the same fear have shaped the Estrada
and Arroyo policies?
But the agreed agenda of the Joint Declaration of
the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiation in The Hague, Netherlands showed that “overthrow of the government” was the last recourse – only if the Philippine Government would refuse to do political, social and economic reforms.
Item 5(b) of the Declaration states: “The substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations shall include human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.” All, except the last two, are about reforms.
The first substantive agendum – CARHRIHL — had been finished when Ramos stepped down in 1998. Estrada signed it. The momentum had been set. In 10 years, the four other substantive agenda could have been negotiated.
Of course, the road has been thorny – full of obstacles. However, to end the CPP-NPA rebellion, there’s no other option but peace negotiation.
Looking at the second and third substantive agenda, the reforms may call for sacrifice of some vested interests. But such sacrifice – these vested interest being the roots of the injustices that gave birth to and nourished the insurgency – is better than the senseless loss of more lives like that of Rebelyn.
However, it is sad to note that peace negotiation seems far away. More Rebelyns can fall victims to LIO or be caught in the crossfire between encounters. To be dreaded is the spilling of more blood to fertilize the insurgency. (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to