Carigara, Leyte – Over 300 people marched and converged near the Carigara Public Cemetery to commemorate the death of disaster survivor Jefferson Custodio, development worker and volunteer of People Surge.
Twenty-five (25)-year old Jefferson was gunned down by alleged state elements August 22 of last year while he was delivering farm tools for farmer beneficiaries in the upland villages of Carigara, Leyte. Months after Custodio’s death, his uncle was shot dead in Tabon-Tabon, Leyte allegedly by the military.
“Our truthful criticisms earned us the ire and vindictiveness of the ‘disaster president’ as manifested in the continuous harassment and killings among our ranks,” Marissa Cabaljao, People Surge Secretary-General said.
People Surge, the biggest alliance of disaster survivors in the Philippines, is one of the staunchest critics of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.
“Jefferson has been actively engaged in relief efforts after Yolanda struck our region. He actively participated in the disaster survivors’ protest actions led by People Surge. AFP’s commander-in-chief, no less than President Aquino, was vindictive of us Yolanda survivors for bringing out the truth and assailing his gross incompetence and gross negligence,” Cabaljao added.
As detailed in the Comprehensive Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Program (CRRP), the government has prioritized infrastructures over the agricultural sector. According to Cabaljao, this condition pushes development workers and volunteers like Jefferson to deliver assistance to where government barely extends help.
“Despite our well-meaning desire to help out the marginalized in the hinterlands, they tag development workers as members of the New People’s Army (NPA). Recalling from last year, then rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson labeled disaster survivors who protested as ‘communists‘,” said Cabaljao.
Last month, development worker and Alternative Learning for Agricultural Development (ALCADEV) Executive Director was slain by elements of the military in Surigao del Sur. Samarca, who also served as school principal of the alternative school was brutally killed by suspected military forces.
“The case of Samarca is pretty much parallel with that of Jefferson’s. And while militarization strikes Lumad communities in Mindanao, farmers in Eastern Visayas are constant targets of attacks, too” Cabaljao added.
Only this October, military troops returned for encampment in Barangay Mabini, Basey, Samar, reportedly “disrupting school activities and terrorizing civilians.”
“With state fascism rearing its ugly head to quell heated dissent of Yolanda survivors, we fear that more human rights violations will be committed by the military against disaster survivors and development workers,” Cabaljao said.
As of this writing, human rights group Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas documented at least 13 cases of extrajudicial killings from the ranks of disaster survivors and community leaders since Yolanda.
“The military perpetrates People Surge volunteers and community leaders scot-free. Impunity has been a culture of its own in our storm-battered region,” Cabaljao said.
“We remember Jefferson to send a clear message of opposing any form of human rights violations against fellow disaster survivors, development workers and community organizers. We remember Jefferson to register our call against militarization in disaster-stricken peasant communities. We remember Jefferson because we demand for justice and we want an end to the culture of impunity. Ultimately, we hold our ‘disaster president’ Benigno Aquino, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, as accountable for these rights violations,” Cabaljao ended.
It can also be noted that during the first anniversary of Yolanda last year, People Surge has called for Aquino’s ouster.#
People Surge Alliance for Disaster Survivors in the Philippines