Armed policemen man a checkpoint in front of the municipal hall in Pamplona town in Negros Oriental on March 5. The Philippines military forces have been accused of killing a four-member family in the province. (Photo: AFP)
A Catholic prelate in the Philippines has called on state forces to back off from a rebel-infected province after its members were accused of killing a four-member family.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos said on June 27 that it was better for military forces to secure a court warrant before engaging in any operation in Negros province in the western Visayas region where an alleged Communist party member, his wife and their two teenage children were found murdered in separate places on June 14.
“No person should be arrested without a warrant [of arrest] except in cases provided for by law. When our sheep are under attack by wolves, shepherds like us must speak to protect them,” Bishop Alminaza, 63, told UCA News, referring to the murder of the Fausto family in Negros province. San Carlos diocese is located in the northeastern part of the province.
Rolly Fausto, 55, together with his wife, Imelda, 49, and their two children aged 15 and 11 were found murdered in the Himamaylan community. Fausto, whose body was found 50 meters away from his home, is allegedly a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Eyewitnesses claimed they saw more than 10 assailants wearing military fatigue uniforms peppering the victims’ home with bullets.
“All of them were wearing masks although several had removed them because of the heat. I could see they were wearing camouflage uniforms similar to those of the Philippine Army. While we were running, we heard several gunshots,” one of the witnesses, who wished to remain anonymous, told UCA news.
Quoting a human rights group, Bishop Alminaza said the unknown assailants were believed to be members of the 94th Infantry Battalion.
“The horrifying incident is alleged to have been perpetrated by members of the 94th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, as reported by the human rights group, September 21 Movement,” the prelate wrote in a statement four days after the incident.
The Philippine army, however, has denied the allegations and claimed that the family was murdered by members of the Communist party’s armed wing, New People’s Army (NPA), after ruling that Fausto was guilty of revealing party secrets to state forces.
“Anybody can wear our men’s uniform but we are not the ones who did it. Based on our investigation, they were summarily executed by the New People’s Army after receiving threats from them. We have witnesses, former members of the NPA, who said that the couple was on the execution list... it was just a matter of time,” Negros Police Colonel Paul Geronimo told UCA News.
Geronimo said that the incident was not an isolated case when the NPA, a declared terrorist group by the state, engaged in summary executions after convening its “kangaroo” court.
“They had done this many times. In 2021, members and executioners of the NPA voluntarily surrendered to police authorities and confessed their crimes,” Geronimo added.
Benedictine nun and human rights activist Sister Mary John Mananzan, however, claimed the pattern of killings in Negros would suggest that it was not done by the Communist party.
“No, it was not the Communist party who did it. We are familiar with their killings, no children involved. Here, even the children were mercilessly killed… they were minors,” Mananzan told UCA news.
The Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines has already set up a special team to investigate the murder of the Fausto family.
“They were red-tagged and labeled as Communists by the army. So, even government forces are not safe from the investigation,” Francis Jebulan, the commission’s lawyer, told UCA News.
Jebulan encouraged witnesses to come forward to shed light on the crime.
“We beg the public to help us solve this case. We need your information, any lead that can give the identity of the perpetrators, we need them,” he added.
Jebulan promised them security under the commission’s witness protection program.