Groups condemn military’s violation of ceasefire

ON the eve of Christmas day, youth groups and human rights advocates led by Anakbayan Timog Katagalugan and Karapatan Southern Tagalog condemn the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) based in Mindoro for violating the ceasefire with the New People’s Army (NPA) that led to the slay of a youth cultural worker.

A son’s Christmas visit

Stephen Lester Barrientos, 19-years old and a member of the Southern Tagalog Cultural Network was killed by the AFP’s 80th Infantry Batallion (I.B.) when the military launched an offensive operation within San Jose, Occidental Mindoro last December 23.

Barrientos -or more fondly called by his friends as “Lester”, was set for a Christmas visit for his father in the same area and day.

“He was happy because of the ceasefire. Before he left for Mindoro he was excited and even confident that no harm will happen in his visit because of the declared ceasefire,” Neil John Macuha, Anakbayan deputy secretary general said.

Macuha said Lester even told them he would bring back a pasalubong when he got back from his trip –only to find out he wouldn’t even make it in time for Christmas with his father.

Anakbayan-TK slammed the military for not adhering to the protocol for ceasefire. “Why must the youth be a victim of the killings from the military themselves, aren’t they supposed to protect us?” he added.

“Act of Betrayal”

In a press statement, the Lucia de Guzman Command (LGDC)-NPA Mindoro said that the 80th I.B. made an “act of betrayal” when they launched an offensive operation at an NPA team stationed in Brgy. Bayotbot midnight of December 23.

The NPA were forced to flee to avoid any victims of crossfire from civilians in the area. The military also illegally arrested 3 civilians in the said operation.

Considered as one of the longest Christmas truce in Philippine history, the AFP and NPA have agreed to observe a ceasefire from December 16, 2010 to January 3, 2011 as part of a confidence-building measure before peace talks resume in the first quarter of 2011.

The LGDC-NPA Mindoro branded 80th I.B. Lt. Col. Roger Percol’s statement of “respect for the ceasefire” as a “big fraud and only propaganda” because in truth, offensive military operations continue in the province. They condemned the AFP for not holding their part of the truce.

A dedicated cultural worker

Since November 2006, Lester became a fulltime member of the cultural group Southern Tagalog Cultural Network (STCN) after dropping out of the Batangas State University due to financial difficulties. The STCN hones its members on the fields of theater, dance and music concerned in depicting the plight of the youth and others sectors of Philippine society.

“He was a dedicated cultural worker –his youthfulness vibrant in every street play he was involved in. His death is not only our loss but of every youth and cultural worker. He lived a life of selfless sacrifice –making sure that everything he offers can allow people to understand and engage them more to join struggle,” Macuha said.

Lester was an active part of many cultural performances in Southern Tagalog as well as in the National Capital Region including Daluyong (Anakbayan-TK’s 10th Anniversary Cultural Play), Gawad Eden Marcellana, Arangkada (Aral at Sining ng Kabataan sa Kalsada) as well as in the Lakbayan peasant marches and Labor Day commemorations. He was also involved in cultural workshops and street plays at picket lines, protest camps, far-flung rural areas and urban poor communities.

His last performances were during the November 30 No to education budget cut mobilization at Crossing, Calamba City and the December 9 and 10 Human Rights Caravan from Quezon Province to Mendiola in commemoration of the 62nd International Declaration of Human Rights.

“We demand justice!”

“We demand justice to what happened! It is apparent that the military is not serious in its ceasefire. The 80th I.B. should be punished for their ceasefire violation,” Macuha stressed.

Meanwhile, Glen Malabanan, Karapatan-ST deputy secretary general said that the human rights group regrets to account another record of extrajudicial killing under Aquino’s administration –this one even right before Christmas.

Lester is the 23rd victim of extrajudicial killings in Southern Tagalog under the first 6 months of Noynoy Aquino. Karapatan denounces Aquino’s policy of continuing Gloria Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya which paved the way for countless human rights violations in the country.

“The year 2010 will already end and yet here we see more killings where military elements are the culprits. Will 2011 be any different or will the peace talks only serve as a cloak to hide Noynoy Aquino’s bloody plan for the people?” Malabanan said.

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