By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Two more activists, this time teachers who were members of the leftist group Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), were killed in just the first 10 days of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, bringing the number of extrajudicial killings under his watch to four.
Mark Francisco, 27, a teacher of San Isidro Elementary School in Palanan, Masbate province in Bicol, was on his way home with four co-teachers on Friday, July 9, at around 5:00 p.m when two men wearing masks and camouflaged uniforms fired at their group. His body was riddled with bullets from an M-16 rifle. Francisco’s co-teacher managed to escape as the killers tried to pursue him. He reported the incident to the police.
On the same day, Edgar Fernandez, 44, another public school teacher from Barangay central, Masbate City, Masbate, was shot dead by unidentified men on his way home.
“I least expected that this would happen because Edgar seemed to be very happy during the welcome program that we prepared for students that day,” Myrna Laurio said in a telephone interview with Bulatlat. She is the principal of Roco C. Pahis Sr. Central School where Fernandez taught.
Laurio said Fernandez sleeps in the school during weekdays because he lives far from the school. He only goes home on Fridays for the weekend. But on July 9, Fernandez and a co-teacher, both riding a motorcycle, were fired at by an unidentified man. Fernandez died immediately but his co-teacher survived with a bullet wound.
Laurio added that Fernandez’s co-teacher and friend told her recently that the slain teacher had received death threats through text messages. But Fernandez did not take it seriously.
“The whole school is in mourning,” Laurio said. She added that these unidentified gunmen seem to have no respect for the lives of the teachers who were probably educating their children.
Earlier, another ACT member and public school teacher Dexter Legazpi, 36, also of Palanan, Masbate was shot at on July 6. Luckily, he survived. He and his wife were on a motorcycle going to school when five men, also wearing ski masks and military uniforms, shot at them. Legazpi was able to speed away to safety on his motorcycle.
The three public school teachers are members of the Alliance for Concerned Teachers’ local chapter in Masbate. They actively campaigned for its party-list bid during the May 2010 elections. ACT Teachers Party and other progressive party-list groups such as Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis, and Kabataan are targets of vilification campaigns by the military, which accuses them of being “front organizations” of the New People’s Army.
“We demand justice for our fellow teachers and party members,” ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said in a statement. He called on the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation on the brutal murders of Francisco and Fernandez and the attempted murder on Legazpi to ensure that justice would be served. He added that the Department of Education should work with the Philippine National Police and local government authorities to ensure that protection would be given to the teachers who survived the attack and those who may serve as witnesses to the crime.
Benny Almanzor of ACT in Masbate said teachers in Palanas town in Masbate are afraid to go to school now. Classes were suspended in 16 schools in the said town because of the killings. “Teachers and barangay captains are going to the local government office to see what can be done to protect the teachers.”
As for teachers in Roco C. Pahis Sr. Central School, Laurio said they are taking extra precautions.
“The Aquino government must immediately take steps to put an end to the violence faced by teachers in Palanas town,” Tinio said, “The Aquino government’s ability to ensure the well-being and safety of its citizens is being put to the test.”
Tinio said these murders show that extrajudicial killings targeting activists continue even under the newly installed Aquino administration. “It has only been a few days, yet the death toll is already rising. We expect nothing less than an end to impunity from this new government.”
“President Aquino must direct the necessary government resources to ensuring that the perpetrators of these four murders are caught, tried and punished,” Tinio said.
The first victim of extrajudicial killing under Aquino was 61-year old Fernando Baldomero, municipal council and Bayan Muna member, who was shot in front of his son in Kalibo, Aklan. The second victim was 78-year old farmer Pascual Guevarra of Nueva Ecija in Central Luzon. Guevarra’s grandson Ronnel Villoria was also wounded when he tried to help his grandfather. (Bulatlat.com)