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Dispatches: Unending Impunity in the Philippines

One was a peasant leader. Another was a newspaper publisher. Both were shot and killed by men on motorcycles on the same day, underscoring a continuing legacy of violence and impunity in the Philippines.

Joel Gulmatico, chairman of the Arakan Progressive Peasant Organization in North Cotabato province, died Tuesday morning after a gunman shot him near his house in Arakan town, in the southern Philippines. Gregorio Ybañez, publisher of the newspaper Kabuhayan News Services in Tagum City, also in the south, was shot in the evening of the same day as he was entering his house and died Wednesday at a hospital. In both cases, gunmen were riding motorcycles, a familiar modus operandi for shootings in the Philippines.

The Aquino administration’s record in ensuring accountability for the killers of activists and journalists has been dismal

The two killings underscore continuing impunity for extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, where hundreds of activists and journalists have been killed in the last decade. Government security forces are primary suspects in many killings.

Although numerous killings took place during the previous administration of Gloria Arroyo, many have taken place in the current administration.

Gulmatico, the activist, was the latest victim in a string of killings of members of peasant organizations in the Philippines, which are often targeted by state forces for their alleged links to a Communist insurgency. A local councilman, he ran for village chairman in Naje in 2013 in North Cotabato, but lost because the military allegedly campaigned against him. According to colleagues, Gulmatico had received death threats related to his campaigning against mining projects in the area. In 2012, an Italian Catholic priest, Fr. Fausto Tentorio, who had also been involved in anti-mining advocacy, was killed in his church compound in Arakan.

Ybañez, who was the president of the Davao del Norte Press and Radio-TV Club, earlier reported that his colleagues in the club had received death threats because of their commentary on an economic  dispute. Ybañez was himself involved in the dispute. On December 11, 2013, Rogelio Butalid, a broadcaster in Tagum City and a colleague of Ybañez’s, was shot dead by alleged members of the Tagum Death Squad.

The Aquino administration’s record in ensuring accountability for the killers of activists and journalists has been dismal. The killings of Gulmatico and Ybañez are in part the legacy of this inaction. Aquino leaves office in less than a year. If current impunity prevails, he will leave behind a sordid human rights record.

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