Murder Greets a New Philippines President

Fernando Baldomero was preparing to take his child to school this morning, July 5, when he was shot dead. He was the first activist to be murdered under the presidency of Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

Baldomero was a member of the town council of the municipality of Lezo in Aklan, in the Western Visayas region about 400 kilometers south of Manila. He was also the Aklan provincial coordinator of activist political party Bayan Muna (People First). Early this year, unknown assailants lobbed two grenades at Baldomero's house. Pinoypress reported that one of the two grenades exploded but luckily no one was hurt.

Baldomero’s murder continues a long string of killings of activists and journalists. An estimated 1,200 members of activist organizations, including more than 140 from Bayan Muna since 2001 when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took office. In addition, at least 62 journalists have been murdered during the same period.

As Asia Sentinel reported in 2007, Arroyo’s administration, responding to pressure from the United Nations and domestic critics, relented after months of inaction to release an official report critical of the role of the Philippine military in the spate of murders of political activists. The release came a day after the UN Special Rapporteur on political killings criticized the government for its refusal to make the report public. The report, by a commission chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, found evidence to suggest that the military was culpable in some killings. Despite the report, no one has ever been brought to trial over the murders.

Is the murder of Baldomero an omen of bad things to come under the Aquino presidency? Maybe.

In his speech before the military last week, Aquino did not make any policy statement against political killings.

The fact that Aquino has not made a categorical order against extrajudicial killings bothers human rights advocates and families of the 1,200 victims of the slayings under Arroyo. After his house was attacked in March, Baldomero was described as a “rebel returnee” who had been detained in 2005 after being accused of being a member of the New People’s Army, whose members, former members and suspected sympathizers formed the bulk of those killed during the unannounced campaign under Arroyo to assassinate activists. At the time Baldomero described the attack as “part of the continued attacks against activists and members of progressive party list groups.”

Certainly, the pressure on activists has not been eased by Aquino’s election. Late last week, Manila police dispersed a protest action by farmers at the historic Mendiola Bridge and arrested the rallyers who were urging Aquino to resolve outstanding agrarian reform issues. More than three dozen protesters were arrested and detained.

Sunday, meanwhile, zealous policemen again used sticks, truncheons and shields against protesters at the US embassy. The cops chased the protesters up to several blocks. The protesters were complaining of unfair relations between the US and the Philippines, and urged the trashing of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Defenders of Aquino are expected to say that these are disparate incidents that do not present any pattern as to the new president's attitude or policy towards dissent and dissenters. It is important to stress though that similar apologies provided breathing space to the murderous monster that the Arroyo administration became for nine long years. Aquino better speak out soon and announce his position and policy on extrajudicial killings and how he would deal with dissenters. The longer he ignores these issues, the malignant forces within government, the police and the military would mistake his silence as a blanket approval to continue what they were doing under Arroyo: kill, maim and abduct activists; and break up rallies and pickets. More importantly, Baldomero's children and those of others martyred by the Arroyo administration deserve justice and it starts with a president who condemns such incidents and mobilizes the full force of the law against assassins.

Tonyo Cruz blogs for Asian Correspondent under the title Bullet Points. (