On the Death of a Brother

Opinion & Analysis Oct 25, 2013 at 3:17 pm
Rev. Noriel C. Capulong

By Rev. Noriel C. Capulong

The year 2006 was a most dreadful year for human rights activists and even for our family.  It was the year when the series of extra judicial killings of activists and advocates for human and environmental rights had been most intense, so systematic and so brutal and unforgiving. It was a year also when my family had to face a series of crises the most painful of which was the loss of my brother Noli who was supposed to be my donor for a kidney transplant that I desperately needed that year when I was already suffering from end stage kidney failure and had been undergoing dialysis twice a week for two months already. It was also the year when a sister of mine had to undergo major surgery for cancer of the breast. It was also the same year when our elder brother had a serious aneurysm of the aorta which almost killed him if not for a very timely medical intervention.

When it rains it really pours, but we all were able to recover by God’s grace. But the death of our brother Noli is a permanent, irreparable loss that can no longer be recovered, even if until today, his case cannot still be given the justice he deserves.

My brother Noli Capulong was a former coordinator of the Ecology and Environment Protection program of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. As such, he was very active in his advocacies for the protection and preservation of the various critical ecological areas in Southern Tagalog, such as the Laguna Lake which has become so heavily polluted with industrial wastes coming from the various factories lining up the shores of the lake in Laguna, Mt. Makiling where development of housing and resort areas, even golf courses can now be seen ascending the slopes of the mountain.

As a devoted member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, he readily accepted the chairmanship of the Committee on Christian Witness and Service of the North East Southern Tagalog Conference, thus mobilizing the support of the church in his environmental program and advocacies. To further create a broader alliance of the various sectors, not just of the church, he also helped organize the Southern Tagalog Environmental Advocacy Movement or STEAM, bringing in the presence and support of the youth, the students and out of school youth, the workers in the factories of Laguna, farmers, fisherfolks of the Laguna Lake along with the members of various churches. The growing ecumenical character of their advocacies led to the establishment of the Southern Tagalog Regional Ecumenical Council or STREC where NCCP member churches are also represented.
Thus, Noli was just part of a growing movement of peoples coming from various sectors, calling, working and struggling for real changes that will result in the protection, preservation of our environment from the onslaught of rapid and irresponsible development aggression. For so many of the various development plans in the region have already resulted in serious ecological destruction as well as in the displacement of peoples who were inhabiting the areas to be developed along with the loss of their traditional sustainable livelihood.

Noli was also working side by side with the representatives then of the Bayan Muna Party List in the establishment of Botica sa Barangay (Village Pharmacy) where generic drugs were to be made available to the people at much lower price than those sold in the regular drug stores, one branch of which was to be opened and inaugurated 3 days before he was murdered.

And so, in the afternoon of May 27, 2006, just a week or so, after a UCCP pastor and his wife were ambushed in Mindanao, killing the pastor and seriously wounding the wife, and at that moment while the UCCP General Assembly in Davao then was debating a resolution condemning the growing list of extrajudicial killings of its own people  Noli was ambushed while driving his owner type jeep in Barangay Parian, Calamba City. He was killed instantly after receiving 4 bullet shots in his face and body from a hooded gunman riding at the back of a motorbike. He never had a chance to say good bye to his wife Doyet who was just washing their laundry at the time, nor to their two children, Marilag who was still in 3rd  year high school then while the elder child JR, who just graduated with honors at the UP Los Banos. He just left home for a while to drive home a friend. He came back a lifeless body already.

We in the family knew that his activities could really put his life in danger but we never realized it would be this brutally close and real. It was only later, that our pastor in Calamba confided to us that in fact, Noli had indeed told him that he has already received several threats to his life which he never shared to us and even asked the pastor to also keep the matter to himself so as not to alarm the family. It was only then that the helper of my brother and some neighbors related that they were actually seeing men on motorbike casing and always watching our ancestral house where Noli was living with his family days before the attack.

Noli was the 136th victim of extrajudicial killing in Southern Tagalog alone. By the end of the Arroyo regime there were more than 900 cases of extrajudicial killings and involuntary disappearances all over the country. Until today, not one of these cases have been given resolution, not one killer was arrested, not one was ever put in jail, not one was ever brought to court, no one was ever identified as the one behind these killings and disappearances.

This is why the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, two years ago, filed an unprecedented class suit against the Arroyo regime in behalf of six of its members and pastors who had been killed or abducted during such period. Along with Noli, the others mentioned in the class suit the cases of the killings of Rev. Edison Lapus, a conference minister in the North East Leyte Conference, who was killed right in his home in Leyte,  Pastor Andy Pawikan, Pastor Raul Domingo, lay leader Jose Baclao, a UCCP Disaster relief coordinator, and Pastor Berlin Guerrero who was abducted and tortured last May 27, 2007 and kept in isolation for several days before being released because of rising pressure from several sectors including the international ecumenical community then. There were about 22 other UCCP members and church workers who had suffered similar fate whose cases were separately filed in court.

The thing is that all of these cases have never been resolved, for in fact, the present government of President Aquino had not displayed any firm resolve at all in addressing the cry for justice of the families of these victims. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Atty. Philip Alston came over and investigated at length most of these cases, interviewing the families, friends of the victims and even the military officials. In the end he came to the conclusion in what is now called as the Alston Report (which is available in the Internet) that there is indeed an epidemic of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, for there is just one too many incidents especially in the years 2005 and 2006 for them to just be ignored.  In all of these cases, there is clear indication that the security forces of the government are behind these series of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances or abductions, as part of the so-called OPLAN bantay Laya or guardian of freedom which calls for the targeting or eliminating of the suspected leaders of the so called rebel groups in the country. The supposed plan and goal was to decapitate the people’s movement and thus dis able it and destroy it altogether. Of course, all the allegations of the Alston report were vehemently denied and rejected by the government.

In the meantime, the killings of activists and leaders of various organizations continued without abating. A few days after the killing of Noli, a prominent former rebel in Bicol, Sotero Llamas was ambushed and shot dead. A few months later, a very articulate and human rights advocate bishop of the Philippine Independent Church, Bp. Nene Ramientos was attacked and killed in his own home. It was indeed a year filled with blood of so many martyred activists.

In fact, a climate of impunity and lawlessness has descended upon the land. It is as if the perpetrators and those behind these crimes feel no more fear, no more sense of accountability to any higher power. It is as if only those who have the power and who has the gun can make and dictate the rules. This is why elections have become even more violent these days.

In this climate of impunity and continuing lawlessness could there be no more hope for our country? I believe there is, and there will always be. As long as there remains people like you who are willing to care enough and listen to what is happening and are willing to lend their voices to the cries for justice for all the victims of these extrajudicial killings and abductions.

Your presence somehow affirms in us the belief and the conviction that there is hope still and there is still a future awaiting our country. But of course, there  remains a lot of work to be done, by all sectors who care to join in this effort , in this struggle to put a stop to all forms of injustice and victimization going on in our land. For our government must continue to feel the pressure of a united voice of a people who are feeling the outrage of the gross miscarriage of justice taking place in the land. Your voice, your concern, your help will certainly mean a lot in helping build a better society in our country.

We must compel our government to listen and act justly and expeditiously on all these cases.

Only if we have a government who knows how to listen to the cries of these victims, to the voices of the widows, the orphans, the unjustly imprisoned and taken away from their loved ones, a government who knows how to redress the legitimate grievances of the people, who would really seek to establish justice for all regardless of status, rank, class, or race, who would tolerate no more abuses, no more corruption, no more monopoly of power, wealth and privileges and no more domination of the weak by the few who are powerful, but instead, a government who cares for the welfare of all, but especially, the welfare of the poor and the ordinary citizens of the land, the landless farmers, the exploited workers, abused women in the factories, the ordinary youth who deserves a better future in our land, only then can we really see the just resolution of our basic problems in our beloved Philippines.  Thank you very much.

Rev. Noriel C. Capulong
Ontario Institute for Studies and Education (OISE)
Toronto, Canada, Oct. 19, 2013