“The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.” –Lucretius
It remains unclear what happened just before dawn last August 15, when the Antique Provincial Mobile Force, San Jose de Buenavista municipal police, and the Philippine Army 301st Infantry Brigade and 61st Infantry Battalion converged upon an abandoned church in the town’s Barangay Atabay and killed seven suspected New People’s Army (NPA) members.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) claimed they were attempting to serve arrest warrants against Jayson Talibu, Jason Sanchez, Karen Ceralvo, Ildefenso Labinghisa, Peter Mecenas, Liezl Bandiola, and Felix Salditos; however, the group engaged in a firefight with both police and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel – in this version, the seven were killed in an “encounter.” With bodies lined up and presented to the media just hours later and with no other “rebels” captured alive, no one can dispute the PNP and AFP account – dead men tell no tales.
Conversely, there have been no reports of government forces suffering casualties.
Since a firefight would involve shots coming from all sides, a 30-minute encounter (according to the police) would have been messy, bloody, and confusing. There should have also been stray bullets striking nearby houses or civilians caught in the crossfire; all of which occurred while the entire neighborhood was asleep.
While police and military officials neither confirm nor deny some of their men were also hit and wounded, all the media were informed of was an “encounter” where, as shown by the body count, the enemies were unlucky.
Police Regional Office-6 director, Police Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, also accused the group of engaging in extortion, noting, some of the items seized following the incident included extortion letters, several high-powered firearms, ammunition, grenades, and cash.
Human rights groups and families of the “Antique 7” have been making heated accusations before the media and demanding justice. They have since filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court, through the National Union of People’s Lawyers, seeking a “clearer picture” as to what happened that morning, dismissing the version provided by law enforcement, and insisting those who died were “victims of a massacre.”
Salditos’ wife, Ruth, claimed the seven died from the “same fatal gunshot wounds,” which struck the head, neck and stomach. She added, they appeared to be sleeping when the “attack” took place.
Meanwhile, while the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, affirmed the seven were NPA members, the group said they were unarmed, calling them “cultural and educational warriors” and “non-combatants.”
Massacre or encounter, we have one description of what happened to the “Antique 7”: trapped./WDJ