A month ago, Chad, Jurain, Elegyn, Robert, and Tirso were killed by state forces in the Philippines. Their bodies showed signs of torture. The Armed Forces of the Philippines paraded their bodies on the Internet before their families even saw them. Are these the actions of brave and honorable people? No. These are crimes committed by gutless cowards who use the words brave and honorable, but do not know the meaning of it.
Even in death, the AFP disrespected them and desecrated their bodies as a warning to others: Keep silent, was the warning. Look away. Keep your head down. Pretend to be blind, mute, and deaf.
The New Bataan 5 were massacred because they said no. They refused to be silent. They refused to look away. They spoke out when they witnessed injustice. They acted where they saw a need. They served the people. The New Bataan 5 served the Indigenous Lumad communities in the Philippines, who have been targeted and harassed by state forces for decades. The Lumads have faced a multitude of struggles, chief among them protecting land that is rightfully theirs from the vested interests of foreign-owned mining firms. The New Bataan 5 stood in solidarity with the Lumads. And today, we stand in solidarity with the New Bataan 5.
We all want better conditions for our people. We want genuine democracy and liberation. This means our human rights are upheld. This means our needs are met on a day to day basis. This means that our people do not starve. They are fed, clothed, and housed adequately. These are basic necessities, unlike the boundless greed and selfish interests of rich landowners, multinational corporations, and corrupt bureaucrats who seek to further exploit the Filipino people. At the center of this system of exploitation is a government who is only too happy to export its own people abroad as if they were mere commodities—our parents, friends, and families who are forced to live away from their homeland. And so when we take it upon ourselves to serve the interests of the people, whether it be to teach like Chad and Jurain did, or to provide medical services as Elegyn did, or to simply earn a livelihood like drivers Robert and Tirso. When we choose what is right over what is easy, we are called terrorists by the Duterte government. As a consequence of our struggle for better conditions, we are targeted and in the case of the NB5, executed.
The theme for today’s vigil is Hardin or Garden. Gardens are a symbol for peace and community building. How can we achieve this? We achieve it together. We must tap into unity and collective action. Just as the New Bataan 5 did, we must speak and take a stand because silence will not protect us. If we are silent, nothing will change. At the hands of military forces, we have lost school teachers, farmers, union leaders, students, lawyers, and health care workers. People who look just like us. They are not terrorists! We are not terrorists! It is not terrorism to dream and struggle for better living conditions. Resisting state violence and imperialist aggression is not terrorism. We will never stop asserting that activism is not a crime. We will continue to demand justice and accountability.
As we head towards Election Day in 42 days, our most important task is to build the broadest alliance against another Marcos-Duterte regime. In the people’s garden, there can only be peace when there is justice. To achieve justice for the New Bataan 5 and many others who suffered and died at the hands of the AFP, these are our calls: Abolish the NTF-ELCAC! End the red-tagging! Junk the Anti-Terror Law! To the Duterte government and its cronies who weaponize these tools against those who fight for genuine democracy, we say: Enough is enough. We must draw the line and say: That’s it. You may not go further.
Justice for the New Bataan 5 massacre!
Speech delivered by Sherald Sanchez (Chairperson) at Bathurst and Wilson on Sunday, March 27th, 2022.