Human rights group decries case dismissal against suspect of killing a Fair Trade advocate

ILOILO CITY, PHILIPPINES, 5 SEPTEMBER 2014 – The human rights group Panay Alliance – Karapatan in the Philippines denounced the dismissal of the case against suspect of the killing of Fair Trade advocate Romeo Capalla. 

“It is no wonder that the charges filed by the police against a suspect in the killing of Romeo Capalla was dismissed by the prosecutor’s office,” said Reylan Vergara, secretary-general of Panay-Alliance-Karapatan.

They blamed police ‘ineptness’ during the investigation that led to the dismissal of the case filed against alleged suspect Julie Cabino. Cabino was accused of gunning down Capalla on 15 March 2014 at the entrance of the Oton Public Market, in Iloilo City.

The killing of Capalla, a prominent Fair Trade advocate, and of Dionisio Garete, a member of a Fair Trade network organisation in Janiuay town just  a month later, earned the ire of the international Fair Trade network. Dismayed by the slow progress in giving justice for Capalla’s killing, a team of representatives of international and local Fair Trade organisations conducted an international fact-finding mission (IFFM) to look into the status of the investigation five months after Capalla was killed.

“I am angry that there was no real investigation made,” said Rudi Dalvai, president of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), after rounds of dialogue with mayors and police chiefs of Oton and Janiuay.

Oton town mayor Vincent Flores said there were witnesses who saw the suspect. 

“It comes out that the authorities are not sincere in conducting a thorough investigation,” said Vergara. 

He said the suspects in both killings were members of the RPA-ABB, presently serving as a para-military group organised by the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency campaign, and could explain the police’ lack of drive in investigating both killings.

Iloilo governor Arthur Defensor told the members of the IFFM that the RPA-ABB are not free to roam with their firearms but should keep them inside their houses, and should be arrested if caught bringing them outside. 

Local Fair Trade organisations reported to the IFFM that they were being intimidated and threatened by the para-military group who at times roam near sugar cane farms and mascuvado mills with high-power firearms.

Karapatan passes the blame to Pres. Aquino for failing to curb impunity and for encouraging such groups to commit human rights violations. Even the Janiuay police personnel said they were helpless with regards to the RPA-ABB because when they arrest them for offenses, Malacañang (Office of the President) interfered and ordered the release of offenders. 

“We would like to see that the government protects the members of the Fair Trade network here,” said Hyungmi Kim, executive director of the Korean ICOOP Cooperative Institute, with up to 200,000 consumers as network. 

The IFFM members promised to monitor the situation, if any progress is made, and will come back if the situation warrants.

Editor’s note: If you want to follow the case, please contact Reylan Vergara, Secretary General of Panay Alliance-Karapatan. Telephone number +639398300744.