MILITANTS stage a protest Wednesday against the killing of five members of the progressive coalition Alyansang Mamamayang Makabayan (Makabayan).

Around 100 members of Makabayn gathered at Jones Circle to condemn the death of Fernando Baldomero, 61, member of Bayan Muna; Pascual Guevarra, 78, member of Anakpawis; and Mark Francisco, 27; Edgar Fernandez, 44; and Josephine Estacio, 42, all members of ACT Teachers Party-list.

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Bagong Alyansang Makabayan - Southern Mindanao Region (Bayan-SMR) spokesperson John Birondo said the coalition is calling on President Benigno Aquino III to show a resolute stand against the killings of progressive groups members.

Birondo was joined by members of other coalition affiliates of Makabayan, Gabriela Women's Party, Kabataan Partylist, League of Filipino Students, and Katribu.

"Nagsugod pa lang si Aquino sa iyang pwesto unya ingani na ka kusog ang pagpamatay sa mga taong naay progressibong panghuna huna buot pasabot wala pa ta naayo sa atong sakit (Aquino has only started in his position as President and the attack against those who have progressive minds is already this strong. This means our country has still not healed itself)," Birondo said.

ACT representative Antonio Tinio also called for the government's fast investigation on the mounting deaths among progressives.

"Government must immediately take steps to put an end to the violence faced by teachers in Palanas town. The Aquino government's ability to ensure the well-being and safety of its citizens is being put to the test," Tinio said in an emailed statement.

"These murders show that the extra-judicial killing of activists continues to take place under the new dispensation of President Aquino. It's only been a few days, yet the death toll is already rising. We expect nothing less than an end to impunity from this new government. President Aquino must direct the necessary government resources to ensuring that the perpetrators of these three murders are caught, tried and punished," Tinio said.

Birondo said Makabayan is pointing its fingers to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as responsible for the killings of their members.

"(We) believe that the ongoing political killing in the country is a continued operation of the AFP under its vicious sceme Oplan bantay Laya," Birondo said.

"In the same ground that AFP should be held accountable for the killings, Noynoy Aquino should face his accountabilities as AFP's commander-in-chief. One way or another, he is liable for all the crimes and other forms of injustices inflicted by the AFP against the Filipino people," Birondo said.

Baldomero was repeatedly shot by a lone gunman early morning of July 5 in front of his residence in the capital town of Kalibo in Aklan, as he was about to take his 12-year-old son to school. The gunman fled on board a motorcycle driven by an accomplice.

Last July 9, Guevarra, who is head of the local Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association (Arba) and Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid na Nagkakaisa 3100 (Almana 3100), died from bullet wounds in the chest. Guevarra's grandson, Ronnel Viloria, 18, tried to help his grandfather but the gunman shot and wounded him.

On July 9, Francisco was heading home at around 5 p.m. with four other co-teachers onboard motorcycles when fired at by armed suspects upon reaching a river crossing in Sitio Umawas, Barangay Malibas, Palanas, in Masbate.

Francisco fell down dead, his body riddled with bullets from an M-16 rifle. Another co-teacher was pursued by the assailants, but managed to escape on board his motorcycle and reported the incident to the authorities.

Fernandez died on the same day as Francisco. Fernandez, a public school teacher from Barangay Central, Masbate City, Masbate, was shot dead by unidentified men on his way home.

On July 12, Estacio, another member of ACT Teachers Partylist, was killed by unidentified motorcycle-riding men before the start of classes in Tenejero Elementary School in Tenejero village, Balanga City, Bataan.

Teachers as targets

ACT representative Antonio Tinio particularly condemned the killing of his coalition's members.

"We demand justice for our fellow-teacher and party-members," Tinio said.

Tinio added that there has been a spate of violence targeting teachers in Palanas, Masbate.

Tinio said in the last three days before the murder of Francisco, another public school teacher in Palanas was also ambushed. Dexter Legazpi, 36, was riding his motorcycle to school with his wife on the morning of July 6 when a group of five men wearing ski masks and military uniforms shot at them. Legazpi, who was able to speed away to safety on his motorcycle, is also a member of ACT Teacher' Party.

Tinio said during the election campaign period for the May 2010 elections, ACT members were the target of a nationally-coordinated vilification campaign, along with other progressive partylists such as Bayan Muna, Gabriela, and Anakpawis.

"We were routinely tagged as communist and New People's Army front organizations by the military during the campaign period and some of our members and supporters were harassed and threatened. Now, they are being attacked, and one of them, killed," he said.

Tinio called on authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident and for the perpetrators to be swiftly brought to justice.

Tinio also urged the Department of Education to work with the Philippine National Police and the local government authorities to extend protection to the teachers who survived the attack and who may now serve as witnesses. (Jade C. Zaldivar/PR)