Two soldiers convicted for the murder of church worker

·3 min read
Gavel and scales of justice on a desk in a court of law. A court in Bacolod has convicted two military personnel for the murder of a parish worker a over decade ago.
Gavel and scales of justice on a desk in a court of law. A court in Bacolod has convicted two military personnel for the murder of a parish worker a over decade ago.

A Bacolod court has convicted two military personnel over the killing of labor organizer and progressive group Bayan Muna coordinator Benjamin Bayles 12 years ago in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental.

In a decision dated March 31, Acting Presiding Judge Ana Celeste Bernad found Roger Bajon and Ronnie Caurino guilty beyond reasonable doubt for murder and sentenced the two to reclusion perpetua. The two are members of the 61st Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Judge Bernad also ordered the convicted murderers to pay P300,000 in civil indemnity and moral and exemplary damages.

On June 14, 2010, Bayles was shot by then unidentified gunmen while waiting for a ride in Himamaylan City. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Bayles was also a member of national priests' organization Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI). According to IFI, Bayles was a lay minister in the Parish of San Ramon Nonato, and as a committed church worker, he was a District Chairman of the Aglipayan Forum, the Church’s advocacy group, in the Diocese of Negros Occidental.

The victim was also an active member of the human rights organization September 21 Movement, and the peasant organization National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW).

“His involvement with the marginalized sector and peasants and workers organizations has earned him the ire of the military who tagged him as a member of the New People’s Army,” IFI said in a statement.

National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Ben Ramos, one of Bayles’ family prosecutors, was also killed by another two unidentified gunmen in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental in November 2018. He was representing the families of nine sugarcane workers killed in Sagay City, Negros Occidental when he was shot dead.

The NUPL has welcomed the decision on the case.

“These speak volumes. Yet it is not lost on us that justice will come later even if not sooner.

This is for you, Ben Bayles and Ben Ramos, the latter who was with us to see this through before he himself was killed in 2018. We have to acknowledge the role our partners in the prosecution played too. This is a clear message and warning to those who think there is immunity for impunity,” the organization wrote.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016, 66 lawyers have been killed, including judges and prosecutors. Meanwhile, 414 people have been killed extrajudicially, while 2,275 have been arrested illegally without detention, data from rights group Karapatan showed.

Pola Rubio is a news writer and photojournalist covering Philippine politics and events. She regularly follows worldwide and local happenings. The views expressed are her own.

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