Philippines: Killing of land rights activist Ms. Elisa Lascoña Tulid

The Observatory has been informed by Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) about the killing of Ms. Elisa Lascoña Tulid, a human rights defender in the agrarian reform sector and a leader of the peasant group Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Barangay Tala at Camflora, in Sitio Kumbenyo, Barangay Tala, San Andres, Quezon Province.

According to the information received, on October 29, 2013 at 2 pm, Ms. Lascoña Tulid was walking along with her husband and her four-year-old daughter when she was shot point-blank by a man who was identified as Mr. Rannie Bugnot, trustee of an alleged land grabber in the area, Mr. Edwin Ausa. Ms. Tulid, who suffered gunshot wounds in the nape, mouth, left eye and left thigh, was pronounced dead on the spot. Her husband and daughter both managed to run away. Her husband ran to the military camp in Barangay Tala to seek help and report the incident. The military called the police, who arrested Mr. Bugnot on the same day at his private house and charged him later.

The Observatory firmly condemns and expresses its deepest concern about the killing of Ms. Elisa Lascoña Tulid, and considers it as an attempt to criminalise her efforts to defend human rights in the country and discourage other defenders working for the same cause.

Ms. Elisa Lascoña Tulid had had several confrontations with Mr. Edwin Ausa and his group when trying to prove her community’s rights to the land. She also filed a complaint in 2012 before the Barangay Council against them when the group took crops cultivated by Ms. Lascoña Tulid’s family without their consent. Ever since then Ms. Elisa Lascoña Tulid and her family have been threatened and harassed by Mr. Ausa and his group. One of the most serious threats they received was posed by Mr. Ausa when he said that he would kill all the Tulids if they kept fighting for the land concerned.

The Observatory urges the Philippine authorities to conduct an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the facts reported above in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent and impartial tribunal and apply the sanctions provided by the law.

Background information

There is a persistent agrarian conflict in the Philippines. Traditionally, there has been a feudal exploitation system in Bondoc Peninsula, Southern Tagalog, where 80 per cent of the households depend on subsistence farming (mainly banana and coconut monocropping) as well as fishing. Mr. Domingo Reyes, one of the main landholders in the region, holds an estimated surface of 12,000 to 16,000 hectares and keeps a 60 per cent of these lands total harvest, while the remaining 40 per cent goes to the tenants, who also have to cover the production expenses.

In 1988 the Government launched the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) through which it bought all lands exceeding seven hectares and sold them to the landless farmers although frequently peasants did not want to apply for agrarian reform coverage due to fears to landowners.

In 2004, settlers requested to be covered by the CARP. Farmer tenants working on Reyes’ lands boycotted and stopped giving the 60 per cent share of the harvest when Ms. Elisa Lascoña Tulid and other settlers learned that the lands claimed by Mr. Reyes had been declared as public land and timberland by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Ms. Lascoña Tulid was at the forefront of the fight to claim the lands declared as public.

It has been alleged by some sectors that Mr. Edwin Ausa and Mr. Rannie Bugnot are supporters of Mr. Reyes’ clan and have been trying to instill fear in the communities to prevent them from claiming their land rights.