BACOLOD CITY – Mayor Melecio Yap Jr. called for healing during the 35th year commemoration of the Escalante Massacre held at the public plaza of the northern Negros city on Sunday.
The ceremony, streamed on Facebook Live by the city government, remembered the event, where 20 people died and a number of others were injured after they were shot by paramilitary forces during a protest-rally held a day before the 13th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in 1985.
“Dili ta malab-ot ang kahilway kag kalinong tungod ara ang dumot sa atung dughan (We cannot achieve freedom and peace if there is hatred in our hearts),” Yap said in his message relating to the theme “Towards a New Decade of Healing and Moving Forward”.
He urged his constituents not to allow the issue of Escalante Massacre to be used by “the other side”, but encouraged them instead to remember the sacrifices of the victims that have brought changes for the better.
The mayor said that the people should not blame the government troops for what happened because they are not the perpetrators who were already brought to justice.
During the ceremony, Yap and Col. Inocencio Pasaporte, commander of the Philippine Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade, led the wreath-laying at the Escalante Massacre monument.
Addressing the soldiers led by Pasaporte and Lt. Col. Gerard Alvaran, commanding officer of 79th Infantry Battalion, the mayor thanked their sacrifices for the country.
The mayor also called on the Philippine National Police through city police chief, Maj. Gil John Despi, to “double their efforts” in addressing the unsolved crimes in Escalante.
For his part, Pasaporte said the Escalante Massacre is an unfortunate part of the country’s history taken advantage of by leftists who used the incident to foment hate and incite the people of Escalante to go against the government.
“Let this incident serve as a painful reminder for us not to commit the same mistake. Let us continue the reconciliation as we move forward to a peaceful and progressive Escalante City,” he added.
Pasaporte noted that the call for reconciliation began last year during the North Negros Peace Summit hosted by the city during the massacre’s 34th anniversary.
“This year’s commemoration is another significant step to continue and unify the people of Escalante for reconciliation and healing,” he said.
Last year’s event was highlighted by the mass surrender of a total of 2,510 former rebels and members of the New People’s Army in Negros Occidental, including a majority of almost 1,000 from Escalante.
Among those who pledged allegiance to the Philippine government was massacre survivor Janet Pantonial, who also spoke during the program on Sunday.
Pantonial, who was only in her teens in 1985, acknowledged the positive changes that happened to her life after returning to the fold of the law last year.
At present, she is working at the Escalante City Center for Collaborative Solutions, which provides livelihood to those belonging to the marginalized sectors and assists farmers on land reform issues. (PNA)