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Where are those witnesses who never show up?

ILIGAN (Agencies) : It does not take much to get up the nostrils of the Philippine landed class, which has proven to be quite resourceful in using its power to remove anyone who challenges its privilege in any way at all.

Joel Yagao, a lay worker with the Rural Missionaries of The Philippines, an organisation set up by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in Mindanao, was arrested on 8 September 2013 in the compound of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Misamis Oriental and charged with murder.

Specifically, the charge says that he was involved with the New People’s Army when the mayor of Gingoog City, Ruthie Guingona, was ambushed and killed.

Yagao has languished in jail ever since, together with two simple farmers, Modesto Bernas and Reynaldo. CBCP News reports that whenever a hearing in their case is scheduled, it is postponed, because witnesses fail to appear.

For more than five years, Yagao had been based in Northern Mindanao Region working on community-based land campaigns, particularly in the eastern municipalities of Misamis Oriental.

“In carrying out our work… we are subjected to harassment, threats, accused of being members of the New People’s Army by the government and its law enforcers,” Yagao stated in an open letter he sent to Pope Francis during his visit to The Philippines in January this year.

Yagao had been immersed in rural communities, working with farmers, farm workers, people who fish for a living and indigenous peoples who aspire to own their own land. He has assisted them in bargaining for a better price for their products and an increase in their wages as farm labourers.

The Rural Missionaries believe that justice is neither being done nor seen to be being done and has appealed to the president, Noynoy Aquino, to intervene and have Yagao released immediately.


He was 44 when he was arrested and is married with two children.