Doctor Accused of Communist Links Slain in Central Philippines

Nonoy Espina
Bacolod, Philippines
Doctor Accused of Communist Links Slain in Central Philippines A woman wears a face shield with a slogan against “red tagging” – a term for people labelled by government security forces as having links with communists – during a protest in Manila on International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, 2020.
[Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

A city health officer, who was targeted on a list allegedly circulated by an anti-communist group, was gunned down with her husband on the central Philippine island of Negros, a human rights advocacy group said Wednesday.

Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband Edwin – whom the military earlier this month had accused of having links to communist insurgents – were shot dead on Tuesday evening in Guihulngan City, the Karapatan group said in a statement posted on Facebook.

“Initial reports said that Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband Edwin Sancelan were shot to death by motorcycle-riding gunmen while on their way home … They were brought to a local hospital, but were declared dead on arrival,” Karapatan said.

“The incident clearly shows how relentless vilification leads to merciless death …. Their killing reveals that the threats of tagging individuals as part of the New People’s Army are real and certainly not contrived,” the statement said, referring to the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines.

A police report confirmed that two men attacked the couple in a housing project where they lived in Guihulngan, a city in Negros Oriental province.

“The couple were on their way home when the two suspects shot the victims and immediately fled the subdivision. The victims sustained gunshot wounds on the different parts of their body,” the police report said.

Sancelan was the city health officer for Guihulngan and chaired a local task force against COVID-19.

Her name was at the top of a list of people said to be marked for death, in a document that began to be circulated in July. A group called Guihulngan Residents Against Communism, or Guihulnganon Batok Kumunista (KAGUBAK), purportedly disseminated the list.

The document accused Sancelan, 60, of having a different identity, J.B. Regalado, and serving as a spokesperson for the local New People’s Army (NPA) command. She had denied the allegations.

After the list was circulated, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, of the Catholic diocese which includes Guihulngan, released a video in which Sancelan spoke of the threat to her life.

She also said she was the only doctor serving the city’s 33 villages, many of these in the hinterlands where communist rebels operate.

Four other people on the list were slain in the months leading up to the killings of Sancelan and her husband.

Guihulngan was one of the cities in Negros Oriental where several people, including a lawyer and local government officials, died in a string of murders in July 2019 that remain unsolved. The military had previously accused most of the victims of ties with the communist rebels.

During a Senate hearing in early December, Sancelan and her husband were “red tagged” by the military’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

As part of red tagging, the Philippine military and police label groups or individuals as being supporters of communist rebels, or as insurgents themselves involved with alleged legal fronts for the NPA.

The military did not comment on the killings of Sancelan and her husband, when contacted on Wednesday. Officials said the military would continue its offensive against the communist party and the NPA over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, the military spokesman, said it was immaterial whether the CPP-NPA had declared its own ceasefire.

“They have been consistently and treacherously violating that after all,” he said.

A ‘soft-spoken and dedicated doctor’

Sancelan’s death will impact efforts to stem the coronavirus pandemic in Guihulngan, said the Council for Health and Development, a national organization of community-based health programs in the Philippines.

“We are enraged that such an act of impunity knows no bounds even at a time when the whole nation is gripped by the pandemic,” the group said in a statement.

“Her killers deprived the people of Guihulngan much needed health services especially in this most difficult time.”

Sancelan had worked hard to achieve her dream of becoming a community doctor, the statement said.

“Instead of using her license to heal in a more lucrative practice in the cities, Dr. Sancelan went back to Guihulngan and served as its only public health physician until she became City Health Officer a few years ago,” the group said.

“She was a quiet, soft-spoken and a dedicated doctor whose gargantuan task as the city health officer involved not just medical consultation but administrative work as well.”

Jojo Rinoza contributed to this report from Dagupan City, northern Philippines.


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Carmen Camello
Dec 19, 2020 08:32 AM

Mary Rose was my classmate in the college of nursing. Her violent death is a shock and we are all saddened by the way she was treated. She was a soft spoken, God loving kind person. She did not deserve this. And i am sure Mary Rose is not a member of the NPA. All that i know is that she unselfishly dedicated her life in the service of her community. She could have joined most of us abroad for greener pastures. But she instead pursued a medical degree because this way she could best serve her hometown, Godspeed, Mary Rose. You have left a great legacy of service and dedication both to your profession and to your community. You will be remembered with love and a deep sense of gratitude. You will be forever missed.