Philippine national police said Monday they were deploying hundreds of commandos to Negros Oriental after four people with links to the left were gunned down over the weekend amid a spate of killings this month in the central province.
Provincial Gov. Roel Degamo said 20 people had been killed so far in July. Leftist groups blamed the national government for allegedly targeting them as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against communist insurgents.
“I have ordered the deployment of more than 300 special action force troops to Negros Island to augment local police units in anti-criminality and internal security operations against elements and dissident terrorist groups operating in the provinces of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental,” National Police Chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde told reporters.
Meanwhile, Degamo said he was waiting for other officials in the region to condemn the spate of violent deaths.
“I, as governor of this province am the first to stand up and condemn these killings in the strongest possible terms,” Degamo said. “This is too much.”
“As the governor, I have to be on top of the situation. We are dealing with this step by step and we are looking forward to the earliest resolution of the case. Let us stand for peace, let us make the rule of law prevail in our province.” he said.
On Saturday, armed men attacked Edsel Enardecido, 60, a former mayor in the town of Ayungon, and his cousin Leo Enardecido, 45 who died immediately, while two other local politicians were gunned down separately hours later.
The motive for the attacks has not been determined, but the four were known to support the local unit of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), police said.
Their deaths came a little more than a week after four police officers were killed in an ambush near Ayungon on July 18, an attack that national police blamed on the NPA and days after seven other people were killed, including educators and a local official.
On Thursday, a high school principal and his sister, a fellow educator, were killed while sleeping in their home in Guihulngan City. Less than an hour later, a village chief was killed in Guihulngan City as well.
A lawyer who handled human rights cases and whose name was on a hit list of a shadowy anti-communist group, was also killed in Guihulngan. Three others were killed, including a man and his 1-year-old son, who died when gunmen shot up their home in Sta. Catalina town.
Degamo said he had ordered a “special task force” created to investigate the killings, noting that local politicians were known to control their own private armed groups.
Bishop speaks out
San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, who ordered church bells in his diocese rung at 8 p.m. starting Sunday and “until the killings stop,” condemned the latest killings as he described the slain officials as people “close to the hearts of the poor in their localities.”
“While serving as elected officials, they wholeheartedly defended those who have less in life and promoted programs to help them,” Alminaza said in a “continuing pastoral appeal” just hours after the news broke.
“Those who were killed are persons; they are not just numbers or statistics!” he said. “We fervently pray that we may not continue counting dead bodies; that every one of us will continue protecting human lives.”
Lt. Col. Joeson Parallag, the local police chief, said officers had received information that masked men armed with rifles arrived in four vans and stormed the house of some of the victims. He said the killers sprayed graffiti accusing those killed of being traitors to the rebels’ cause.
In a statement on Monday, the CPP disowned the killings, pinning the blame on Duterte, a self-confessed leftist who previously called off peace talks in the region.
Duterte “incited his armed minions in Negros to carry out the killings by making false claims that the four police officers killed in the NPA ambush on July 18 in Ayungon town were tortured,” the statement said.
It noted that Duterte had offered reward money, and the killings began shortly thereafter.
“Most of the victims were previously red tagged or have been remotely linked to people’s democratic movement in Negros,” CPP said. “Duterte’s military, police and paramilitary death squads are targeting even civic-minded people as communists.”
Jojo Rinoza in Dagupan, Philippines, contributed to this report.