Philippines: Rights Body, Govt Probe Killings of 9 in Police Raids

Nonoy Espina and Jojo Rinoza
Bacolod and Dagupan, Philippines
2021-03-08
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Philippines: Rights Body, Govt Probe Killings of 9 in Police Raids Philippine activists stage a protest in Manila against a proposed counter-terrorism law, June 4, 2020.
Luis Liwanag/BenarNews

The Philippine human rights commission and the government said Monday they were investigating anti-communist insurgency operations by police that killed nine people over the weekend.

Those slain during raids in four provinces on Sunday were vocal critics of the Duterte administration, human rights groups alleged, but government officials defended the raids and said they were justified.

“Activists are not necessarily terrorists,” lawyer Jacqueline de Guia, a spokeswoman for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), said in a statement. 

“There should be a differentiation between those who take up arms and those who merely exercise their constitutional right to form and join associations, organizations as well as petition the government for redress of its grievances,” she said. 

The commission, through one of its regional branches, was “already on the said cases to pursue independent probes in line with our mandate as the country’s national human rights institution,” the CHR said.

Philippine National Police Chief Debold Sinas, meanwhile, said that the raids were based on search warrants, but police were also investigating allegations from rights advocates that the people who died in the operations were summarily executed.

“As of yesterday, we received a report that they implemented simultaneous search warrants,” he told reporters, adding they were “based on reports of illegal possession of firearms.

“And the last report that I received is that nine died,” he said.

Responding to concerns raised by rights groups, Sinas said “whatever their accusation is, it is under investigation.”

The police operations were “legitimate,” Sinas added, “because they are covered by SWs [search warrants].”

The violence came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered security forces to end the country’s 52-year-old communist rebellion, the longest in Asia.

In its statement, the independent government commission called on police and the military to carry out a parallel investigation into the incident “given the brutal nature of the deaths and allegations of irregularities in the said law enforcement operations.

“CHR finds the number of deaths most concerning in light of the pattern of prevalent red-tagging and escalating attacks against activists,” it said.

Red-tagging is a term activists use when law enforcers accuse groups or individuals of being communist rebels or supporters of the leftist insurgency.

The watchdog described as worrisome Duterte’s public instruction on Friday for security forces to shoot and “kill (them) right away” if they saw communist insurgents holding a gun.

“Words matter and such words can embolden some to act with abuse and impunity,” the commission said.

On Monday, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque defended the raids because, he said, the government’s security forces were dealing with communist guerrillas.

“Because there is war, it is not against the law to kill,” Roque said.

But because there have been varying reports as saying that those killed were activists, the government is obligated to investigate, he said.

“The nine who were killed we will investigate because they are not covered by the international humanitarian law,” Roque said. “Because when they were killed, they were not holding guns.”

He stressed, however, that Duterte’s order to “kill, kill, kill is legal because it covers rebels who had guns.”

The government has been trying to suppress a rebellion involving the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), since 1969.

The rebels vowed to step up attacks against the government after the weekend killings, which rights groups have dubbed “Bloody Sunday.”

‘A massacre’

On Monday, Vice President Leni Robredo, who was elected separately from Duterte and has been a leader of the opposition, condemned the killings. 

“There is no other way to describe this – it was a massacre,” she said, adding that the deadly raids occurred “just two days after the president himself ordered state forces to ‘ignore human rights,’ kill communist rebels and ‘finish them off.’”

“I call for justice. I am calling for a clean and independent investigation to ensure that those responsible be held accountable, so justice can move forward,” Robredo said.

“The Filipino people deserve better than this murderous regime.”

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a former activist, also condemned the raids.

“There is no denying that this scale of violence, injustice, and impunity is being perpetrated by this administration,” she said in a statement.

Fellow Sen. Panfilo Lacson, an independent, noted that when the country’s president “barks out an order, the commander of troops must dish out clear guidelines on how to carry out such anti-insurgency operations,” to ensure that armed combatants – not civilians – are targeted.

“It goes without saying that the only legal justification to kill an adversary is in defense of oneself or another person,” said Lacson, a former national police chief.

Only five of those killed in Sunday’s raids have been identified, according to authorities. Six others were taken into custody and nine remain at large.

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