Philippine Lawmakers Call for Probe Into Spate of Killings

Luis Liwanag and Jeoffrey Maitem
Manila and Cotabato, Philippines
2020-12-18
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Philippine Lawmakers Call for Probe Into Spate of Killings An activist holds a sign calling for an end to impunity for killings, during a protest in Manila, Nov. 30, 2020.
[Luis Liwanag/BenarNews]

Lawmakers in the Philippines on Friday called for an investigation into a spate of brazen killings across the country, especially in the second half of 2020.

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the slayings of a doctor and her husband this week followed a disturbing trend of gunmen killing lawyers, doctors, journalists and activists in broad daylight, without fear of arrest or apprehension.

“With the end in view of attaining justice for the slain victims,” the killings must be investigated transparently, said Hontiveros and seven other opposition senators who signed a senate resolution calling for a probe.

“This attack is only one of the many horrific killings in the country, legitimized by an administration that has distorted the meaning of human rights,” Hontiveros said when filing the resolution, referring to the killings of the doctor and her spouse on Tuesday.

Physician Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband Edwin – whom the military earlier this month had accused of having links to communist insurgents – were gunned down in Guihulngan City in the central Philippines.

Sancelan, who had chaired a local task force against COVID-19, was named on a list of people said to be marked for death, in a document that began circulating in July, and which was allegedly disseminated by an anti-communist group.

“At a time of the biggest health crisis the country has ever seen, I am alarmed that this anti-communist agenda reigns over the literal health and survival of the Filipino people. Dr. Sancelan and her husband are only a few of the victims of a failing and senseless red-tagging campaign hell bent on crippling our democracy,” Hontiveros said.

“I ask everyone, especially our own government officials, to cease all careless and pernicious red-tagging of our people. Innocent lives are at stake. When you openly vilify and tag civilians as communist rebels, you only lend credence to the suspicion that you have blood on your hands,” Hontiveros added.

Hontiveros said that law enforcement had lost control of the country. She urged authorities to speed up the search for the assailants in the numerous killings.

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 New People’s Army, the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines.

The opposition senators introduced the resolution three days after the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court released its preliminary findings on extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. It said there was reason to believe that “crimes against humanity” had occurred.

A decision on whether The Hague-based court will launch an official probe is expected next year, the Office of ICC Prosecutor said in its Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2020.

On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said he wouldn’t mind going to jail if the international court found him guilty of committing crimes against humanity.

He denied having a hand in the killings, which he said could be the handiwork of rival gangs involved in a turf war.

“If we did something, then okay. We will go to jail if we have to. Don’t believe the opposition. They do nothing but make attempts to return to power,” Duterte said, accusing his critics and political detractors of giving the ICC false information.

Duterte is facing two complaints before the ICC.

One was filed by a former police officer and a self-styled assassin who accused Duterte of ordering the deaths of opponents and criminals when he was a mayor of the southern city of Davao.

The second was filed by relatives of several people killed during the counter-narcotics campaign.

Last year, Duterte pulled the Philippines out of an international treaty that created the ICC, believing that by doing so, he would no longer be investigated.

The ICC, however, said that any killings that occurred from July 2016 – when Duterte assumed power – until March 16, 2019, the eve of the Philippine withdrawal from the international treaty, would still be covered by a potential investigation.

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