THE United Nations has condemned the killing of nine activists in Calabarzon region by the Philippine police targeting suspected insurgents.
“We are appalled by the apparently arbitrary killing of nine activists in simultaneous police-military operations in Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal provinces surrounding Metro Manila,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in a news briefing on Tuesday, March 9.
She also expressed concern over the crackdown further promoting violence and “red-tagging” against human rights defenders.
“We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation, harassment and ‘red-tagging’ of human rights defenders,” said Shamdasani.
The crackdown took place on Sunday, March 7, two days after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered state forces to kill communist rebels and “ignore human rights.”
Of the nine killings, seven were identified by human rights group Karapatan as members of progressive and indigenous groups. Among them were Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan staff Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista, SIKKAD K3 members Michael Dasigao and Mark Lee Bacasno, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Cavite secretary general Manny Asuncion, and Dumagat tribe leaders Puroy dela Cruz and Randy dela Cruz.
At least six were also arrested during the search warrant operations including Courage-Rizal member Eugene Eugenio, Olalia KMU executive vice president Esteban Mendoza, BAYAN Laguna spokesperson Elizabeth Camoral, and political prisoners’ paralegal aide Nimfa Lanzanas.
The UN rights office, in response, urged the Philippine government and members of the security forces to “refrain from rhetoric that may lead to violations, and instead make public commitments to uphold human rights and the rule of law.”
It also appealed to the police to take “urgent measures to prevent the use of excessive force resulting in loss of lives during law enforcement operations.”
Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, for his part, said that he will include the CALABARZON killings in the Department of Justice’s ongoing task force probe into political killings.
He also expressed disappointment over the killings, saying they need to “sit down” with state forces to ensure bloody crackdowns won’t happen anymore.
“I am quite disappointed kasi nga hindi nabawasan, notwithstanding na sinabi na natin ‘yan before the international body (I am quite disappointed because these were not avoided, notwithstanding my already saying this before an international body),” Guevarra said Monday, March 8.
“I was really hoping that with that statement I made before the UN, our law enforcers would be more careful in their operations but these things continue to happen so we really need to sit down with Philippine National Police (PNP), with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and with other law enforcement to make sure na hindi na masyadong mangyayari itong ganito (that these things don’t happen anymore so), it could be avoided,” he added.
On Tuesday, Shamdasani welcomed Guevarra’s statement, but pointed out that the government’s probe into the recent killings “will be a critical test for the domestic investigative mechanisms it has established for cases of this kind.”
“The United Nations is working with the government to strengthen these mechanisms, but we stress that these must be prompt, transparent, and effective in order to meet international standards,” she added.