Responding to news that at least nine were killed and 6 others arrested in coordinated raids by the police and military against activist groups in various provinces in Southern Tagalog on 7 March, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Butch Olano said:
“The Duterte administration’s brutality knows no bounds. Just two days after President Duterte ordered them to ‘kill’ and ‘finish off’ communist rebels and to ‘forget about human rights’, security forces launched another deadly operation killing at least 9 people in Calabarzon this time. The bloodbath must end now.”
“We are deeply alarmed that ‘tokhang’-style raids during anti-drug operations – where targets are killed by the police allegedly for fighting back – are increasingly being used against activists and rights defenders. Various groups including the UN have cast doubts on this self-defence narrative by the police, and Amnesty International has documented testimonies from witnesses and families of victims contradicting police reports. This deception should be exposed and condemned.
“When the UN resolved in October 2020 to extend technical and capacity-building assistance to the Philippine government instead of launching an independent investigation into the situation, Amnesty International and other groups were gravely concerned it would send a dangerous message to perpetrators that the killings and other human rights violations can continue with impunity. Unfortunately, in light of the escalating attacks and killings of activists, human rights defenders, Indigenous people and other groups targeted by the government, this seems to be the message received.
“We strongly urge the Philippine government to finally end the attacks and killings; conduct effective and independent investigations into the raids in Calabarzon including to determine whether or not the use of deadly force was warranted; and prosecute in fair trials those found responsible for human rights violations. Government officials, especially at the highest levels, must end the ongoing incitement of extrajudicial killings and immediately implement measures in line with the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner’s 2020 report.
“In light of the rapidly worsening human rights situation in the Philippines, states have the responsibility to hold the Philippine government to account for its commitments before the UN Human Rights Council, which must now take overdue action and launch an independent international investigation to address this alarming situation and end the cycle of impunity that continues to fuel violations.”
On 7 March, news reports confirmed by the Philippine National Police disclosed that 9 people were killed, 6 arrested and 6 “escaped” during simultaneous raids by government security forces in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Rizal provinces in Southern Tagalog. The security forces claimed that firearms and explosives were seized during the raids, subsequently dismissed by various groups as fabricated evidence, and that those killed allegedly resisted arrest and fought back.
While details about the raids continue to come in, progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) confirmed that among those killed was Manny Asuncion, the group’s coordinator for Cavite. Couple Chai Lemita and Ariel Evangelista of the environmental protection group Ugnayan ng Mamayan Laban sa Pagwasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan went missing with their 10-year-old child before the couple were confirmed to have also been killed; their child’s situation remains unknown. Urban poor community leaders Melvin Dasigao and Mark Lee Coros Bacasno were also reportedly killed.
According to Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto, those arrested included Esteban Mendoza of labour group Kilusang Mayo Uno; Elizabeth Camoral, Bayan-Laguna spokesperson; Nimfa Lanzanas, paralegal of human rights group Karapatan; and Eugene Eugenio of the Confederation for the Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees-Rizal.
On 3 March, lawyer and National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Panay secretary-general Angelo Karlo Guillen was violently attacked in Iloilo City by two individuals wearing masks. Guillen sustained stab wounds in the head and back, and was brought to the hospital. The NUPL said the cases handled by Guillen included those against activists arrested during police raids in Bacolod City in 2019, as well as the Tumandok community members arrested in Panay in December 2020 during a raid that killed nine people. He is also a counsel of one the groups petitioning the Supreme Court to nullify the Anti-Terrorism Act.
On 28 February, Roosevelt village chief Julie Catamin was shot dead by motorcycle-riding assailants in Calinog town, Iloilo province. Before this, Catamin accused the police of fabricating evidence against those arrested during the raid against the Tumandoks; she was also supposed to serve as a defence witness for the 16 Tumandoks arrested.