Church and human rights groups called on the Philippine government to investigate what they said was the use of “lethal force” during police raids on March 7 that left at least nine activists dead.
The raids in four provinces south of Manila resulted in the death of an environmental activist as well as a coordinator of left-wing group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, among others, and resulted in the arrest of four others.
The Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice, and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines denounced the “unnecessary use of force and violence.”
Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, chairman of the episcopal commission, urged President Rodrigo Duterte “to choose the rule of law” instead of employing military power in solving the country’s insurgency problem.
The prelate said the government’s so-called “quest for peace” that uses force only “victimizes the poor and the vulnerable.”
He also called on the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights to “investigate the series of killings” and the government’s “red-tagging” campaign.
Bishop Bagaforo reiterated the Church’s call for the government “to protect the sanctity of life of everyone, and to defend the rights of the poor and the vulnerable.”
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, said the killing of the activists is “illegal and criminal.”
“It is never right to kill people whose activities are within the law and the rule of law,” said the prelate.
‘Coordinated’ government action slammed
Human Rights Watch said the raids appear to be part of a coordinated plan by the authorities to raid, arrest, and even kill activists in their homes and offices.
Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said the killings and arrests of activists were “clearly part of the government’s increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign.”
“The fundamental problem is (that) this campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and non-combatant activists, labor leaders, and rights defenders,” he said.
The United Nations has warned in a report that “red-tagging,” or labelling people and groups as communists or terrorists, and incitement to violence have been rife in the Southeast Asian nation.
“The Philippines government should act now to investigate the use of lethal force in these raids, stop the mayhem and killings that has gone hand in hand with the practice of red-tagging,” Robertson said.
The March 7 raids, which human rights group Karapatan condemned, came two days after Duterte ordered the police and military to “kill” communist rebels and “ignore human rights.”
“Nothing could be more apt than calling this day a ‘Bloody Sunday,’” said Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay.
Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, head of an anti-rebel task force, told Reuters the raids were “legitimate law enforcement operations.”
He said authorities acted on the basis of search warrants for possession of firearms and explosives.
“As usual these groups are so quick in assuming that the subjects were activists and that they were killed,” said the military official.
“If (the) motive was to kill them they should all be dead but there were those who did not resist arrest, so they were collared,” Parlade told Reuters in a phone message.
Call for peace
Bishop Arturo Bastes, retired prelate of Sorsogon, condemned the killing of people “by mere suspicion.”
He accused Duterte of “violating his oath” as an elected official “who is bound to protect and enhance the lives of all Filipinos.”
“He cannot finish off the rebels by violent means,” said the bishop, adding that “the only way to stop rebellion is to make peace with the rebels, to find out and root out the cancer of rebellion.”
The prelate said the use of force and violence “will only increase hatred” and push people to rebel or take up arms.
“Violation of human rights will never be acceptable and will never be effective in achieving peace and harmony,” said Bishop Bastes.
Bishop Redeemer Yañez of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente said killing a person because of his or her political views and beliefs “is unacceptable in the eyes of God.”
“The government forces are supposedly the protector of these basic rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution, yet they choose to become the enemy of the people,” he said.
In a statement, the Philippine National Police said it “scored big time” during the simultaneous implementation of search warrants against the alleged communist rebels.
It said that the operation was a “response to Duterte’s call for lasting peace throughout the country towards sustainable development.”
The police reported that “assorted firearms and explosives” were confiscated during the raid.