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Mass killing of Filipino activists appalls United Nations

A few weeks after the Rodrigo Duterte government assured the international community of its commitment to uphold human rights, the United Nations (UN) said it is appalled by the series of mass killing of activists throughout the Philippines.

Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani in Geneva, Switzerland said the international body is “appalled by the apparently arbitrary killing of nine activists in simultaneous police-military operations” across four provinces last Sunday, March 7.

WATCH: Human Rights Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters the Office of the High Commissioner was “appalled” by the killing of nine human rights activists in the Philippines.

Shamdasani noted that the latest mass killing and arrest of activists, like in the December 30, 2020 massacre of nine Tumandok in Panay Island, was conducted at nighttime.

“We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation and harassment and red tagging of human rights defenders,” she said.

Shamdasani added there is a history of human rights advocates of being red-tagged or being accused of being fronts for the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, an allegation unanimously denied by the families of the victims of the various massacres.

 “In our June 2020 report, the [UN] high commissioner (for human rights Michelle Bachelet) warned that such public labeling has proved to be extremely dangerous and she urged the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and others at risk,” Shamdasani said.

“In recent months, there has been dozens of activists and journalists who have been arrested, including on human rights day on December 2020,” referring to recently-freed Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and six labor union organizers arrested with her.

Making his spokesperson a liar

The international body’s condemnation came merely two weeks after justice secretary Menardo Guevarra assured the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last February 24 the Duterte government had adopted measures “to minimize loss of lives during legitimate law enforcement operations.”

Guevarra added that the Philippines “strongly emphasizes that its legal and judiciary system and domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning as they should.”

Guevarra had been the designated spokesperson for the Philippine government at UNHRC sessions since late 2020 after combative statements by officials earlier failed to deflect criticisms of the Duterte government’s mass murder of suspected drug users, critics and other civilians.

At the 44th General Session of the UNHRC last June 2020, the international body severely criticized the Duterte government for its woeful human rights record.

In a 26-page report last June 4, the UNHRC said the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.

The UN also condemned Duterte’s ill-defined and ominous language, “coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by the highest level of State officials to use lethal force, may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill.”

Duterte ignored the condemnation again when he issued shoot-to-kill and “ignore human rights” orders against alleged communists to state forces when he presided over a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict meeting at Cagayan de Oro City last Friday.

Families of the nine killed last Sunday vow the victims were civilians, however. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

VP Robredo blames Duterte’s ‘kill’ rant for massacre

Vice President Leni Robredo blamed President Rodrigo Duterte’s “finish them off” and “ignore human rights” rant for the massacre of nine civilians last Sunday, March 7.

In a statement, Robredo said she condemns the massacre she likened to the many innocents killed by the Duterte administration.

“There is no other way to describe this: it was a massacre,” Robredo said.

The Vice President noted that the incident came just two days after Duterte himself ordered the police and the military to kill suspected communists in a rant before the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in Cagayan de Oro City last frint.

“This is the painful truth: The killing of Filipinos goes unabated,” Robredo said in Filipino.

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

Churh groups demand justice

Meanwhile, church groups also condemned the massacre and called on Duterte to choose the rule of law over militarization.

In separate statements, the Council of the Laity of the Philippines (CLP) and Caritas Philippines, both groups under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, called for justice.

“The blood of these fellow Filipinos are literally crying for justice as they are wiped-off from the floor tiles of their homes,” CLP, through its president Rouquel Ponte, said.

“We call on peace-loving Filipinos to make strong statements of condemnation against these brutal and organized atrocities,” it added.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the ‘Bloody Sunday initiated by the members of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army,” Caritas for its part said.

Caritas called on the Supreme Court to fast-track the ongoing discussions and review of the controversial Anti-Terror Act the law’s opponents say emboldens the unnecessary use of force “which only victimizes the poor and the vulnerable. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CHR: Duterte’s kill order emboldens impunity

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said President Rodrigo Duterte’s order “to shoot and kill right away” may have encouraged the massacre and mass arrest of activists in Southern Tagalog on Sunday, March 7.

CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia said the national human rights institution expresses concern on Duterte’s statement on Friday, 5 March, to not only kill communists but to “ignore human rights.”

De Guia said: “Words matter and such words can embolden some to act with abuse and impunity.”

The mass killing and arrests of prominent activists and unionists in Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Batangas in an operation called Conduct of Simultaneous Implementation of Search Warrants was launched two days after Duterte ordered the police and military at a meeting in Cagayan de Oro City of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“If there’s an encounter and you see them armed, kill! Kill them! Don’t mind human rights! I will be the one to go to prison, I don’t have qualms,” the President said.

‘Brutal deaths’

Reacting to the brutal deaths of nine activists across three provinces, however, de Guia said, “CHR finds the number of deaths most concerning in light of the pattern of prevalent red-tagging and escalating attacks against activists,” de Guia said.

De Guia said the government is primarily obligated to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of everyone.

“Where the right to life is concerned, the government has the utmost obligation to fulfil its obligation—no matter which side of the political spectrum one belongs,” the lawyer added.

The CHR called on the government to urgently investigate, “given the brutal nature of the deaths and allegations of irregularities in the said law enforcement operations. “

De Guia also reminded the government to honor its domestic and international commitment to uphold, respect and protect human rights.

“We have yet to see concrete response to our repeated plea for tangible reduction of violence on the ground,” she said.

De Guia added that its Region IV-A (CALABARZON) office CHR is pursuing independent probes into the bloody operations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

ASVAL is Southern Tagalog bloodbath’s name

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has revealed the name of the operation in four provinces in Southern Tagalog that massacred nine and arrested several other activists Sunday, March 7.

The police said it served search warrants in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Rizal provinces in a Conduct of Simultaneous Implementation of Search Warrants dubbed COPLAN ASVAL.

The PNP in the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) region bragged it “scored big time during the Simultaneous Implementation of Search Warrants” against alleged communist groups.

It said it “implemented” all 24 search warrants issued by trial courts that killed nine and arrested six activists. Nine others are still at large.

According to human rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, the names of those killed include:

  • Michael Dasigao and Mark “Mak Mak” Lee Coros Bacasno in Rodriguez, Rizal;
  • Manny Asuncion in Dasmarinas, Cavite; and
  • Couple Anna Mariz and Ariel Evangelista in Nasugbu, Batangas.

Among those arrested were:

  • Steve Mendoza and Elizabeth Camoral in Cabuyao, Laguna;
  • Nimfa Lanzanas in Calamba, Laguna;
  • Eugene Eugenio in Antipolo city.

Activist Lino Baez was among those who eluded arrest.

The police refused to divulge the names of the four others killed, five others arrested and eight others at large.

The PNP said all targets are communist “terrorists” who allegedly illegally possessed guns and explosives.

In press releases and television interviews, the PNP claimed those who turned up dead “fought to the operatives (sic).”

Human rights defenders condemn the massacre and mass arrest in Southern Tagalog. (Bulatlat photo)

Legal activists as counter-insurgency targets

PNP-CALABARZON director B.Gen. Felipe Natividad admitted that the killing and arrest of the activists are part of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign.

“We have to act together to end the 51 year-old communist insurgency in the country. This is just one of the many initiatives and programs of the present government, and the Philippine National Police together with our counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Natividad said.

The police added ASVAL is part of “collaborative efforts” with the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict to address insurgency.

“We have intensified our cracked down against members of CTGs (communist terrorist groups) in the region along with our counter-white area operations to convince these individuals to lay-down their arms and voluntarily surrender to authorities,” Natividad added.

COPLAN ASVAL was launched as two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the police and military at a meeting in Cagayan de Oro City of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“If there’s an encounter and you see them armed, kill! Kill them! Don’t mind human rights! I will be the one to go to prison, I don’t have qualms,” the President said.

Human rights defenders call for justice for the victims of the PNP-AFP’s COPLAN ASVAL. (Bulatlat photo)

Known legal activists

COPLAN ASVAL’s victims are known legal activists, however.

Dasigao, a community organizer and an officer of a Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap-affiliate organization, led relief operations after massive floods hit Kasiglahan Village in Rodriguez, Rizal late last year.

Asunsion was a well-known Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Cavite coordinator whose cadaver appear to have been dragged by the police from the upper floor of the Worker’s Assistance Center in Dasmarinas, Cavite, leaving streaks of blood on the floor and stairs.

The Evangelista couple were fisher folk rights advocates who were very much alive when dragged away by the police but later turned up dead in a funeral parlor in Nasugbu, Batangas.

Mendoza is executive vice-president of OLALIA-Kilusang Mayo Uno; Lanzanas is a paralegal of the political prisoners support group Kapatid-Southern Tagalog; Camoral is BAYAN-Laguna spokesperson; Eugenio is president of the Advancement of Rights and Responsibilities of Organized Workers LGU (ARROWS) – Antipolo City Hall; while Baez is an officer of BAYAN-Batangas. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

(Bulatlat photo)

2ND UPDATE: Massacre and mass arrest as SEMPO rampages in Southern Tagalog

By Joseph Cuevas

(This is a developing story. Refresh for more updates.)

Five activists were killed while four others were arrested in a joint Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations in Laguna, Rizal, Cavite and Batangas provinces Sunday morning, eve of International Women’s Day, March 7.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) conducted joint Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations (SEMPO) in the four provinces that resulted in the massacre and arrests.

In Rodriguez, Rizal, Michael Dasigao, officer of a Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap-affiliate organization and a Mark “Mak Mak” Lee Coros Bacasno were shot dead by the police, an alert from human rights organization Karapatan-Southern Tagalog said.

Manny Asuncion

In Cavite, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Cavite coordinator Manny Asuncion was brutally killed after police and military raided the Workers’ Assistance Center in Dasmariñas.

Photos released by Kilusang Mayo Uno’s Southern Tagalog chapter Pamantik show that Asuncion’s body appear to have been dragged from the center’s upper floor, leaving streaks of blood on the floor and stairs.

In Nasugbu, Batangas, activist couple Anna Mariz and Ariel Evangelista were found dead in a funeral home hours after police raided their house in Nasugbu.

Their 10-year old child was able to escape.

In Barangay Mamatid, Cabuyao, Laguna, Steve Mendoza, executive vice-president of OLALIA-Kilusang Mayo Uno, was arrested at his house at around 3:15 this morning.

Nimfa Lanzanas

Nimfa Lanzanas of Kapatid-Southern Tagalog, and aide for political prisoners in the region, was arrested in front of her grandchildren at her house in Calamba City.

Elizabeth Camoral, spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Laguna, was also arrested after the police raided the office of farmers’s group Defend Yulo at around 4:30 in the morning in Cabuyao.

In Antipolo City, Rizal, Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE)-Rizal member Eugene Eugenio was also arrested.

Eugenio is president of the Advancement of Rights and Responsibilities of Organized Workers LGU (ARROWS) – Antipolo City Hall.

Meanwhile, Lino Baez of BAYAN-Batangas missed being arrested as he was absent when his house was raided where the police said they found illegal guns.

Elizabeth Camoral

Karapatan Southern Tagalog is investigating reports of other arrests, including of Dumagat tribes people in Tanay, Rizal.

Manila Regional Trial Court First Vice Executive Judge Jose Lorenzo De La Rosa issued the search warrants used in the SEMPO.

The massacre and mass arrest today followed the simultaneous arrests of unionists Ramir Corcolon in San Pablo City and former Lakas ng Manggagawang Nagkakaisa sa Honda union leader Arnedo Laguinas in Sta. Rosa, both in Laguna province, last March 4.

SEMPO, previously implemented in Negros and Panay islands, has consistently resulted in massacres and mass arrests of activists.

Its latest implementation before this morning’s incident resulted in the massacre of nine and the mass arrest of Tumandok tribes people in Iloilo and Capiz provinces last December.

The Katipunan ng Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan said it condemns the “tokhang-style” attacks against progressive groups in the region and demanded justice for those killed today. # (With Raymund B. Villanueva. Photos provided by Karapatan ST)

CPP reveals Baguio raid victim was top leader, vows justice

GENEVA, Switzerland—A victim of the Baguio City raid last Friday, March 13, turned out to be a top leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), statements by the underground revolutionary movement in the Philippines revealed.

In a statement, the CPP said Julius Giron, one of the victims in the early morning raid, was a stalwart of the Party’s Central Committee, its Political Bureau and Executive Committee member who served the party’s central organs over the past three decades.

The underground group said Giron played a key role in reconstituting the Party’s leadership in 2014 when alleged CPP chairperson Benito Tiamzon and secretary general Wilma Tiamzon were arrested in Cebu province.

It said Giron brought together more than a hundred Party cadres to hold the Party’s Second Congress in 2016 when he was elected to the CPP’s Central Committee, its Political Bureau and as one of the key officers of its Executive Committee.

The government announced Giron’s killing, along with one Lourdes Tan Torres/Ma. Lourdes Dineros Tangco and an unnamed aide in a joint military and police operation at about 3:30 AM in Barangay Queen of Peace in Baguio City last Friday.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claimed Giron and companions “resisted arrest, prompting authorities to retaliate in a search warrant operation.”

The CPP however said there was no fire fight and the raiding party fired at the victims at close range in an execution-style killing.

“Claims made by the military and police that they were about to serve an arrest warrant are outright lies. It was a liquidation operation, a massacre, carried out at 3 a.m. with the clear aim of assassinating Giron and eliminating all witnesses,” the CPP said.

“The entire Party and all revolutionary forces are enraged over the murder of Ka Nars,” the group added.

Stellar revolutionary career

The CPP said Giron was among the young cadres who pioneered revolutionary work in the Cordilleras and other Northern Luzon regions in the 1970s.

The group said Giron helped forged Igorot unity, and in rousing, organizing and mobilizing the national minority groups in resisting national oppression, defense of their ancestral land, and in their fight for autonomy.

Giron was in the Cordilleras during the people’s epic struggle against the Chico River Dam Project, the CPP revealed.

CPP founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison gave Giron high praises in a statement Tuesday, March 17, revealing the victim, like him, received religious tutelage from his mother and served as a sacristan to the Catholic priests in his grade school days.

Sison said Giron was a bright and sociable person in high school with plenty of friends.

“He was charismatic because he was intelligent and had a talent for singing and dancing. He also excelled at numbers and hoped to become an engineer. He enrolled in the course of Engineering in the University of the Philippines in Baguio but was able to finish only the first two years because of his heavy responsibilities as a leading activist,” Sison wrote.

He added that Giron joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in 1970 and was a product of the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970. Giron led the KM in Baguio City during the FQS.

“He often delighted and inspired the mass protests by reciting Amado Hernandez’s ‘Kung Tuyo Na ang Luha Mo, Aking Bayan’ to the music of ‘Ang Gabing Mapanglaw’. He helped build the Samahan ng mga Anak Pawis (SaAnPa) in Baguio City in 1970. He became an outstanding activist of the national democratic movement as he engaged in organizing workers in the transport, energy, and mining sectors,” Sison recalled.

Sison added that Giron became a member of the CPP in 1971 and assumed major responsibilities, serving with its Trade Union Bureau, participating in the organization of the CPP’s Northern Luzon Regional Party group, being designated a staff member of the Instructor’s Bureau of the CPP under the Education Department, and serving as team leader of an armed propaganda unit in Ifugao province.

Giron then went to Isabela province to instruct Political Officers of the New People’s Army (NPA) for regional and national deployment.

Giron during CPP’S Second National Congress in an undisclosed location in 2016. (CPP photo)

“As Founding Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines and Chief Political Consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, I honor Comrade Julius Soriano Giron with the Red salute and express the highest respect and commendation for his martyrdom and for his long record as a communist leader and revolutionary fighter in the Filipino people’s struggle for national liberation and democracy,” Sison said.

He also condoled with his late comrade’s family and to all of Giron’s comrades, relatives and friends.

“I share with them profound grief over his demise and at the same the pride and joy for his lifelong and fruitful service to the people in their noble cause and struggle for national and social liberation from foreign monopoly capitalism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism,” Sison said.

“Comrade Julius served the people in the best way that he could and in the most exemplary way, died as a martyr and will therefore live forever in the hearts and minds of the people and in the continuance of the people’s democratic revolution with a socialist perspective. His murder in the hands of the armed minions of the traitorous, tyrannical, genocidal, corrupt and mendacious [Rodrigo] Duterte regime outrages the people and incites them to intensify their revolutionary struggle,” Sison said.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Peace Negotiating Panel, its consultants, personnel and staff also extended condolences to the comrades, family, relatives and friends of Giron and his two companions.

“While in detention during the years of the Marcos dictatorship, we came to know of Comrade Julius’ artistry.  He was a good painter and headed the painting group inside prison. Indeed, his deep love for the Cordillera people is reflected in his paintings and poetry which are on display in his wake,” NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said.

“We render the highest salute to Comrade Julius for his selfless commitment and lifelong dedication to the revolutionary movement of the people for national freedom, democracy, social justice and genuine peace,” Agcaoili said.

Peace consultant

Agcaoili revealed that Giron was one of NDFP’s senior consultants in the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines)-NDFP peace talks on social, economic and political reforms, as well as end of hostilities and disposition of forces and was in fact designated as National Consultant Number 1.

“He was holder of Document of Identification (DI) number 978410 under the name of Arnold Cruz as National Consultant 1, which entitled him to protection and immunity under the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees),” Agcaoili said.

“The martyrdom of Comrade Julius and his companions inspires us even more to firmly pursue the Filipino people’s struggle for national and social liberation and for genuine and lasting peace,” he added.

The CPP said it will exact justice on Giron’s killers.

“Giron was, in fact, murdered in cold blood. The perpetrators and masterminds of the assassination of the Girons are criminals. The Party and revolutionary movement will make sure that they will pay for their crime,” it said.

Giron was convalescing in Baguio due to illnesses brought about by his advanced age, the CPP said. He was 70 years old. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Ika-33 anibersaryo ng masaker sa Mendiola, ginunita

Nagtipon sa tulay ng Mendiola sa Maynila ang mga progresibong grupo sa pangunguna ng Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas upang gunitain ang masaker na pumatay sa 13 magsasaka noong 1987.

Kasabay ng panawagan ng hustisya para sa mga martir ng Mendiola ay ang pagpapatuloy ng usapang pangkapayapaan sa pagitan ng National Democratic Front of the Philippines at Government of the Republic of the Philippines na ang susunod na adyenda ay ang Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms kabilang na ang tunay na reporma sa lupa para sa mga magsasaka. (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

State forces disrupt psycho-social activity for Canlaon church workers

By Visayas Today

SAN CARLOS CITY – State forces disrupted a psycho-social activity organized for church workers in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental in the wake of the March 30 killing of eight persons there by police during what was initially dubbed an “anti-crime operation” that authorities later admitted targeted alleged communist rebels.

The eight were among 14 persons in all – including two barangay captains in Manjuyod town – who died during “Oplan Sauron 2.0,” which police said was the continuation of the original Oplan Sauron of December 27, that saw six persons slain, mostly in Guihulngan City, also in Negros Oriental.

Police claimed the fatalities were all communist rebels who supposedly fought back when officers served search warrants on them. But the account of the families of the dead, many of whom did not know and lived far from each other, indicated they were executed in cold blood.

Among those killed in Canlaon were the chairman of a local farmers’ organization that authorities have openly tagged as a “legal front” of communist rebels, a law minister of the parish and two volunteer church workers.

Fr. Edwin Laude. (Visayas Today)

Fr. Edwin Laude, pastoral director of the San Carlos diocese, said the activity was held at Canlaon’s St. Joseph parish church on Holy Wednesday to address the possible trauma of 12 church workers who had responded and reached out to the families of the slain.

While the activity was going on, he said, state security forces “in full combat gear” arrived at the church, saying they were there to “observe” what was going on but later “asking for the names of the participants and wanting to take their photos.”

The security personnel then said that “the next time any similar activity was held, we would need to ask the permission of the provincial government because psycho-social activities were part of medical missions, which are among the activities that need the permission of (Negros Oriental) Governor (Roel) Degamo to be held.”

Laude said they saw the disruption of the psycho-social activity by the security forces as a “threat,” stressing that “we are not hiding anything.”

Nevertheless, he added, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza “has already asked the governor’s permission to assist the families” of those killed in Canlaon.

Laude also said that the communities where the March 30 victims lived and died still “live in fear” because of the continued presence of military and police personnel in combat gear, raising concerns the violence might be repeated.

He added that security forces, mainly in civilian clothes, also continue to be monitored around the Canlaon parish church.

“It is like martial law, only worse, because this is undeclared, subliminal, scarier,” Laude said, as he called the state security forces “praning” (paranoid).

At the same time, he said the church and the families of the victims are skeptical that police pledges of an “independent investigation” of the killings would amount to anything.

“People don’t see this” materializing, adding that the church’s request to “include the accounts of the victims’ families and of other witnesses” has so far been disregarded.

The only investigation whose findings the families are inclined to honor, said the priest, is that of the Commission on Human Rights.

14 farmers executed ‘Tokhang-style’ in Negros; Duterte’s MO 32 blamed

President Rodrigo Duterte’s Memorandum Order No. 32 in November 22 deploying more soldiers and police officers in Negros Island has seen its bloodiest result last weekend in the killing of 14 farmers in three locations.

Philippine National Police operatives killed eight peasants in Canlaon City, four in Manjuyod, and two in Sta. Catalina town in separate but near simultaneous operations in Negros Oriental Province Saturday.

The Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights identified the eight Canlaon victims as Edgardo Avelino, 59, farmer and resident of Sitio Carmen, Brgy. Panubigan, Chairperson of Hukom (Hugpong Kusog Mag-uuma sa Canlaon); Ismael Avelino, 53 habal-habal (utility motorcycle) driver a resident of Sitio Carmen, Brgy. Panubigan and a member of Hukom; Melchor Pañares, 67, farmer, a resident of Sitio Tigbahi, Brgy. Bayog; Mario Pañares, 46, farmer (son of Melchor Pañares); Rogelio Ricomuno, 52, farmer, a resident of Sitio Manggata, Brgy. Masulog -1; Ricky Ricomuno, 28, farmer; Gonzalo Rosales, 47, farmer and a resident of Proper Brgy. Pula; and Genes Palmares, 54, farmer, a resident of Proper Brgy. Aquino.

In Sta. Catalina, habal-habal driver and peasant leader Franklen Lariosa and Anoj Enojo Rapada were reportedly killed.

In Manjuyod, among those killed were Velentin Acabal of Brgy. Kandabong and Sonny Palagtiw of Brgy. Pansiao, both barangay captains in their villages; Steve Arapoc and Manulo Martin.

Reports said 15 others were arrested, including local Gabriela leader Corazon Javier, who are now detained at the Canlaon City provincial police headquarters.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay cited Duterte’s Memorandum Order No. 32 that placed Negros Island as well as Eastern Visayas and Bicol under a state of emergency for the continuing militarization of communities as well as the Synchronized Enhanced Managing of Police Operations (SEMPO) or Oplan Sauron of the PNP in the region.

Palabay said Oplan Sauron is being implemented alongside the government’s counterinsurgency program.

‘Tokhang-style’

Negros police director P/Col. Raul Tacaca said the victims were suspected communist rebels linked to alleged assassination plots against government soldiers and police officers.

Tacaca claimed those slain fought back against arresting teams from the PNP Regional Public Safety Battalion, the PNP Special Action Force, regular police officers from various stations, and the Philippine Army.

In a press conference in Camp Crame Monday, PNP spokesperson P/Col. Bernard Banac echoed Tacaca’s claims and added the killings started as an implementation of search warrant for possible possession of firearms and explosive materials.

“We are sure that they really tried to shoot it out because our policemen will not use force if there is no threat to their lives,” Banac said.

“These were done by following the rules of engagement, respect on human rights and presumption of regularity,” he added,

But survivors of the police assault in Canlaon said the police arrived at about 2:30 in the morning, knocked once and kicked the doors open.

Victim Ismael Avelino’s wife, Leonora told human rights workers that all six police officers who assaulted their home “wore facemasks and others wore shades to cover their eyes.”

Victims’ survivors also said the nameplates on the police officers’ uniforms were covered.

Leonora said she and their four young children were ordered to lie face down and then later dragged outside of the house.

Next door, Edgardo Avelino’s household members were similarly forced to lie face down and were also dragged outside of the house.

Near simultaneously, they heard gunshots inside both houses. Nearly five hours later, at about seven o’clock in the morning, an ambulance came and Leonora’s husband was brought out of the house in a stretcher.

She found out later at the Canlaon District Hospital that they her husband Ismael was dead.

Edgardo, Hukom chairperson, was shot on his forehead, right cheek and upper torso.

In Manjuyog, survivors of Arupoc told human rights responders that the police planted a .38 caliber revolver beside his cadaver after he was killed by the police officers.

Calls for investigation

Various groups called for an immediate investigation on the incidents.

“This is unconscionable. We strongly demand an immediate and independent investigation on the incident…[W]e join our voices in the call for justice and accountability for these heinous crimes perpetrated by the government,” Karapatan’s Palabay said.

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, whose diocese covers the affected towns, also demanded an investigation.

“We demand a quick investigation on this and appeal to our government authorities to restore peace and order,” Alminaza said.

The Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) for its part said March 30 was a dark day in the country’s history.

“[F]armers who feed the nation have become helpless targets of bullets from the police and military, in tokhang-style operations, forcibly entering the homes and playing the ‘nanlaban’ (fought back) scenario to justify the riddling of bullets to victims,” the group said.

“As the nation grieves, we add our voices to the call for justice for our farmers and all Filipinos who have suffered under the culture of impunity and fascism in our lands,” CPA added.

Members of the Makabayan bloc in Congress also condemned the killings and vowed to seek justice for the victims.

“State forces are on a rampage and activists and critics are in their crosshairs. We will not take this sitting down and we will seek justice for the victims and file charges against the policemen and their superiors who perpetrated this massacre,” Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said.

Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao called for the scrapping of Duterte’s Memorandum No. 32, saying it is a death warrant on civilians.

The Commission on Human Rights said it has already ordered the regional sub-office of CHR-Region VII to investigate the killings. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Activists call for justice for ‘Sagay 9’

Progressive groups staged a ‘Black Friday Protest’ last October 26 at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) calling for justice for the nine victims of the Sagay City massacre earlier this month.

A candle lightning ceremony was also held to pay tribute to the martyrs of the said massacre.

National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) chairperson Rolando Rillo said that the Rodrigo Duterte government and the military must held accountable for the said massacre.

The landlord Tolentino and Marañon family and their private army are behind the massacre based on the account of the survivors, Rillo added.

NFSW stressed that their land cultivation activities are efforts to alleviate the suffering of farm workers and their families through planting of food to eat especially during dry season.

NFSW said that sugar farm workers only receive a salary of about 300-400 pesos per week and 70 percent of the sugar land earlier awarded to land reform beneficiaries have been leased back to landlords due to the lack of support of the government.

Rillo also scored DAR secretary John Castrisciones for his irresponsible statements justifying the massacre “as self defense” and asked that the secretary be relieved from his post.

The group condemned the Philippine National Police for its attempt to arrest a minor to be used as a witness against the victims and his fellow massacre survivors. # (Video by Joseph Cuevas and Maricon Montajes)