At least nine activists have been killed following simultaneous police raids in the northern Philippines that came just two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered government forces to “kill” and “finish off” all communist rebels in the country.
According to the police, six people were also arrested during the raids in three provinces surrounding Metro Manila on Sunday, while at least six others “escaped”.
Police also said they had arrest warrants against 18 individuals, adding that some resisted arrest, resulting in their deaths.
Rights groups Karapatan and the Kabataan (Youth) Party contested the government’s claim, saying the slain individuals had been “executed”.
Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion, a labour leader in the province of Cavite, just outside Manila, was among those killed, fishermen’s federation Pamalakaya said in a statement.
UPLB Perspective, a student publication at the University of the Philippines, reported that two labour organisers, a husband and wife, were killed in Batangas province, which borders the Philippine capital.
Chai and Ariel Evangelista, along with their 10-year-old son, had gone missing just hours before their death. The whereabouts of their son remains unknown.
Karapatan said the family was “taken into custody” during a pre-dawn raid but did not specify who detained them.
Yet another outrageous Bloody Sunday. Duterte gov’t continues its brutal anti-communist campaign by killing legal activists under a dubious legal cover provided by judge-enablers. This @hrw statement has the right perspective. @IntlCrimCourt: Take note, take heed, take action. https://t.co/cStbCfRDqQ
— John Nery (@jnery_newsstand) March 7, 2021
In Rizal province, Karapatan also confirmed the death of two activists following a shooting incident.
While it was the police that carried out the raids on Sunday, Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said the military is “obediently heeding the president’s kill, kill, kill orders”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also raised concerns about the deadly raids, saying that, based on reports, the operation appears to be a “coordinated plan” by authorities.
“These incidents are clearly part of the government’s increasingly brutal counterinsurgency campaign aimed at eliminating” the communist rebellion, Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director, said in a statement.
On Friday, President Duterte launched a “counterinsurgency” operation on communist rebels in Mindanao.
His threat against the communists osparked fears of a new wave of bloodshed similar to his “war on drugs” which killed thousands of people, including children.
Rights groups have warned that the threat no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels, rights defenders, and critics of the Duterte administration.
“I’ve told the military and the police that if they find themselves in an armed encounter with the communist rebels, kill them, make sure you really kill them and finish them off if they are alive,” Duterte said.
“Just make sure to return their bodies to their respective families. Forget about human rights. That’s my order. I’m willing to go to jail, that’s not a problem. I do not have any qualms about doing the things that I have to do.”
The communist rebels have been fighting the government since 1968 – one of the longest-running Maoist uprisings in the world.
According to the military, the rebellion has already killed more than 30,000 people.
Several presidents unsuccessfully attempted to reach an agreement with the rebels, whose leader Jose Maria Sison is now in self-exile in the Netherlands.
When he ran for president in 2016, Duterte promised to finally put an end to the rebellion through peace talks, highlighting his ties with rebel commanders when he was the mayor of Davao City in Mindanao, where the communist rebellion is still active.
After taking office, Duterte ordered direct talks with the communists, only to find the military and the rebels in frequent armed encounters.
Following fierce clashes between government forces and rebels in 2017, Duterte called off the peace process and later signed a proclamation labelling the communist fighters “terrorists”.
He also goaded government forces to shoot female rebels in their genitals as punishment and offered a bounty for every rebel killed.
In 2018, a special task force was formed by the president to target the rebels and their supporters.
Critics and human rights activists said the special body is also being deployed against mainstream left-leaning politicians and other critics of Duterte.
Several Duterte administration officials have also been accused of “indiscriminately” labelling anyone critical of the president – including members of the academe, journalists and activists – as “communists”.
In recent months, a number of activists, lawyers and doctors have been shot dead after they were tagged in public and on social media as communist sympathisers and active communist rebels.