Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a Senate resolution seeking to investigate the increasing number of killings of farmer leaders and political activists amid the national government’s anti-insurgency campaign which has intensified at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In filing Senate Resolution (SR) No. 548, De Lima said a thorough investigation into these reported killings and other human rights violations against farmer-leaders and political activists is warranted in order to ensure transparency in the government’s anti-insurgency operations.
“While the rest of the country is dealing with the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, the government’s anti-insurgency campaign has not only persisted, but rather escalated,” she said.
“State agents’ blatant red-tagging of its perceived enemies is an attack on the very foundations of our democracy and constitutes a grave abuse of authority and a gross misappropriation of public funds which can be utilized for more constructive purposes, such as augmenting the government’s pandemic response,” she added.
A July report by farmers’ groups Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Tanggol Magsasaka noted that 190 farmers and peasant leaders had been killed since March when the first lockdowns were imposed.
De Lima, a known human rights defender here and abroad, said the figure represented over two-thirds of the total farmers and peasant leaders killed since President Duterte assumed power in 2016.
In December 2018, it may be recalled that Duterte created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) by way of Executive Order (E.O.) 70, which essentially mobilized the entire bureaucracy against the decades-old communist rebellion.
The strategy comprises of multiple approaches, such as: unrelenting battlefield operations, red-tagging of perceived and known communist supporters and sympathizers, massive propaganda war, legal offensives here and abroad, localized peace talks, development and livelihood projects, and money for rebel returnees.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has repeatedly cautioned the government on the dangers of carelessly “red-tagging” persons and groups as these may “trigger a number of human rights violations, including harassment, unlawful arrests, torture, and threats to life.”
De Lima emphasized that indeed the State should not condone the illegal activities of the New People’s Army (NPA) and should exert all efforts to neutralize any threats to destabilize government in order to maintain peace and order within the country’s borders.
However, De Lima continued that the State “should also condemn red-tagging campaigns, especially from within the government, as these can have a legitimizing effect on these unverified claims and pose immediate dangers and consequences for the individuals and groups who become targets of such labels.”
“There can be no shortcuts taken in the government’s anti-insurgency campaign as these can lead to the unnecessary targeting of progressive groups and organizations and the unjust killing of innocent individuals,” she added.