De Lima seeks probe on escalating trend of farmers’ killings

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has sought a Senate inquiry into the alarming spate of killings of farmers in the country, the most recent of which involves 14 farmers who were killed in a joint military and police operations in Negros Oriental last March 30.

In filing Senate Resolution (SR) No. 1034, De Lima said the escalating trend and spate of killings involving farmers in the country by state agents themselves, who are mandated to uphold their welfare, must be checked and stopped immediately.

“These killings tend to prove the inability of the Philippine government to discharge its basic duty to preserve and maintain peace and order, and to hold accountable the perpetrators of crimes and abuses. They have cultivated a culture of impunity and lawlessness across the country,” she said.

“There is an urgent need to investigate this escalating trend and spate of killings victimizing our farmers, making it imperative for the government and law authorities and institutions to develop mechanisms which can hold these perpetrators accountable in order for justice and the rule of law to be restored and upheld throughout our lands,” she added.

Last March 30, 14 persons were killed in the joint military and police operations against illegal firearms targeting suspected communist rebels believed to be supporters and members of the New People’s Army in different municipalities of Negros Oriental.

While the operations were separated in different parts of Negros Oriental, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) used the oft-repeated “nanlaban” narrative or “the suspect resisted” alibi as reasons to defend the killings.

In fact, witnesses reportedly likened the spate of killings in Negros Oriental to the police’s infamous “tokhang” style execution, which has commonly been used by the public to refer to the act of killing suspected offenders who were unarmed and helpless.

“The recurring narrative of suspects having resisted arrest otherwise known as ‘nanlaban’, has long been serving as a wrongful justification for the targeted and continuous killings around the country,” said the former justice secretary.

At least 180 farmers have reportedly been killed since Duterte assumed presidency in 2016, 40 of which were from Negros Island.

De Lima pointed out that as agents of the state, the PNP and the AFP “must observe both international and local operational procedures in order to enforce the law with respect to human rights-based policing, and reasonable rules of engagement.” While PNP Chief Dir. Gen. Oscar Albayalde and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo were convinced that the 14 farmers initiated the armed encounter that led to their demise, Negros Oriental Police Provincial Director Raul Tacaca and three other police chiefs have been relieved from their duties to allow for an impartial investigation into operations across the province.

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