Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged Congress to thoroughly investigate the legitimacy of the recent joint and simultaneous operations by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that led to the killings of activists in the CALABARZON region.
De Lima, a staunch social justice and human rights champion, filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 681 seeking to review the Duterte administration’s counter-insurgency campaign in relation to the widespread allegations of human rights violation.
“A careful review and scrutiny of the events that transpired that came at the price of human lives must thus be undertaken in order to determine the transgressions committed and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” she said.
“It is imperative to conduct a thorough, independent and impartial inquiry to determine, once and for all, if the government’s whole-of-nation approach to counter-insurgency has truly been an effective means of addressing the decades-long communist insurgency,” she added.
Last March 5, President Duterte in a speech told police and the military to ignore human rights and gave the order to kill communist insurgents in all armed encounters.
Barely two days later, on March 7, simultaneous raids conducted by the PNP and AFP led to the killing of nine and arrest of six individuals believed to be with activist groups in Laguna, Rizal, Cavite and Batangas marking the most recent in a long line of activist killings perpetrated by police and military in the country.
The PNP maintained that their operations were legitimate but progressive groups decried these as nothing more than executions and “Tokhang-style” killings.
“Simply buying into the narratives robs those who were killed of due process, their right to equality before courts and to a fair trial, which are guaranteed in international human rights law and denies the State’s security forces the opportunity to reflect on and learn from the incident,” De Lima maintained.
Additionally, National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on March 9 confirmed that Duterte had issued a shoot-to-kill order against armed CPP-NPA rebels.
“Sa nakalipas na mahigit apat na taon, walang tigil ang brutal na mga pagpatay—mula sa mahihirap at pinaghihinalaang drug suspect, abogado, LGU officials, mga kawani ng media, mga aktibista, hanggang sa mga tagapagtanggol ng karapatang pantao—na nag-uugat at pinalulubha pa lalo ng pag-udyok ng karahasan ng kasalukuyang rehimen. Ang patuloy na pananahimik at kawalang aksyon para panagutin ang mga salarin dito ay lantarang pagpapabaya sa tungkulin at malaking pagkakasala sa tiwala ng taumbayan,” De Lima added.
In filing the Resolution, De Lima underscored the importance of distinguishing between armed combatants and civilians to ensure that the rules of engagement are followed all the time.
“The State should not condone the illegal activities of the NPA and should exert all efforts to neutralize any threats to destabilize government in order to maintain peace and order,” she said.
“However, the State should also be able to readily distinguish between armed combatants and civilians and ensure that human rights be strictly observed and respected at all times in the engagement of its suspects,” she added.
According to the Human Rights Watch, the fundamental problem in the State’s counter-insurgency campaign lies in its deliberate inability to distinguish between armed rebels and rights defenders, labor leaders, and activists. (30)