The repercussions of red-tagging activists were seen following the killings of peasant leaders in Southern Tagalog region last Sunday.
The crackdown on activists also came after President Rodrigo Duterte issued another “shoot-to-kill” remark against alleged communist rebels in a public event last Friday, March 5.
“So how do you intend to overthrow government? Do you think I’ll allow you to overthrow government? Ah…Well I rarely ever…That’s why I told the military and police that during encounters, if the enemy is holding a gun, kill them. Kill them right away,” the chief executive said.
“Ignore human rights. That is my order. I’ll be the one to go to jail. No problem,” he added.
Duterte made this order when he attended the joint meeting between the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflic (NTF-ELCAC) and its Region X group at Misamis Oriental that day.
Two days later, on March 7, progressive groups reported police and military raids in houses of their members in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), also known as the Southern Tagalog region.
A consolidated report of the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines later confirmed that nine were killed and six were arrested.
Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, NTF-ELCAC spokesperson, defended the crackdown to Reuters, saying the activities were “legitimate law enforcement operations.”
“As usual these groups are so quick in assuming that the subjects were activists and that they were killed. If (the) motive was to kill them they should all be dead but there were those who did not resist arrest so they were collared,” Parlade said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque at a briefing on Monday said that Duterte’s command to kill is justified.
“Dahil may digmaang nangyayari with CPP-NPA, hindi po ipinagbabawal ang pagpatay. Under IHL, tama ang order ng presidente, kill, kill, kill Alangan naman pong ikaw ang mamatay?” Roque said.
Parlade and another NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lorraine Badoy had been notorious for associating individuals and media outfits as communist fronts or allies of local terrorism without proof of it.
Alarms were raised on social media
Human rights group Karapatan identified some of those killed, who were:
- Manny Asuncion, coordinator of the Cavite chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)
- Fisherfolk leaders Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista
Meanwhile, those arrested were:
- Esteban Mendoza, vice president of Olalia – Kilusang Mayo Uno
- Nimfa Lanzanas, Karapatan paralegal to political prisoners
- Elizabeth Camoral, spokesperson of Bayan-Laguna
Critics online, meanwhile, condemned other Filipinos who perceive such incidents as “deserving” or “expected” because of their opposition to the government.
“Activists are being killed and some people still say ‘why are you even surprised’. Sir, these killings are enraging and alarming. Never an appropriate time to act as if things like these are normal and expected,” sociology instructor Ash Presto said.
“While we mourn the death of our comrades, liberals see this event as an ‘I told you so/you deserved it’ moment,” a Twitter user said.
“Wag mong isiping di ka apektado. Kapag lumalala ang terorismo ng estado, asahan mo nang lumala rin ang ekonomiya, kultura, pulitika, atbp. Sa patayan nila pinupundar ang mas malalang pagsasamantala, kahirapan, at kagutuman,” another said.
Another Twitter user shared a thread with the hashtag #WhatIsHappeningInThePhilippines with social media reports about the bloody operations against activists in the hopes to raise awareness of the incidents.
#WhatIsHappeningInThePhilippines a thread of tweets about the recent fascist crackdown in the southern tagalog region
— linen | CHECK PINNED | #DefendSouthernTagalog (@linenuism) March 7, 2021
How rights groups reacted
An official from Human Rights Watch stated that the country’s counter-insurgency campaign no longer distinguishes between legitimate armed rebels and human rights defenders.
“The fundamental problem is (that) this campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and noncombatant activists, labor leaders, and rights defenders,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of HRW.
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, also denounced the Duterte administration in what she described as “tokhang-style” raids.
“The fascist Duterte regime spares no day in its murderous campaign of State terror with the arrests and killings of labor leaders, organizers, activists, and human rights workers in tokhang-style raids Southern Tagalog today,” wrote Palabay.