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    Condemn deadly purge of civilians in CALABARZON Region, Philippines

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    March 9, 2021 

    Hon Michelle Bachelet 
    United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)  
    Palais des Nations  
    CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland 
    E-mail: registry@ohchr.org

    Dear Excellency, 

    We are profoundly shocked but not surprised that Philippine National Police and Army units killed  nine unarmed civilian community leaders in the pre-dawn of Sunday March 7, 2021, in the provinces  of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Rizal, to the south east of the capital Manila. Along with Quezon  Province, these locations make up the CALABARZON Region, which has been the focus of several  decades of industrial development, and where the labor movement, farmers and fisherfolk are well  organised. 

    CALABARZON is within the Southern Luzon Command of the Philippine Army, under the command of  Major General Antonio Parlade Jr, who is also Spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local  Communist Armed Conflict. NTF-ELCAC was established in December 2018 through Executive Order  70, and has the authority to engage all government departments and agencies in a “whole-of nation” effort to crush the armed opposition. However, its main focus has been on civilian critics of  the government whom it routinely and vigorously tags as communist or terrorist. 

    Just prior to this massacre, which has been dubbed “Bloody Sunday”, President Duterte gave a  speech in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, where he told his audience from the police and the army, “Kill,  kill them all. Finish them. Don’t mind human rights.” He was referring to communist rebels, but he  has many times asserted that trade unions, peasant organisations, women’s organisations, and  indigenous communities are rebels, terrorists or communists. 

    In the pre-dawn hours of March 7, 2021, the police and military served a total of 24 search warrants  in the Calabarzon region, leading to the nine deaths and six arrests. The backdrop is the Duterte  administration’s crack down on groups allegedly associated with the Communist Party of the  Philippines. 

    Those killed are: 

    1. Emmanuel Asuncion of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance – BAYAN) Cavite.  He was shot dead in the office of the Workers Assistance Centre, Dasmariñes, Cavite. There was  no evidence of a “search”. 

    2. Fisherfolk defenders, the couple Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista of Ugnayan ng  Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (People’s Organisation Against  Destruction of Environment and Land – UMALPAS-KA) were killed in Nasugbu, Batangas. Their  10-year old son reportedly hid under a bed and witnessed the killing of his parents. The couple  had been sleeping in a hut near the shore in Barangay Calayo when they were raided by the  police. Their neighbors heard screams and pleas. Their bodies were quickly picked up by the  police, according to a report by trade union federation Pamantik-KMU. 

    3. Advocate for housing rights in Kasiglahan Village, Rizal, Michael Dasigao, was killed in  Montalban, Rizal. 

    4. Mark Lee Bacasno of local group SIKKAD-K3 (San Isidro, Kasiglahan’s Fraternity and Solidarity for  Livelihood, Justice and Peace), was also killed in Montalban. 

    5. Siblings Abner Esto and Edward Esto were also members of SIKKAD-K3. As of Monday 7 pm, the  bodies are not found at the time of writing this letter. 

    6. Members of the Dumagat tribe Puroy dela Cruz and Randy “Pulong” dela Cruz were killed  between 3am and 4 am. They are both activists with the group Dumagat Sierra Madre, which  advocated for the rights of indigenous peoples. The Dumagats are a major and semi-nomadic  indigenous group in Calabarzon, estimated to number around 30,000. 

    Puroy’s wife, Minda dela Cruz, said she was ordered by police to leave their house while Puroy  stayed inside. Outside, she heard 4 gunshots. She saw Puroy dead inside after. 

    Pulong’s wife, Violy dela Cruz, said that an “armed group” barged into their home. Violy was  ordered to leave their home too and told to stay away, around “50 meters” from their house. Still, Violy heard consecutive gunshots and found Pulong dead. 

    Six other leaders were arrested. Three of them are: 

    1. Labor leader Esteban Mendoza, the vice president of Olalia – Kilusang Mayo Uno

    2. BAYAN – Laguna spokesperson Elizabeth Camoral 

    3. Nimfa Lanzanas, 61, a Karapatan paralegal to political prisoners and member of Kapatid – Timog Katagalugan, Nimfa’s son, Edward, has been in jail since 2014 on similar trumped-up  charges. 

    The March 7 killings follow the arrests of Arnedo Lagunias, former officer of Lakas Manggagawang  Nagkakaisa sa Honda and Alyansa ng Manggagawa sa Enklabo, and Ramir Corcolon, secretary  general of Water System Employees Response and a national council member of the Confederation  for the Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees, in Sta. Rosa and San Pablo City,  Laguna, respectively, on Thursday, March 4, 2021. 

    The March 7 search warrants had been issued by Executive Judge Lorenzo Dela Rosa of the Manila  Regional Trial Court Branch 4. 

    While Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra was asserting to the United Nations Human Rights  Council on February 24, 2021, that Philippine domestic remedies work to uphold the human rights of  its citizens, security forces in Southern Luzon were organizing these murders. 

    We urge your Office to condemn these recent developments, which demonstrate an intensified  state repression in the Philippines, the opposite of a state whose domestic institutions uphold  human rights. 

    Sincerely, 

    Peter Murphy, Chairperson, Global Council, 
    International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines

    Duterte’s marching order to ‘kill them all’ led to Bloody Sunday massacre of 9 civilians

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    Philippines Drug War

    “Kill, kill them all. Finish them. Don’t mind human rights,” is the marching order from Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte last March 5 which led to a blood bath two days later, killing 9 civilians. The massacre happened Sunday in the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Rizal, all located southeast of the country’s capital. 

    The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), a global network of human rights organisations, condemns the recent attacks saying that “no amount of lies by the  government can whitewash the accountability of Duterte and state forces in the ‘Bloody Sunday’ raids.”

    “We are mourning and in shock from this recent news in the Philippines. These state-sanctioned killings and arrests should be known to the world. The UN bodies should know, the world should know that “Duterte’s words lead directly to murder of Filipinos, he’s out for blood,” says ICHRP chairperson Mr. Peter Murphy. 

    The joint police-military raids were synchronised and employed Tokhang-style operations, the ‘barge in and shoot’ method used by police to kill thousands of civilians in the mis-named ‘war on drugs’. This killing of five identified local leaders of grassroots organisations and the arrest of 9 human rights activists is now referred to as ‘Bloody Sunday’. 

    Five of the identified victims are: Emmanuel Asuncion of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance – BAYAN) Cavite; land rights defender-couple Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista of Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (People’s Organisation Against Destruction of Environment and Land – UMALPAS-KA). Their 10-year old son is still missing; Michael Dasigao and Mark Lee Bacasno who are urban poor organisers of local group SIKKAD-K3 (San Isidro, Kasiglahan’s Fraternity and Solidarity for Livelihood, Justice and Peace).

    In the latest speech to the UNHRC of Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations Ambassador Evan Garcia, he threatened and maligned efforts of rights groups and the international community to expose human rights atrocities in the country saying that “use of certain groups in the human rights defenders’ space as a cover for their association with terrorism and other crimes” and adding that it is an “abuse of the good faith of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms”

    “These are prejudicial comments that amount as threats and vilification to victims,  human rights defenders, and even the well-meaning members of the international community,” says ICHRP.

    “No amount of grandstanding in the UNHRC by the Philippine government can hide the fact that the president of the country is ordering the killings of activists, human rights defenders and civilians,” says Murphy referring to the speech of Justice Minister Guevarra’s speech and vile claims of Garcia to the the UN Human Rights Council. 

    Those arrested were Esteban ‘Steve’ Mendoza, National Executive Vice President of Olalia-Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Labor Movement – KMU); Nimfa Lanzanas, 61, a volunteer paralegal of rights group Karapatan, and mother of a political prisoner; Elizabeth Camoral, former union president of F-Tech and current spokesperson of Bayan-Laguna; Eugene Eugenio, member of government employees union COURAGE-Rizal; and two local farmers in Rizal initially identified as Moises and Dodong.

    The search warrants – which turned out to be death warrants for the simultaneous operations – were issued by Jose Lorenzo de la Rosa, a presiding Judge of the Metro Manila Branch 4. Dela Rosa is the same Judge who issued search warrants against indigenous Tumandok that led to a massacre of 9 tribal leaders and the arrest of 16 residents on December 30, 2020. 

    At least 300 farmers, indigenous people, human rights defenders, including 55 lawyers and judges, have been killed since Duterte came to power.

    ICHRP stresses that the current reality in the Philippines “is impunity, mass killings and escalating human rights abuses. This is a determined affront to the efforts of the UN Human Rights Council and the entire international community.”#

    ICHRP denounces police murder spree of witness, lawyer in Panay, PH

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    “We condemn the political killing of a community hero and the murder attempt on the life of human rights lawyer on Panay, Western Visayas in the Philippines” said Mr Peter Murphy of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP). 

    Less than a week after the murder of Julie Catamin who is a star witness in the defence of the falsely charged Tumandok leaders, their legal counsel Atty. Angelo Karlo Guillen was stabbed in the head and shoulder with a screwdriver by masked assailants in Iloilo City on the evening of March 3. 

    Guillen represents the arrested Tumandok indigenous people facing false weapons and explosives charges last December 30, 2020.

    “The political killing of Julie Catamin and the stabbing of Guillen are all calculated to silence witnesses and lawyers who would dispute police and military claims about the deadly events of December 30,” said Mr Murphy. “It is a shameless act of state terror.

    “While Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra was telling the United Nations Human Rights Council last that ‘the PH strongly emphasizes its legal and judicial system, its domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning as they should’, security forces in Panay were organizing the murder of Catamin and now the attack on Guillen,” said Mr Murphy. “The international community cannot tolerate this brazen duplicity.”

    Dedicated human rights lawyer Guillen serves as counsel for farmers, indigenous people and rights defenders. He is also a lawyer in the petition of groups led by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) against the anti-terror law. And, he currently serves as NUPL’s assistant vice president for the Visayas (Central Philippines).

    In last year’s Labor day, Guillen was arrested by authorities while responding to illegally arrested 42 activists for protesting the political killing of community leader Jory Porquia.

    Ms Julie Catamin, aged 49, is LGBTI and the Barangay Captain of Barangay Roosevelt, in Tapaz. While they were riding home on their motorcycle at 8.45am on Sunday February 28, 2021, they were shot by tandem riders of another motorcycle. They died later that day in hospital.

    In a December 30 post on their Facebook page, Catamin accused the police who arrested four residents of their village of planting firearms and explosives. “They were arrested and handcuffed. Bullets and firearms were planted and their houses were destroyed. Where is justice? I am appealing for help from any government agency that can help me,” Catamin said in their post. Instead, government agencies killed them.

    On February 25, 2021, Catamin was invited by a Lt Estrada to visit the headquarters of the 12th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Calinog, Iloilo. The military said that they knew about the residents of Brgy. Roosevelt asking Bayan Muna for help, along with lawyers and Church institutions, which they alleged were being used by the New People’s Army. Because of this, Lt. Estrada threatened that events similar to the mass arrests on December 30 could also happen to Catamin’s community.

    The sixteen members of Tumandok tribe were arrested by a combined force of 500 police and soldiers in a raid at 4am last December 30. In the same operation, state authorities executed nine Tumandok leaders which is now known as the Tumandok massacre. 

    The recent arrests and mass murder of the Tumandok people are included in the long list of human rights cases being heard in the global initiative Investigate PH. The investigation seeks to look into cases of killings of those allegedly involved in drug trade/use and the persecution of human rights defenders, farmers and indigenous people like that of the Tumandok case. 

    The Tumandok communities have been opposing the Jalaur River Mega Dam project, funded by the South Korean Exim Bank and to be built by Daewoo S&E, since 2011.#

    Stop deadly purge of civilians in Cordillera, Philippines -ICHRP

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    “The February 24, 2021, resolution by 47 senior police and government officials in the Cordillera Region calling for the notorious ‘Oplan Tokhang’ to be deployed against ‘known left-leaning personalities in the government, media, and other entities’ demonstrates that the Duterte government is brazenly defiant of its human rights obligations”, said Mr. Peter Murphy of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP).

    This Resolution was made at the same time that Justice Secretary Guevarra was telling the United Nations Human Rights Council that “the PH strongly emphasizes its legal and judicial system, its domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning as they should.”

    “The international community must know that ‘Oplan Tokhang’ is the method used by police to kill tens of thousands of civilians in the mis-named ‘war on drugs’ over the last five years,” said Mr Murphy. “This Resolution demonstrates that the Philippine state is planning to systematically kill its civilian critics. It is not ‘knock (on the door) and plead’, but kick in the door and shoot.

    Last December, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor said there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in the Duterte administration’s drug war policy. 

    The ICC identified ‘Oplan Tokhang’ as a way for authorities to kill civilians through a drug watch list wherein “some of those targeted also included persons who had previously ‘surrendered’ to the police. 

    In the ‘war on drugs’, local government officials are required to provide lists of residents allegedly using or dealing drugs, or just ‘troublemakers’. These lists are provided to the police, who then eliminate the targets without any regard to due process. Local government officials switch off CCTV on the nights of these police raids. In the one case where two police were prosecuted for murder – that of 17 year-old Kian De Los Santos – in August 2017, the Barangay Captain had failed to switch off the CCTV.

    The Cordillera officials decided that “this resolution be elevated to the Regional Peace and Order Council for their concurrence and adoption and convince local government units (LGUs) to support this and be brought to the attention of all governors and Mayors in the Cordillera Region”.

    “While the bureaucratic machine tries to bring together all the elements for this program of civilian repression, there is time for the international community to say no, and they can say it now at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council,” said Mr Murphy.

    When the media revealed this resolution last week, the Cordillera Regional Director of the Commission on Human Rights, Atty Romel Daguimol, withdrew his signature, declaring that the resolution was in conflict with CHR policy. “We continue to stand that activism is not a crime. People should be free to express legitimate dissent and grievances for the government to act on.”

    “The other 46 police and other government officials must likewise withdraw their signatures,” said Mr Murphy.

    “ICHRP strongly supports the many statements coming from media organisations, the National Union of Journalists, the Karapatan alliance for Peoples Rights, and members of Philippine Congress who condemned the resolution, and who uphold the basic democratic and human rights of the people despite the massive threats they have to endure under the Duterte government”, Mr. Murphy concluded.#

    Empty claims by Philippine gov’t at UN Human Rights Council

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    NEWS RELEASE

    February 25, 2021

    “The reassuring diplomatic tone of Philippine Justice Secretary Guevarra’s message to the UN Human Rights Council yesterday cannot hide the raw truth that so far there has been no accountability for the murder of tens of thousands of civilians by police and the armed forces in the government’s war on drugs and counter-insurgency program,” said global human rights coalition spokesperson Mr Peter Murphy today.

    “The statement opened with the apparent good news that the Philippine government had held a Human rights Summit on December 7 last year, but failed to mention that on December 10, Human Rights Day itself, police made early morning raids on the Manila homes of six union leaders and a prominent journalist, and planted weapons and explosives on them to enable non-bailable charges.

    “The news was far worse on December 30, 2020, when a combined force of 500 police and soldiers on the island of Panay raided the homes of leaders of the Tumandok indigenous people at 4am, executing nine of them in their homes, and arresting a further 16 on phoney charges.

    “As recently as February 15, 2021, Philippine police took custody of 21 indigenous Lumad students and arrested tribal elders and school teachers from their ‘Bakwit School’ in the University of San Carlos Talamban campus, Cebu, absurdly claiming this was a ‘rescue’ from a rebel training school,” Mr Murphy reported.

    “All we have from Secretary Guevarra’s statement is news of an unpublished internal review of some of the drug war killings, a claim that administrative and criminal actions are being taken against some police officers, and promises that a technical cooperation program on human rights with the UN agencies will be announced some time soon,” said Mr Murphy, of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.

    “Secretary Guevarra told the Council that President Duterte’s war on drugs is a ‘campaign widely supported by our people’, but failed to report that the people equally support the right of the accused to be charged and have a fair trial, and not to be shot out of hand,” Mr Murphy said.

    According to the ICHRP statement, it is in fact no less than the president himself who emboldens and issues policy statements for state authorities to commit human rights violations. At a speech last December 2020, President Duterte explicitly urged police to shoot first, and worry about human rights later.  

    “President has made clear countless times that he does not care about human rights and has encouraged authorities to kill people. And, this is what Guevarra has tried to gloss over in his grandstanding in the UN body,” says Murphy. 

    ICHRP stressed that “the reality is impunity and escalating human rights abuses, a determined affront to the efforts of the UN Human Rights Council and the whole international community.”

    The response of ICHRP to the October 7 resolution was to initiate the Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines, which was announced in December 2020, and launched in January this year, with the name INVESTIGATE PH. It will present its first report to High Commissioner Ms Michelle Bachelet on March 15, 2021.#