Three days. Four deaths. Zero accountability.
On June 15, senior high school student Ryan Hubilla and Nelly Bagasala, staffers of human rights group Karapatan, were fatally shot by motorcycle-riding men at 8:20 a.m., as they were paying for their tricycle fare in Sorsogon City, Sorsogon.
On June 16, Nonoy Palma, a member of Kasama-Bukidnon, an affiliate of the Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), was felled outside his house at Barangay Halapitan, San Fernando town, in Bukidnon.
Then on June 17, activist Neptali Morada, former Bicol regional head of Bayan Muna, was killed in San Isidro village, Naga City, in Camarines Sur at 8 a.m. on his way to work at the provincial capitol.
They are the latest names added to the lengthening list of political activists who have died by assassination, underscoring the alarming escalation in the killings of members of the legal left.
Indeed, the all-out war against drugs that has officially claimed the lives of some 6,600 Filipinos since the start of the Duterte administration in 2016 has, by all indications, morphed into an all-out war against activists and human rights defenders.
Party list group Bayan Muna said the killing of Morada on June 17 was a crystal-clear sign that “rabid attack dogs are now going all out to eliminate activists and progressives.”
Militant organizations charge that the killings escalated as a direct result of the shift in the government’s stance toward groups such as Karapatan, Bayan, Bayan Muna and KMP that it has tagged as supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
In a speech before soldiers at Camp Manuel Y. Tan in Compostela Valley in December last year, President Duterte himself ordered the military to “destroy the Communist Party of the Philippines, including its legal fronts and infrastructure,” and just ignore the human rights groups critical of his administration. “Huwag kayo maniwala ng human rights (Don’t believe in human rights). I assume full responsibility,” declared the President.
Police Gen. Oscar Albayalde does not seem to offer any hope of swift justice, or even plain accountability, for the latest killings. Instead of promising to bring the full weight of law-enforcement authority on prosecuting these crimes, which is the foremost duty of the organization he heads, he has instead raised doubts over the identities of the three individuals killed in Sorsogon and Camarines Sur, saying that leftist groups could be just taking advantage of the situation to gain sympathy.
Prove they are your members, Albayalde dared Karapatan and Bayan Muna. “You know, these people, they take advantage of almost everything,” he said.
The “staggering” number of killings in the Philippines since 2016 has already caught the attention of a group of 11 high-level rapporteurs and investigators of the United Nations who, in a joint statement, asked the UN Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into the thousands of deaths, of which just a handful have been subjected to actual investigations.
The rapporteurs noted that the attacks on the human rights defenders as well as the drug personalities appeared state-sanctioned, thus the impunity with which these are being committed.
Human Rights Watch has echoed the demand for the Duterte administration to “promptly and impartially investigate” the spate of killings. “The ‘drug war’ killings in the Philippines, which have continued unabated with near zero accountability, require a long-overdue international investigation, and the attacks on leftist activists and other serious human rights abuses, including attacks against human rights defenders and civil society, should also be urgently scrutinized,” it said.
On the drug war front, the horrific body count shows no signs of ebbing. As many as 123 deaths were recorded in a six-month span this year (January to June) in Bulacan alone. And, with the inability, or reluctance, of the government to halt the bloodbath, the situation appears to be worsening into even more disorder and violence.
The latest shockers: Yesterday, according to a CNN report, “an incumbent councilor in the town of Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte was shot dead… as he was driving a jeepney filled with students.” Also yesterday, an ex-town mayor was shot dead by unidentified assailants who stormed the private hospital in a Cebu town where he was confined for chest pains. The town’s name? Medellin. What an apt marker, it seems, of the Philippines’ increasing spiral into a Colombian-style era of blood and mayhem.
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