Extrajudicial killings, threats of martial law, return of the death penalty – all are reminiscent of the fascist dictatorship.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Progressive groups lashed out this week at President Duterte, whose most recent rhetorics, they said, could only worsen the current human rights situation, given the relentless extrajudicial killings, arrests of activists, militarization in communities and other forms of violations.
Speaking at the Bansalan Municipal Hall in Davao del Sur on March 9, at the wake of policemen killed in an ambush by New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas, Duterte gave orders to the police and military to use all resources to fight rebels, saying, “Go ahead, flatten the hills.”
Foreseeing the possible impact on civilians, he even said: “Collateral damage, pasensya.”
In a meeting with local executives in Davao City on the same day, the President asked officials to help him solve security problems, but coupled this with a threat: “Either tulungan ‘nyo ako or I will declare martial law tomorrow in Mindanao.”
Various groups said the President’s statements “encourages war crimes” and gives state forces “license to kill.”
“Duterte is becoming more like his idol Marcos by the hour,” Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago said.
Duterte had come under fire from local and international human rights groups, which said his statements fuelled the extrajudicial killings of more than 7,000 drug suspects in the past nine months.
Also under Duterte, from July 2016 to February 2017, human rights group Karapatan had documented 39 activists killed, and 43 arrested based on trumped-up charges. Twenty of those killed were from January to March 2 this year.
The most recent victim was Hadji Billamin Hassan, Bayan Muna coordinator who was shot and killed by state troops on March 8, allegedly while serving an arrest warrant for arson.
Among other recent victims were peasant spouses and anti-mining activists Ramon and Leonila Pesadilla who were killed by suspected members of the 66th Infantry Battalion in Compostela Valley on March 2; farmers Ian and Rolendo Borres in Maayon, Capiz, who were killed by suspected 61st IB soldiers on February 24; and coconut farmer and Kasama-TK peasant leader Gilbert Bancat, who was killed in San Andres, Quezon by suspected members of the Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM).
Karapatan also cited a bombing incident that triggered the forced evacuation of 11,500 residents in Pichon village, Caraga, Davao Oriental, where 12 to 18 bombs were dropped by the 67th IBPA on July 7 and 8, 2016.
“Your armed forces have been bombing communities even at the onset of your administration. You cannot use the alleged incident in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, to justify these violations any further and act as if these State agents are all so innocent,” said Karapatan secretary general Tinay Palabay.
Under the 20-year Marcos Dictatorship, tens of thousands were killed, disappeared and arbitrarily arrested and detained.
Progressive groups staged separate indignation rallies on March 10 to protest the continuing impunity and rights abuses. Peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Karapatan held successive protests at the gates of the AFP national headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, and at the AFP Medical Center-V. Luna.
Four missing civilians who were caught in the crossfire between the military and NPA in Quezon province were believed to have been brought to the AFP Medical Center.
In the University of the Philippines-Diliman, students led by the Tanggulan Youth Network for the Defense of Human Rights and Civil Liberties gathered at the Palma Hall steps in the afternoon.
In Davao City, progressives also held a picket and a street press conference on March 10, said a report by Kilab Multimedia.
“Martial law is the only logical conclusion in the Duterte administration’s maneuvers to reinstate an atmosphere of fascism and terror in the country,” said Elago, who was at the UP protest.
She cited the moves toward imposing forced military training for senior high school students, and the approval of the death penalty in Congress.
“Sowing fear and terror will not solve the root causes of poverty, crime and armed conflict. In fact, even Duterte admits he could not control the armed insurgency. But what makes him think imposing martial law will stop it? Marcos and his succeeding regimes have tried to flatten mountains and drop bombs to quell the armed groups but to no avail,” she said .
KMP secretary general Antonio Flores lamented that peasants are the primary targets of the counterinsurgency operations of the military, which Duterte has now ordered to take part in the anti-drug war.
“President Duterte has dangerously weaponized the war against drugs and handed the AFP an additional artillery in its all-out war campaign that has victimized civilians and activists,” Flores said.
The US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said the President’s counterinsurgency rhetoric is reminiscent of his anti-drug statements “which has instigated unlawful force and incited violence.” HRW said Duterte should clarify to state forces that they are constrained by law and that they will be accountable for any rights abuses.
“Were the Philippine military to “flatten the hills” without regard to civilian loss of life and property, those involved would be committing war crimes,” said Carlos Conde, Philippine researcher of Human Rights Watch.
“International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, rejects the “anything goes” approach to warfare and places specific restraints on all parties to an armed conflict to spare civilians and other non-combatants the horrors of war. Armies must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians. Attacks against lawful targets cannot be indiscriminate or cause civilian loss greater than the expected military gain,” Conde said.
Meanwhile, the NPA Regional Operations Command in Southern Mindanao said the four policemen killed in Bansalan were not a “non-tactical police team” but legitimate targets.
“The PNP troops in Bansalan are in the thick of the GRP’s counterinsurgency campaign, actively surveilling revolutionary organizations and personalities, harassing unarmed Lumad and peasants and contributing greatly in intelligence to target Red fighters and NPA units,” said Rigoberto F. Sanchez, NPA-SMR spokesperson.
Sanchez lashed out at the Duterte administration for “twisting the facts” to “conceal the bare-faced rottenness of the AFP’s counter-insurgency plan Development Support and Security Plan Oplan Kapayapaan.”
He said the ambushed PNP unit was actually there to clear the area for military operations on March 8.
“After the initial five-second volley of gunshots, the NPA commander called for the enemy troops to surrender and lay down their arms. The PNP personnel, however, retaliated with numerous return of fire,”said the NPA statement.