Fourteen farmers were dead after police conducted “legitimate operations” in different towns in Negros Oriental last March 30. Eight were killed in Canlaon City, four in Manjuyod and two in Santa Catalina.
Initial investigation by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Central Visayas found common patterns — most of the victims were separated from their families before being killed; many bore gunshot wounds in the head; and, some of the victims were in their senior years.
The CHR’s initial findings corroborated the testimonies of witnesses, mostly families of the victims. Their accounts were eerily familiar for families of those killed in ‘anti-drug’ police operations.
The patterns seen by CHR belie the police’s claims that the “suspected New People’s Army (NPA) members resisted arrest when operatives were only implementing search warrants for unlicensed firearms.”
Human rights groups categorically stated that the victims were not NPA guerrillas. One of the victims, Edgardo Avelino, was the leader of Hugpong Kusog Manguguma (Hukom), the local chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in the province. Two of the victims in Manjuyod, Velentin Acabal and Sonny Palagtiw, were both village leaders. Another was a lay leader, according to Bishop Gerardo Alminaza who was outraged at the killings.
The recent carnage brought the number of farmers slain under the Duterte administration to 205, according to human rights alliance Karapatan.
Barely two weeks ago, three activists were also gunned down in separate incidents in different parts of the country, one each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
The recent spate of killings has surpassed the height of extrajudicial killings during the administration of former president and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, pegged at two victims per week. (By the end of her nine-year term, Karapatan recorded 1,190 victims of extrajudicial killings.)
Back then and even now, red tagging and vilification of victims precede the murders. Counterinsurgency is used as justification for state-instigated violence.
Negros is one of the regions cited in President Duterte’s memorandum no. 32. (The others being Bicol and Samar.) He ordered the deployment of more troops in these regions to “suppress lawless violence and acts of terror.” It turns out that state security forces are the ones carrying out violence and terror in rural communities.
Duterte subsequently signed the Executive Order No. 70, mandating the government bureaucracy to take “whole-of-nation approach” in defeating insurgency through the creation of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. President Duterte himself is the chairman of this national task force.
What we are witnessing is a war against civilians since Duterte assumed the presidency. He started with the thousands of poor drug suspects, using anti-drugs campaign as a veil. Now, authorities are mouthing anti-criminality and counterinsurgency for going after civilians.