3 years of Duterte’s counterinsurgency: 250 civilians dead, thousands displaced

(L-R) Wives and mothers demand justice for their loved ones. Carmela Avelino, Precila Lebico and Bienvenida Cabe. (Photo courtesy of Amihan)

Human rights group Karapatan documented 250 victims of extrajudicial killings and 10 victims of enforced disappearances from July 2016 until March this year. Moreover, nearly 370,000 civilians were affected by military bombings and 450,000 have evacuated due to military operations, Karapatan data showed.


MANILA – Precilla Libico could not hold her tears as she narrated how her husband was killed on April 25 in Las Navas town in Northern Samar.

In between sobs, Precilla said her husband Apolinario, village captain of San Miguel, was on his way home riding a scooter when he was shot at around 4 p.m. near San Jorge village. Apolinario just went to Las Navas to process the papers needed for their project in San Miguel village. The mayor was not in the office so he went home.

Libico was a member of Northern Samar Small Farmers Association.

Precilla and other family members are currently here in the capital to share their stories and to demand justice. Apolinario was just one of the civilians killed in the implementation of President Duterte’s counterinsurgency programs — Oplan Kapayapaan, martial law in Mindanao, Oplan Sauron, Memorandum Order No. 32, and the latest, Oplan Kapanatagan, jointly led by the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Human rights group Karapatan documented 250 victims of extrajudicial killings and 10 victims of enforced disappearances from July 2016 until March this year.  Moreover, nearly 370,000 civilians were affected by military bombings and 450,000 have evacuated due to military operations, Karapatan data showed.

The group also said there were more than 42, 000 civilians affected by the use of schools, medical, religious and other public places for military purposes, a violation of the international humanitarian law.

According to Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women), 214 farmers were already killed in implementing these orders. They include 30 peasant women, nine minors, eight farmer couples and 28 elderly.

Memo order no. 32 

Human rights and peasant groups have blamed the memorandum order no. 32 for the spike of human rights abuses particularly in Samar, Negros island and Bicol.

Issued on Nov. 22, 2018, the MO 32 orders the deployment of more troops in Bicol region, Samar, Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental. The order was signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Midialdea upon the orders of President Duterte.

According to the memo, there are “number of sporadic acts of violence occurred recently in particular areas of the country, particularly in the provinces of Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and the Bicol region” allegedly committed by what it called as lawless groups.

Precila Lebico during the press conference at Commission on Human Rights. (Photo by Kodao Productions)

The memo added, “there is a need to reinforce the directive of the President in order to prevent further loss of innocent lives and destruction of property and bring the whole country back to a state of complete normalcy as quick as possible.”

In November 2018, the Philippine National Police immediately deployed Special Action Force in the four areas. The AFP also deployed two battalions in Samar. In January this year, 220 more troops were deployed in Negros island.

A report by the Philippine New Agency said Co. Benedict Arevalo, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander said the troops will “boost their campaign against the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).”

But the campaign against the CPP-NPA was directed against civilians especially those who are members of the organizations the government tagged as front organizations of the CPP-NPA.

The implementation of MO 32 has only resulted in mass arrests, killings and forced surrender of civilians presented as NPA guerrillas.

Oplan Sauron 1 and 2

After the issuance of MO 32, synchronized enhanced managing of police operations (SEMPO) was launched by the military and the police dubbed as “Oplan Sauron” – an internal security operation plan against “personalities connected to the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.”

SEMPO is publicized as part of government’s efforts against illegal drugs and loose firearms in the Central Visayas Region. On the ground, though, it is being used against members of peasant groups fighting for their right to land.

On Dec. 27, 2018, when the combined forces of the police and the military launched Oplan Sauron 1, at least six individuals from Guihulngan, Negros Oriental were killed simultaneously and 50 civilians from eight villages were also arrested.

According to the documentation of Karapatan-Negros, the killings occurred at 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. at different villages in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental. Allegedly, evidence were also planted, similar to those who were killed in police operations against illegal drugs. The circumstances of the killings were also the same where combined forces of the police and the soldiers from the Army’s 94th Infantry Battalion forced entry into their houses and shot them in front of their family members. The victims were as follows:

  • Jimmy Fat, 57 from sitio Panagtugas, Trinidad village, Guihulngan City. He was reportedly dragged outside of the front yard where his children were assembled. The police and the military allegedly “planted” a .38 revolver and some bullets beside his body.
  • Jun Cobol from sitio Punong also in Trinidad village. Upon the entry of the armed men, Cobol reportedly raised both of his hands and knelt. However, the armed men still shot him in front of his wife.
  • Jaime Revilla, a community organizer from sitio Kaingan. A .38 revolver and some bullets were also allegedly placed beside his body.
  • Reneboy Fat, a habal-habal (motorcycle) driver from sitio Ilaya, Hilaitan village
  • Jesus Isugan,26 also a habal habal driver was also killed by the police and soldiers from the 94th IB. It was around 7:00 a.m. when the troops raided their house in sitio Malabyokon, Buenavista village. He was asked about the whereabouts of a certain Tomas Isugan. The armed men dragged him towards the back of the house and shot him in front of his wife, his child, his siblings and his father. His body was placed inside a sack and tossed in the middle of the road.
  • Gabby Alboro, a media practitioner for the DYJL FM radio station was also gunned down by armed men riding-in-tandem.


This year, Oplan Sauron 2.0 was launched. This time, the operation was supposedly related to the elections. However, those who fell victims did not violate any of the election code.

On March 30, fourteen peasants were killed in Canlaon City, Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental. There are also 12 others who were arrested. Among them are members of the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Negros chapter and village officials.

The government asserted that the operation is legitimate. In an article published by the Philippine News Agency, authorities said that the operation was against the NPA and that those who were killed “fought back.”

But the circumstances of their killings were also the same as the conduct of Oplan Sauron 1 in December of 2018; the police and soldiers belonging to the 94th IB raided the houses of the victims in the wee hours of the night. They were killed in front of their families and the state security forces planted evidence to justify the killings. According to the report of the national fact-finding mission (NFFM), many witnesses attested that the victims were summarily executed. Irregularities were also found in the search warrant used against the 12 arrested individuals.

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The killings have not stopped even after Oplan Sauron 1 and 2.0. Last July 7, a lay member of Iglesias Filipina Independiente, Salvador Romano, was shot by unknown assailants in Poblacion village, Manjuyod town. He died instantly and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. He was on his way home when the assailants fired at him.

More military deployment

According to Amihan, more and more soldiers are deployed in the regions covered by the MO 32 resulting in intensifying militarization.

In Eastern Visayas, 545 villages are affected by militarization. The deployment of nine army battalions in the region has resulted in forced evacuations in San Jorge, Calbiga, Las Navas, San Jose De Buan and Pinabacdao, and aerial bombings in Matuginao and Las Navas. There are recorded 11 individuals killed after the execution of the memo and 11 were illegally arrested and detained.

Relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings storm Camp Aguinaldo demanding accountability to the death of their loved ones. (Photo courtesy of Karapatan)

In Negros island, there are 11 regular and special battalions of AFP, PNP, CAFGU, and RPA-ABB operating.

At least 68 were killed including the victims of Sagay Massacre on October 2018, Guihulngan Massacre on December 2018, and the mass killings in Canlaon, Manjuyod, and Sta. Catalina on March 30, 2019, while more than 70 were illegally arrested and detained.

In Bicol, 62 individuals have been killed, including the consecutive killings last month of Masbate farmers, human rights workers and former Bayan Muna leader in Sorsogon. At least six army battalions are currently deployed in the region.

There are also three army battalions deployed in Nueva Ecija. Soldiers reportedly use barangay halls and day care centers as camps, threatening and red-tagging farmers and members of farmers’ organizations.

With only days away before Duterte’s fourth state of the nation address, Amihan along with the families of victims of extrajudicial killings and militarization in Nueva Ecija, Masbate, Northern Samar and Negros Oriental appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the state-sponsored violence against farmers,  and their communities, and hold the Duterte government accountable for these abuses.

Amihan Chairperson Zenaida Soriano said Duterte’s crimes against humanity should end.

“He and his mercenary forces should be held accountable for the perpetration of attacks against farming communities. We urge all the poor and the marginalized sectors, farmers, workers, urban poor, fisher folk, indigenous people, women, youth and those in the informal sector to unite and oust Duterte,” Soriano said. (https://www.bulatlat.com)


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