#UndoingDuterte | Five years of state terror

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

Under the Duterte administration, Karapatan has noted a pattern of using search warrants issued by executive judges in Quezon City and Manila regional trial courts to conduct police and military raids on homes and offices of the progressive leaders and activists which led to the killings or if not, end up arrested after supposed “evidence” were gathered by the authorities.


MANILA – There has been no let up in rights violations in the past five years of the Duterte administration, said human rights group Karapatan. These violations are the result of policies and campaigns, which the government claims will bring “peace” to the country but the actual implementation has only terrorized civilians.

Cristina Palabay secretary general of Karapatan said that the government’s campaign against illegal drugs “is intrinsically related to yet another form of war against the poor in the administration’s war against dissent as expressed through its counter-insurgency campaign and attacks against the opposition and the press.”

Recently, the Anti-Terror Council designated the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as a “terrorist organization.”

Under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the Anti-Terrorism Council may order for the designation of an individual or organization as a terrorist.

Earlier, the ATC also designated the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army as terrorists. On May 13, the ATC released a list of 19 individuals, including CPP founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison and 11 known peace consultants, designated as terrorists.

Three of them were already in prison namely Vicente Ladlad, Adelberto Silva and Rey Claro Casambre.

Anti-Terror Council’s designation is arbitrary, sweeping accusation – Bayan

Even before the ATC’s designation, however, several NDFP peace consultants were killed ala-tokhang style.

Elderly couple and retired members of the CPP, Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio were killed on Nov. 25, 2020 during a police raid. They were both 69 years old and were recuperating from illnesses. The police claimed the two fought back.

On May 28, 2021 Rustico Tan, 80, NDFP peace consultant for Cebu, was killed in his sleep in Camotes Islands in Cebu. On the same day, Reynaldo Bocala, 75, and his aide Welly Arguelles Epago, 60 were killed in a police operation in Iloilo.

Timeline | Attacks on peace consultants under the Duterte administration

Lawyer VJ Topacio, son of Magpantay and Topacio criticized the police for claiming that his parents fought back, saying they were too old to fight back against members of the raiding team.

“No one in the neighborhood said they heard a shot from my parents,” Topacio said in a webinar last July 21.

As of July this year, Karapatan has documented 414 victims of extrajudicial killings and 497 victims of frustrated killings.

Many of the victims are peasants, indigenous peoples, workers and rights defenders.

Topacio said that for a lawyer who studied the law for many years, it is awful to see how the Duterte administration has deprived the people of their right to live, right to due process and right to be presumed innocent.

He also revealed the continued harassment and intimidation against him and members of his family. He said that his uncle, his father’s brother, was abducted in Nueva Ecija and is now in jail in Cabanatuan after the police planted illegal drugs on him.

Highest number of political prisoners

Along with the rampant killings are the arrest and detention of perceived enemies of the government.

According to Kapatid, a support group of friends and families of political prisoners, the number of political prisoners is now 715 – the highest count in 35 years since February 1986.

Karapatan data showed that more than half of this number or 489 were arrested under Duterte, 11 are NDFP peace consultants and staff; 94 are sick, including those with terminal illnesses; and 132 are women.

“This marked increase of political prisoners goes hand in hand with the pattern of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines—those committed openly by security forces and those covertly by unidentified assailants whose motives and methods of execution point to state involvement,” Kapatid said in a statement.

Under the Duterte administration, Karapatan has noted a pattern of using search warrants issued by executive judges in Quezon City and Manila regional trial courts to conduct police and military raids on homes and offices of the progressive leaders and activists which led to the killings or if not, end up arrested after supposed “evidence” were gathered by the authorities.

The group said that from previous raids in Negros, Metro Manila and Eastern Visayas, this pattern is now being replicated in Panay, Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, Bicol, and Bohol.

Kapatid warned of escalation of rights violations in the remaining months of the Duterte administration “as the Anti-Terrorism Act with its elastic definition of terrorism deliberately blurs the distinction between combatants and civilians to justify the illegalization of progressive organizations and set up their members and leaders for arrest, even outright murder.”

Red-tagging, false narratives

Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) noted how the Duterte administration has peddled false narratives against activists such “terrorism,” “terrorist-financing” through money laundering, “gun-running syndicates”, involvement in armed encounters and what he call as the “nanlaban script in the implementation of dubious searches and arrests against activists, recklessly labeling progressive party-lists and legal organizations as ‘fronts’ of communists or terrorists.”

This has also become systematic through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict implementing the Executive Order No. 70 which institutionalized the whole-of-nation approach.

“Virtually all government resources, machinery, platforms are now being used for its red-tagging campaign to demonize activists and progressive organizations — violating the constitutional right to due process and presumption of innocence,” Palabay said.

Palabay added this “malicious accusations have become even more dangerous with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, and the new law has emboldened the NTF-ELCAC and State security institutions to mobilize all forms of media, including social media, and their proxies, assets or supporters to propagate disinformation and deliberate falsehoods by red-tagging activists, human rights defenders, government critics, and their organizations even in official government proceedings, such as the oral arguments on the petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court.”

‘No intention of bringing peace, genuine change’

Topacio said that the Duterte administration has really no intention of bringing peace to the country.

“The systematic killing of elderly, sickly NDFP consultants is already an indication. It has only made clear that Duterte through his ‘iron fist’ wants to obliterate the movement pushing for genuine change in society,” Topacio said.

Peace advocacy group Pilgrims for Peace also said that the designation of the NDFP by the ATC is a “final nail into the coffin” of the peace talks.

“The warhawks are hell-bent on killing peace negotiations and instead pursuing all-out war in the government counterinsurgency program as well as casting a wide net of suppression against all opposition and dissent through state terror as embodied in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020,” the group said in a statement.

The NDFP, the political wing of the underground movement has been negotiating with the Philippine government in all past six administrations including Duterte who unilaterally terminated peace negotiations in 2017.

Pilgrims for Peace said such designation contravenes the basic principle of peace advocacy which is to address the roots of the armed conflict through earnest peace negotiations.

“There is no doubt that the Philippines is a struggling democracy with brighter and dimmer eras of nurturing and upholding human rights, justice and peace by addressing the concerns of the toiling majority. The Duterte administration, however, has achieved a level of notoriety with regard to grievous and gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The daily killings by state forces are indicative of policies of state terror,” the group said. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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