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A woman participates in a protest against President Rodrigo Duterte's Anti-Terror bill on June 12, 2020 in Quezon City, Philippines. Activists marked Independence Day by staging protests against the draconian anti-terrorism legislation. (Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

A woman participates in a protest against President Rodrigo Duterte's Anti-Terror bill on June 12, 2020 in Quezon City, Philippines. Activists marked Independence Day by staging protests against the draconian anti-terrorism legislation. (Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

'Bloody Sunday': Left Activists, Labor Leaders Executed in Philippines After Duterte Says 'Finish Off' the Communists

"The government's increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign... no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and non-combatant activists, labor leaders, and rights defenders."

Kenny Stancil

In an event that human rights groups are calling "Bloody Sunday," at least nine left-wing activists and labor leaders were executed at their homes and offices this past weekend during a series of coordinated raids carried out jointly by the military and police in four provinces in the Calabarzon region of the Philippines, just two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered security forces to "finish off" communists in the country.

"I've told the military and the police that if they find themselves in an armed encounter with the communist rebels, kill them, make sure you really kill them and finish them off if they are alive," Duterte said Friday. "Just make sure to return their bodies to their respective families."

"Forget about human rights," the Philippine president continued. "That's my order. I'm willing to go to jail, that's not a problem. I do not have any qualms about doing the things that I have to do."

According to Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), "It is not a coincidence that these deadly raids happened two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered police and military to 'kill all' communists and 'don't mind human rights.'"

"These incidents," he added, "are clearly part of the government's increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign aimed at eliminating the 52-year-old communist insurgency."

While Duterte, a right-wing politician who took office in 2016, claims his government is putting down violent Maoist factions, human rights groups have warned the authoritarian president's anti-left crusade goes far beyond that—using the rhetoric of "counter-insurgency" to legitimate terrorizing and repressing leftists throughout the country, regardless of whether they are connected to the New People's Army, the armed wing of the national Communist Party.

"The fundamental problem," said Robertson, "is this campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and non-combatant activists, labor leaders, and rights defenders."

In response to the lethal raids that took place on Sunday—in the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Rizal, all in the southern part of Luzon Island, near Manila—Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, a progressive organization in the Philippines, said that "nothing could be more apt than calling this day a 'Bloody Sunday.'" Security forces, she added, are "obediently heeding the president's kill, kill, kill orders."

The New York Times reported that, according to Palabay, "the activists who were killed had worked for a variety of organizations, including a group that works on behalf of Philippine fishermen and another that campaigned for the rights of the urban poor."

According to WION, one of the victims who was killed Sunday was Emmanuel "Manny" Asuncion, a coordinator of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, a left-wing organization that has "called for an end to 'red-tagging,' the practice of labeling opponents communists or terrorists to justify targeting them, which dates back to the the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos."

As Robertson pointed out, "It is also not a coincidence that these incidents occurred in provinces overseen by the Southern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, led by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., who has led a vicious 'red-tagging' campaign against activists by accusing them of rebel links without providing any evidence that can stand up in a court of law."

Additional victims include: Mark Lee Bacasno and Melvin Dasigao, both members of the urban poor group San Isidro Kasiglahan; Ariel Evangelista and his wife, Chai Lemita Evangelista, fishermen's rights advocates whose 10-year-old son is now missing; and four yet-to-be-identified individuals.

Al-Jazeera reported Sunday that, according to the police, "six people were also arrested during the raids in three provinces surrounding Metro Manila on Sunday, while at least six others 'escaped.'"

According to Inquirer News, Karapatan's search teams—currently trying to locate other victims, including those reported missing—were also targeted and pursued by security forces. Esteban Mendoza, one of the arrested activists, described this past weekend's violent "onslaught" as the result of the Anti-Terror Act championed by Duterte and enacted in 2020.

Last year, rights groups warned that the new anti-terrorism law, which critics say equates dissent with communism or terrorism, could enable Duterte to crush political opponents, as NPR noted.

Regarding Sunday's raids, police claimed they "had arrest warrants against 18 individuals, adding that some resisted arrest, resulting in their deaths," Al-Jazerra reported.

Activists have described the raids as "reminiscent of police operations in which thousands of people have been killed as part of Duterte's signature war on drugs, in which police said all of the victims were armed and had resisted arrest," WION reported.

Al-Jazerra noted that there are "fears of a new wave of bloodshed" across the Philippines.

Butch Olano, Philippines section director at Amnesty International, echoed those concerns, saying in a statement released Monday that "we are deeply alarmed that 'tokhang'-style raids during anti-drug operations—where targets are killed by the police allegedly for fighting back—are increasingly being used against activists and rights defenders."

"We strongly urge the Philippine government to finally end the attacks and killings; conduct effective and independent investigations into the raids in Calabarzon, including to determine whether or not the use of deadly force was warranted; and prosecute in fair trials those found responsible for human rights violations," Olano said.

"Government officials, especially at the highest levels," he continued, "must end the ongoing incitement of extrajudicial killings and immediately implement measures in line with the recommendations of the U.N. High Commissioner's 2020 report."

"In light of the rapidly worsening human rights situation in the Philippines," Olano added, "states have the responsibility to hold the Philippine government to account for its commitments before the U.N. Human Rights Council, which must now take overdue action and launch an independent international investigation to address this alarming situation and end the cycle of impunity that continues to fuel violations."

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