PHILIPPINES. Manila: At least nine people were killed and six others arrested on Sunday in a string of police raids in four Philippine provinces.
The deadly operations in Batangas, Cavite, Rizal, and Laguna come after President Rodrigo Duterte called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to “finish off” and “kill” all communist rebels in the country.
Police labeled the early morning raids as “search warrant operations” that targeted 18 individuals, adding that those killed had resisted arrest.
According to police, the victims were “personalities of the armed communist movement”, with explosives and loose firearms supposedly being seized during the raids.
In a press conference on Monday, Renato Reyes of left-wing alliance Bayan said that all victims were merely unarmed, legal activists.
“They are not personalities of alleged communist-terrorist groups as the PNP claims,” said Reyes. He added that the individuals were known by their communities as leaders and activists.
“A left orientation is not a basis to kill them,” he said.
Online news media Rappler also confirmed that several victims were representatives of left-wing organizations and rights groups. Members of indigenous tribes were also among the fatalities.
Cristina Palabay, Secretary-General of human rights group Karapatan, said the “bloody Sunday” killings are part of a “murderous campaign of state terror” which seeks to stifle dissent in the Southeast Asian country.
“The Duterte regime is now unleashing the unbridled horrors of fascism,” she said in a statement.
“Finish them off”
The killings come days after President Duterte called on police and military to “forget about human rights” in encounters with communists.
“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,” he said during a meeting with government officials in the southern Philippines.
“Just make sure to return their bodies to their respective families,” he added.
Amid public outcry over Duterte’s comments, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in a briefing on Monday said that the president’s orders were “legal”.
“Under IHL [International Humanitarian Law], the president’s order is right: kill, kill, kill,” he said.
For over 50 years the Philippine government has been mired in a civil war with the Communist Party of the Philippines’ armed wing, The New People’s Army.
After peace talks to end the insurgency collapsed in 2017, many left-wing activists, farmers and indigenous people, among others, have been baselessly labelled as communists, according to rights groups.
Several people including activists, doctors, and lawyers have recently been shot dead by unknown assailants after being tagged as communist rebels or sympathizers in social media posts or street tarpaulins.
The killings on Sunday came after the enactment of a sweeping anti-terror law in June last year. The law has been criticised for a supposed vague definition of terrorism and bolstering of police powers.
In a recent statement, Phil Robertson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that the government’s counter-insurgency campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and non-combatant activists, labour leaders, and rights defenders.
Opposition lawmakers and right groups have also recently called on the Supreme Court to probe how lower courts are issuing warrants, amid concerns they are being “weaponized” to target civilian activists who criticise the government.