We dread receiving yet another news of extrajudicial killing from human rights groups. The level of killings in Negros alone is reminiscent of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo days. During the height of Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, at least two activists were killed each week. At the end of her term, more than a thousand civilians were gunned down.
The pattern too is almost the same. Activists belonging to people’s organisations and their supporters were tagged as communists or sympathizers of New People’s Army (NPA) before they were gunned down. The “more fortunate” targets became victims of trumped-up criminal charges, arrested and detained for many years.
It was only after the investigation of then United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston that the killings declined. Alston correctly linked the killings and other human rights violations to Oplan Bantay Laya, where state security forces did not differentiate civilians from combatants. His primary recommendation was the elimination of extrajudicial executions from counterinsurgency operations.
Under Duterte, a more vicious counterinsurgency program, ironically dubbed as Oplan Kapanatagan, has been in place. With the whole-of-nation approach, civilian agencies are blatantly used for “counterinsurgency.” Former military officials have been appointed in many civilian posts; their offices maximized for surveillance, red tagging, and direct attacks against perceived enemies of the state. The most recent example is the Department of Education’s closure of 55 Lumad schools in Mindanao on the basis of “intelligence reports” that the schools have been teaching rebellion to the children.
In Negros, Philippine National Police Director Oscar Albayalde has vowed to continue Oplan Sauron, the intensified campaign of PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines against “communist insurgency.” Government website Philippine News Agency stated that 20 have been killed in the past six months due to Oplan Sauron.
Who were these communists according to the police?
• Six farmers killed on Dec. 27, 2018 in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental
• 14 farmers killed on March 30, 2019 in three different towns
• Two lawyers — Benjamin Ramos and Anthony Trinidad
• Escalante City Councilor Bernardino Patigas
• Romeo Alipan, barangay chairman of Buenavista, Guihulngan City
• Arthur Bayawa, principal of the Guihulngan Science High School, and his sister, Ardale, an officer of the local Department of Education office
These are just some of the victims as reported by human rights alliance Karapatan.
Defend Negros, Stop the Killings network said there have been 73 victims of extrajudicial killings since January 2017.
Albayalde’s statement justifying Oplan Sauron reeks of impunity. Like Oplan Tokhang, the PNP wishes the public to regard as normal the butchering of civilians. The victims in all these killings are not just cold statistics. They have left behind wives, children, mothers, and other loved ones.
The United Nations Human Rights Council’s resolution to investigate the killings in the Philippines is a welcome development. The Philippines, as a signatory to various human rights treaties, could not evade responsibility and must be held accountable.
The UN investigation is crucial at this time when victims could no longer rely solely on legal remedies, with their lawyers and other human rights defenders also getting killed. More importantly, how could they expect justice when the chief executive is the one issuing the order to kill?