Palace says will probe killings of activists in police raid
MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's order for troops to kill communist rebels is "legal", Malacañang said on Monday, even as it added that it would look into the killing of 9 activists that rights groups said were linked to the directive.
Duterte on Friday told police and the military to "ignore human rights" in going after communist rebels. On Sunday, police raids in 4 provinces south of Manila led to the death of 9 activists, including an environmentalist as well as a coordinator of left-wing group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, among others.
It is not illegal to kill rebels if there is "military necessity" and "if it will achieve iyong (the) objective which is the complete subjugation of the enemy," said Duterte's spokesman, Harry Roque, a former rights lawyer.
"Under IHL (international humanitarian law), tama iyong order ng Presidente—kill, kill, kill—kasi nga po kapag mayroong labanan, kapag ang kalaban mo, may baril na puwede kang patayin, alangan namang ikaw ang maghintay na ikaw ang mabaril at mapatay," he said.
(The President's order is correct—kill, kill, kill—because if there is fighting and your enemy is armed, you cannot wait to be shot and killed.)
"Iyong order ng Presidente na 'kill, kill, kill', legal po 'yan dahil ang kaniyang sinabing 'kill, kill, kill' ay iyong mga rebelde na meron talagang hawak na armas," Roque said in a televised briefing.
(The 'kill, kill, kill' order of the President is legal because it is directed to rebels who are armed.)
But under the law, troops should "always distinguish" between combatants and civilians, he said.
The government will investigate if there was "necessity and proportionality" in the killing of the 9 activists, said Roque. If these are absent, "that will be the crime of murder."
WHAT RIGHTS GROUPS SAID
"These raids appear to be part of a coordinated plan by the authorities to raid, arrest, and even kill activists in their homes and offices," Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson had said in a statement.
These incidents, he said, were "clearly part of the government's increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign."
"The fundamental problem is (that) this campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and noncombatant activists, labour leaders, and rights defenders."
The United Nations has warned in a report that "red-tagging", or labelling people and groups as communists or terrorists, and incitement to violence have been rife in the Southeast Asian nation.
"The Philippines government should act now to investigate the use of lethal force in these raids, stop the mayhem and killings that has gone hand in hand with the practice of red-tagging," Robertson said.
"Nothing could be more apt than calling this day a ‘Bloody Sunday,’" Karapatan's Cristina Palabay said.
CHR SAYS 'NO CONCRETE ACTION'
The Commission on Human Rights "finds the number of deaths most concerning in light of the pattern of prevalent red-tagging and escalating attacks against activists," said its spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia.
"Despite several commitments by the Philippine Government—domestically and internationally—to uphold, respect, and protect human rights, we have yet to see concrete response to our repeated plea for tangible reduction of violence on the ground," she said in a statement.
The CHR is also concerned with Duterte's pronouncement, she said.
"We stress that, while CHR condemns the use of arms and violence to overthrow a government, human rights must be respected at all times. Crimes must be punished under the guidance of the rule of law and due process," said De Guia.
"Words matter and such words can embolden some to act with abuse and impunity," she added.
"Where the right to life is concerned, the government has the utmost obligation to fulfill its obligation—no matter which side of the political spectrum one belongs. It is the supreme duty of the State to protect the right to life."
Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, head of an anti-rebel task force, told Reuters the raids were "legitimate law enforcement operations", and authorities acted on the basis of search warrants for possession of firearms and explosives.
"As usual, these groups are so quick in assuming that the subjects were activists and that they were killed. If (the) motive was to kill them, they should all be dead. But there were those who did not resist arrest, so they were collared," Parlade told Reuters in a phone message.
The justice department has created an inter-agency committed on the deaths of Red-tagged individuals, said Roque.
Asked why there had been no convictions yet, he said, "That's how wheel of justice operates. It's not instant justice... it takes time."
— With a report from Reuters