MANILA - "The Filipino people deserve better than this murderous regime."
This was Vice President Leni Robredo's outcry after a crackdown against activists in Calabarzon killed 9 people Sunday.
An environmental activist and a coordinator of left-wing group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan were among those who were killed, according to rights groups. Several activists were also arrested during the police raids in the region.
"There is no other way to describe this: It was a massacre. And it came just two days after the President himself ordered state forces to 'ignore human rights,' kill communist rebels, and 'finish them off,' in his rant before the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict," Robredo said in a statement, referring to President Rodrigo Duterte's order to the police and the military on Friday to "ignore human rights" in going after communist rebels.
The Vice President, a outspoken critic of Duterte, lamented the continuing killings in the Philippines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and since Duterte assumed power in 2016 on a promise to eradicate the illegal drug trade through use of force.
"Sa panahon kung kailan patuloy na nadadagdagan ang bilang ng mga namamatay, nagugutom at naghihirap dahil sa pandemya, ito ang masakit na katotohanan: Patuloy ang pagpatay sa Pilipino. Maglilimang taon nang pinapatay ang mga mahihirap sa ngalan ng isang drug war," Robredo said.
(In a time when people continue to die, starve and suffer due to the pandemic, this is the sad truth: The killing of Filipinos. The poor are being killed for five years now under a drug war.)
Denouncing the killings, she demanded an honest and independent probe on the Calabarzon killings.
"Nananawagan tayo na magkaroon ng malinis at independent na imbestigasyon para masigurong mapapanagot ang dapat mapanagot, at uusad ang hustisya," Robredo said.
(We are calling for a clean and independent investigation so those who need to be punished will be punished, and that justice will move forward.)
Robredo called on the public to be careful, reach out, and check on their loved ones, and never give in to fear amid "difficult and dangerous times" in the Philippines.
"Bagkus, mas lumalakas lang ang panawagang ipakita na handa tayong magbigkis at magkapit-bisig para protektahan ang isa’t isa. Na handa tayong tumindig at magsalita hindi lang para sa ating pamilya at mga kakilala, pero para sa ating kapwa na naniniwala sa mabuting pamamahala, kalayaan, at demokrasya," she said.
(Rather, our call for solidarity and unity to protect one another has been strengthened. We are prepared to stand and speak up, not only for our families and friends, but our fellow countrymen who believe in good governance, freedom and democracy.)
Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, head of the country's anti-rebel task force, earlier claimed 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.
But Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said the raids 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, labor leaders, and rights defenders," he said in a statement.
Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro meanwhile demanded government to "lay down its arms" after Malacañang called on rebels to surrender their weapons.
"Kung ang administrasyong ito ay talagang nagmamahal sa Pilipino, hindi dapat nito tinutugis at pinapatay ang mga nagsasalita para sa kapwa nila Pilipino. Hindi dapat ito nagsisinungaling gamit ang malisyosong label na ang mga progresibo at kritiko ay may armas," she said in a statement.
(If this administration really loves the Filipinos, it shouldn't be killing those who are speaking up for their fellow Filipinos. It shouldn't be deceiving the public that progressives and critics have weapons.)
The United Nations has warned that "red-tagging," or labeling people and groups as communists or terrorists, and incitement to violence have been rampant in the Philippines.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the inter-agency task force on extrajudicial killings will probe the deaths in Calabarzon in what human rights groups called “bloody Sunday."