No service of warrant: Labor leader brought into room and killed, lawyer claims

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 09 2021 11:58 AM | Updated as of Mar 11 2021 07:56 PM

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MANILA - A lawyer on Tuesday rejected claims made by police that there was a service of search warrant in the office of labor leader Manny Asuncion who was killed during Sunday's simultaneous raids in Calabarzon.

Lawyer Kristina Conti of Public Interest Law Center said Asuncion, coordinator of activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Cavite, was allegedly brought by law enforcers into a room and killed.

"From our fact-finding, the police just barged into the office, which was not his residence. Didn't show any warrant, asked his wife and a companion to leave the room, took Manny into one of the inner room (sic) where he was killed. So, we have witnesses in that case," she told ANC.

In the case of fisherfolk leaders Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista in Batangas, their child, a minor, witnessed the killings, she added.

"All of these people were activists. The only connection that we can really trace of them, the police really identified them as, I’m not sure if it's already with the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflic) or the military, but they identified them as members or supporters of CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army), which is absolutely not true," Conti said.

In response to the incidents dubbed by rights groups as "Bloody Sunday," the Commission on Human Rights has launched an independent investigation to determine whether state forces used excessive force during the operations.

"So far, there are indications that would warrant more in-depth investigation. We are looking particularly at the angle whether the use of force was necessary and justified under the circumstances," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline De Guia also told ANC.

"It's the focus of our probe considering that it’s not normal. It's not something ordinarily expected out of a search warrant, the deaths I mean," she added.

De Guia said the agency had so far visited several crime scenes and obtained affidavits from the families of the slain activists.

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However, the police insisted the operation was "legitimate."

"As far as the PNP (Philippine National Police) is concerned, there's a presumption of regularity... these operations are legitimate and valid," Police Lt. Col. Chitadel Gaoiran, spokesperson of Laguna Provincial Police Office, told ANC in a separate interview.

She insisted the subjects of the search warrants were armed and exchanged gunfire with authorities.

"We can't control what other people would say about the operations and we too are saddened by the outcome," Gaoiran said. 

"We, in the part of the PNP, we just hoped that these people surrender and didn't put up a fight. We hoped that before the start we really want them, to get all of them alive but it’s very unfortunate," she added.

Gaoiran dismissed allegations that the search warrants were used to go after activists. She maintained that the targets, based on their information, "were in possession of loose firearms and explosives."

Gaoiran also stressed the operations didn't come after President Rodrigo Duterte's order to kill those identified as communist rebels.

"This is a very big operation. Applying for search warrant is not easy. In this case, the PNP is not the only unit because we really try to make sure all the targets are really valid [and] not just because someone gave an information. This is a well-planned operation. This took not just 2 to 3 days after the pronouncement of the President," she said.

The police and military on Sunday implemented 24 search warrants in Calabarzon that left 9 activists dead and 3 others arrested. Nine other subjects -- 1 in Batangas and 8 in Rizal -- remain at large, authorities said.