MANILA — Vice President Leni Robredo on Tuesday urged Filipinos to "connect the dots" and "see the web that enables and emboldens" killings, following the consecutive slays of 9 activists and a mayor in the country.
"It should not be treated as normal that mayors, community organizers, lawyers, judges, journalists, children, and even victims of the drug trade are outright murdered in our streets or in their homes," Robredo said in a statement.
"We must connect the dots between these gruesome deaths and see the web that enables and emboldens these killings: Impunity, the normalization and incitement of violence, and the kill, kill, kill rhetoric coming from the highest offices," she added.
Sunday's police raids that killed 9 activists in provinces south of Manila, and the alleged shootout Monday that left dead Calbayog, Samar Mayor Ronaldo Aquino dead came just days after President Rodrigo Duterte told security forces to kill communist rebels and "ignore human rights" during armed encounters with them.
"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," Harry Roque, the presidential spokesperson, had said.
(The 'kill, kill, kill' order of the President is legal because it is directed to rebels who are armed.)
Robredo had called the killing of the activists in Calabarzon as a "massacre." Filipinos "deserve better than this murderous regime," she said.
The Vice President called for "a clean, competent, and independent investigation" into the death of Aquino, who she called "a dedicated public servant who worked hard to uplift the lives of the people of Calbayog."
"Hindi kami mapapagod magsalita. Hindi kami titigil sa paggigiit ng karapatan at dignidad at halaga ng buhay ng bawat tao," Robredo said.
(We will not get tired of speaking up. We will not stop insisting for rights and the dignity and the value of each person's life.)
She said she prays and appeals for the country to wake up amid the killings, saying, "Nasa panahon tayo ngayon na tila naging manhid ang marami sa karahasan at kultura ng pagpatay."
(We are at a time when many are seemingly not affected anymore by the violence and culture of killing.)
The Commission on Human Rights said that while it "condemns the use of arms and violence to overthrow a government, human rights must be respected at all times" and "crimes must be punished under the guidance of the rule of law and due process."
"Words matter and such words can embolden some to act with abuse and impunity," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said of Duterte's remarks.
She reminded the government that "with its primary obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of everyone," it "cannot be the first one to violate them."
Among those killed last Sunday was a coordinator of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, a left-wing group that has called for an end to "red-tagging," the practice of labelling opponents, communists or terrorists to justify targeting them, which dates back to the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, an influential church group, in a statement denounced the use of what it called unnecessary force and violence during "Bloody Sunday."
Human Rights Watch said the government's counter-insurgency campaign no longer makes a distinction between armed rebels and non-combatant activists, labor leaders, and rights defenders.
On Sunday, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, head of an anti-rebel task force, told Reuters the raids were "legitimate law enforcement operations," and authorities had search warrants for firearms and explosives.
Activists said the raids were reminiscent of police operations in which thousands of people have been killed as part of Duterte's signature war on drugs, in which police said all of the victims were armed and had resisted arrest.
Raising concern over the latest incident "in light of the pattern of prevalent red-tagging and escalating attacks against activities, De Guia, the CHR spokesperson, said that "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," she said.
Since coming to power in 2016, Duterte has seen his efforts to forge peace with communist rebels derailed repeatedly, prompting frequent outbursts and threats to wipe them out.
— With a report from Reuters