MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's "shoot-on-sight" order last week against communist rebels is a good directive that forces on the ground will carry out, his security adviser said on Tuesday, even as the government's human rights body asserted that the right to life must be respected at all times regardless of one's political leanings.
“Iyon talaga ang magandang order ng Pangulo at ‘yan ang gagawin ng ating local task forces,” said National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
(That is a good order of the President, and that's what our local task forces will do.)
Duterte in a speech on Friday told police and the military to "ignore human rights" during armed encounters with communist rebels.
“Tama naman iyon dahil armado ‘yang mga NPA (New People's Army) na ‘yan. Alangan namang ang iisipin mo pa ay human rights. Isipin natin kung paano natin sila matalo,” said Esperon, a retired military chief.
(That is right because those NPA are armed. You can't think of human rights. Let's think of how they will be defeated.)
The government expects retaliation from the NPA after the removal of several guerrilla bases, he said.
“Siguradong pipilitin nilang mabawi ulit iyong mga barangay na ‘yan kaya talaga naman shoot-on-sight sa mga armadong NPA,” Esperon said in a televised press briefing.
(They will surely try to reclaim those barangays, so it's really shoot-on-sight against armed NPAs.)
Asked if this is a shoot-to-kill order, he said, “Tama iyon, dahil lalo na ‘pag nakita na natin silang may dalang armas, ano pa nga ba iyon? Kung hindi mo babarilin agad, ikaw naman ang mababaril.”
“Dapat lang. In the name of peace, law and order ay binitawan na nga ni Pangulo ulit ang shoot-to-kill orders against the armed CPP-NPA,” he said.
(That's right because especially if we see that they carry arms, what else could it be? If you don't fire immediately, you will be shot. It's only right. In the name of peace, law and order, the President again issued shoot-to-kill orders against the armed CPP-NPA.)
The military estimates the strength of the NPA at around 3,500 men, from a high of over 20,000 in the 1980s.
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."
Video courtesy of PTV
Police raids on Sunday left dead 9 activists in provinces south of Manila, an incident that will be investigated by government.
Among those killed 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, saiid 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