MANILA - Malacañang on Monday defended the police, amid claims 14 farmers in Negros Oriental suspected of being criminals were helplessly killed while eating dinner.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said police were in a legitimate operation and had search warrants from the court, when they shot it out with the farmers.
“It’s a legitimate police operation. Search warrants were issued by a competent court and they were implementing that. The 14 of them fought with the law enforcers and they were killed in the process,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
“The fact remains that the people subject of the search warrants have been identified as suspects in certain ambushes, assassination attempts,” Panelo added.
Police insisted that the 14 farmers killed in pre-dawn raids last Saturday in Canlaon City and Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina towns were suspected communist rebels, including partisans or urban fighters linked to foiled assassination plots against state forces.
But a leftist lawmaker, the families of the slain, as well as witnesses said the farmers were massacred.
In interviews with rights workers, the families of the killed and arrested described scenes as like what Metro Manila’s poor have witnessed in three years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s harsh crackdown on street peddlers and users of narcotics.
The Commission on Human Rights already launched a probe into the fatal police operations.
Claims of resisting arrest "need to be tried before courts to ensure that there are no lapses and ascertain if the circumstances really warrant the offense from the police," noted CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia.
"At this point, our interest is finding out the truth...the regional sub-office of CHR-Region VII has already been instructed to investigate this case," she said in a statement.
The Negros Oriental police earlier said 8 were killed in Canlaon City, 4 in Manjuyod town, and 2 in Sta. Catalina town, while 12 others were arrested. An officer was wounded in the operations, police said.
Under the Duterte administration, 180 farmers have been killed, including 40 who were from Negros island, according to the Kabataan party-list group.
In October 2018, 9 sugarcane farmers in Sagay City, Negros Occidental were eating dinner when they were shot dead by 5 to 6 gunmen.