MANILA - A human rights group on Wednesday called for the resumption of peace negotiations between government and communist rebels amid the spate of killings in Negros island.
Ariel Casilao, convenor of the Defend Negros Movement and former Anakpawis Party-List representative, said the resumption of peace talks would be the "best option" to stop the killings.
"The best option is to resume the negotiation, resume the peace talks. It has never been a backseat option, it is always an option," he told ANC's Early Edition.
"But the problem with President (Rodrigo) Duterte and the national government, they are very desperate in resolving insurgency by means of military solution which in our history has failed for several regimes."
In November, Duterte issued Proclamation No. 360 formally ending the government’s peace talks with the communists. A month later, he signed Executive Order No. 70 ordering the creation of a national task force to “end local communist armed conflict.”
Nineteen people have been killed by unidentified gunmen this month, according to Defend Negros Movement, while a total of 87 killings have been recorded since 2017.
Casilao said they believe the victims were once linked to the communist movement after a list of red-tagged individuals circulated following government's issuance of Memorandum Order No. 32.
The order, he said, was "basically a death warrant statement" by Duterte.
"These are not just numbers. These are people. These are lives. These are plain human rights lawyers, peasants, farmers, indigenous people," he said.
"Much worse, they identified these so-called legal fronts. The danger with tagging legitimate organizations is they are becoming vulnerable targets to whatever forms of intimidation."
Casilao said a death squad is allegedly behind the killings, adding that the police were now conducting "clandestine" operations following the killing of 14 people in Negros Oriental in March.
"Natuto sila dun eh (They learned from that). It's a very tactical blunder. Now they operate clandestine. Ang tumitira death squad (Death squad is behind the killings)," he said.
The New People's Army earlier denied they were behind the spate of killings and instead blamed policemen who are allegedly part of the vigilante group "Duterte Death Squad."
Casilao said they will be filing charges against the authorities over the killings as they called for an independent investigation.
"It is very difficult to rely [on the police] in this investigation, that is why we’re calling on an independent, truth investigation," he said.